DOES THE SKULL REVEAL OUR CHARACTER?
The neurocranium is the portion of the skull that surrounds the brain and protects it like armor. Its only opening is located at its base, and this is where the nerves of the spinal cord meet the brain. The skull is composed of a series of individual bones connected by so-called sutures and fontanelles, which are junctions between two sections of bone in the cranium.
Both structures are necessary for our brains to grow and develop. In babies the sutures are still made of connective tissue, and the soft gaps known as fontanelles make the individual skull bones able to flex in relation to one another. This is how a baby’s head can be somewhat molded to enable it to fit through the narrow birth canal.
In some cultures certain head shapes correspond with an ideal of beauty. For this reason babies’ skulls were wrapped tightly with bandages to mold them into such shapes. Later the sutures ossify and the fontanelles close— from then on the head shape is fixed. In the 19th century many doctors believed people’s character could be gauged by the shape of their head. For instance, a criminal’s head was thought to be a certain shape. Of course this assumption turned out to be total nonsense.
On the inside of the skull shown below a fine network of channels is visible: The arteries that supply blood to the brain run through it.
Toby Smith* watches the truck rolling along in front of him and thinks to himself, I can manage that. So the motorcycle rider from Connecticut twists the throttle and accelerates hard in a bid to overtake the large vehicle as the two drivers approach a curve in the road. Then everything begins happening very quickly: the lurching motion of the motorcycle, the moment of weightlessness, the collision, waking up in the intensive care unit, the astonished faces of the doctors… “After such an extremely intense accident, the motorcyclist’s whole body should have been totally shattered to pieces. But Smith was fine—he didn’t break a single bone,” recalls physician Joseph Belsky. The doctor had come to find that Smith has an extremely high bone density. “Do you know the film Unbreakable, in which Bruce Willis plays a man who survives all sorts of unfortunate situations? Well, Toby Smith actually is unbreakable,” says Richard Lifton, chair of the department of genetics at the Yale School of Medicine. He studied the genes of the entire Smith family. Seven of the members were found to be unbreakable. “The high bone density of the family had been triggered by the mutation of a single gene,” says Lifton. “None of those affected have ever broken a bone. The only side effect is a wide jaw. And the Smiths find it hard to swim due to their dense bones.”
HEAD SANDWICH The skull is one of the most stable bones in the body, thanks to a layered structure made of solid and spongy bone material. It’s similar to how the walls of aircraft are built nowadays. Engineers refer to this layering as a sandwich constru
* NAME HAS BEEN CHANGED BY THE EDITORS.