Above: A rat skull I photographed last year.
Being in the countryside at the moment, I find myself very close to all forms of life, but also to death. Last year I found a beautiful and replete ram’s skeleton, bleached white under a bush, as well as lizard skeletons, rodent skulls, etc.
On a recent walk I found a skull that I couldn’t easily identify, and so I started searching taxonomy and osteology websites for help (after cleaning it, etc).
A skunk’s skull seen from below, via Skullsite
At first the closest resemblance I could find was this skunk skull (family: memphitidae — they used to be grouped with stoats and weasels and polecats in the family mustelidae, but recently were given their own family after their genetics were deemed significantly different), however that turned out to be a cul de sac, as the skunk is native to the Americas, and there are none in Europe.
Above: A weasel skull via skullsite.
My dad’s guess was that it was probably a stoat or a weasel — but upon investigation, their skulls were too elongated to match my specimen.
A Pine Marten’s skull, via skullsite.
After browsing more images, my conclusion was that it most closely resembles the skull above, that of a Pine Marten — also in the mustelid family like stoats and weasels. So it is probably a species of Marten, which are autochthonous and numerous here. Most likely it’s a European Marten, pictured below.
Above: A European Marten in the flesh.
I found it fascinating looking at all the different skulls on these websites (my favourite is the mole, below. It has no eyes — of course, moles are blind), but it’s a deeper and more poignant feeling to actually be able to hold a skull in your hand.
Above: A mole’s skull.
They are such representative, delicate, beautiful structures. They represent the potential of the materials from which they are made and the collective intelligence (to stretch the concept of intelligence) of all the materials of our planet over time. They are more finely tuned and tested than any car or invention our species has created or conceived. They are more beautiful in their latent history than any sculpture.
Skullsite is a large repository of skull images and information which I found helpful and fascinating. It also has aglossary of skull terminology, such as the glorious “braincase” and “zygomatic arch”.
Skulls Unlimited (a site selling skulls and replica skulls to educational institutions) is another good resource. I found this page, explaining what we can learn from looking at an animal’s skull, particularly interesting. Snip:
Animals with eyes that are located on the side of its head would suggest a prey animal. Side eye placement allows for greater peripheral or side vision. This enables the animal to see predators approaching from the side as well as from behind. This vision is very important for protecting an animal when it is grazing or feeding.
And here’s a list of skull & bone links, for good measure.