"Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him well ... a man of infinite jest."
So says Hamlet as he holds Yorick's skull in Shakespeare's Hamlet, Prince of Denmark*, perhaps the most celebrated appearance of a human skull on stage ... at least, in the English language, that is.
Let us consider the human skull, and its contents...
Skull Item #1
The medical field has just announced a rather remarkable discovery. After months of research, experts have determined that inside the human skull is an organ which they are calling the "brain" - for lack of a better term - from the Greek word "brechmos" meaning gross, gooey, mass of mushy gray matter. This "brain" is apparently part of the nervous system, and it is believed that all human thought originates in this wondrous skullbound organ.
In other medical news, scientists have announced the discovery of a fifth finger resting just to the right (or left, depending on the hand) of the ring finger. They have named this fifth finger the "pinky" for its discoverer, Dr. J.T. Pinkerton. Asked why this fifth finger has eluded the medical world until now, Dr. I.B. Flipp, the discoverer of the middle finger, could only say, "Gee, I guess we missed that one!"
Skull Item #2
My doctor tells me that I suffer from a rare medical problem known as "pre-logical thinking." Basically, it means that I am unable to distinguish between the natural world and the supernatural realm. This causes great problems in my daily life, as I am unable to determine the boundaries between what is real and what is unreal.
The impact of my handicap manifests itself in many ways ... most typically when I go out for dinner and upon leaving the restaurant am utterly and completely convinced that I have left a 20% tip on the table when in fact all I have left behind is a neatly folded napkin and a coupon for one free car wash with a fill up of super unleaded (eight gallon minimum).
Interesting, I also I suffer from an even rarer psychological disorder known in medical circles as "pre-logical shopping," which means that I am unable to distinguish between the natural world and a supermarket. Apparently it's the produce section that causes the confusion ... the romaine lettuce counter in particular.
Skull Item #3
There are those who study skulls ... an honorable profession I am sure. After all, we have enough mailmen and landscapers and fishermen and those people who paint the yellow lines on highways, so it's good to know that there are those who can make an honest living studying the human cranium.
Measuring the human skull is key to determining a number of things, such as how large a begonia you can transplant in it without the danger of root rot. The dimensions of the human skull fall into three categories according to experts, depending on its breadth-to-length ratio:
"Dolichocephalic" is the term used for a skull with a breadth which is less than 75% of its length. "Brachycephalic" skulls have a breadth greater than 80% of its length. And "Mesocephalic" is a skull with a breadth between 75-80%. This is where most of us fall.
So gardeners, a good tip to remember is to use a brachycephalic skull for plantings with a healthy root system. And use dolichocephalic for small flowers and for starting plants that you plan on transplanting outside in the spring. For further gardening tips, please refer to your local garden shop ... or your local neurologist.
Skull Item #4
The oldest human (Homo sapiens) skull was discovered in Ethiopia. It was initially thought to be 160,000 years old, but further testing has dated it closer to 200,000 years old.
Skull fossils of human ancestors have been carbon dated back as far as 4 million years. Perhaps the most famous of these discoveries was of "Lucy" (Australopithecus afarensis), unearthed in 1974 at Ethiopia's Awash Valley, determined to be circa 3.2 million years old ... although birth records show that she was actually born in Scranton, Pennsylvania in 1901.
* From a newly adapted stage version of Hamlet: "To be, or not to be, that is the question, whether it is nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune ... or to take a job paying minimum wage, lousy benefits, and weekend and evening hours!