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last look

In the mid-1800s, an anatomist named Claude Beauchene developed a novel way to display the anatomy of the head. Beauchene would meticulously clean a skull, separate its bones, and mount them on a stand designed to exhibit them at once individually and in context. “The concept of the 'exploded' skull was actually introduced by Leonardo da Vinci in his anatomical drawings,” says Yale surgeon and medical historian Sherwin B. Nuland '55MD. “Because a Beauchene preparation leaves the component parts in their original spatial relationship to one another, it’s useful for studying complex structures.”

This skull, shown with some of its bones lowered on their movable supports, is part of a comparative-anatomy teaching collection at the Peabody Museum of Natural History that also includes the “exploded” skulls of fish, several mammals, and a crocodile. The head probably belonged to an adult female, says Gary P. Aronsen '04PhD, a research associate in biological anthropology. “It’s a beautiful specimen,” says Aronsen, “and an exquisite example of a preparation that required patience and artistic flair.”


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