From an enormous bull elephant to a tiny elephant shrew, every skull tells a story about the life, death, and evolution of vertebrates. Learn how scientists use skulls to uncover clues about life on Earth.

Before your eyes, thousands of tiny, flesh-eating beetle larvae strip a skull clean. Just steps away, an ancient skull allows you to gaze 3.3 million years into humankind’s past. Behind you, two deer skulls are locked together, their entwined antlers attesting to one final, deadly battle. Before you—on a wall stretching 90 feet wide—video projections of swimming sea lions add life to more than 400 skulls.

Now through November 30, seize the opportunity to touch, draw, and interpret more than 640 skulls for yourself in our new 4,000-square-foot exhibit. 

More than 400 sea lion skulls adorn the "Sea of Skulls" wall.

Sea of Skulls

Four hundred California sea lion skulls gaze down from a 90-foot-wide wall, representing just one-sixth of the Academy’s scientific collection of this species. But be on the lookout for imposters!

Flesh-eating beetles at work cleaning the rib cage of a small mammal.

Flesh-Eating Beetles

Peer into one of several windows to watch our dermestid beetle colony munch the dried flesh off animal bones, diligently and delicately transforming skulls into specimens.

View of an interactive that helps visitors learn to "read" skulls by comparing features like eye-sockets and jaws.

Hands-On Interactives

Skulls is a highly interactive experience, inviting you to touch, draw, and even reimagine your eyesight through various skulls. Experience vision as both predator and prey, try your hand at sketching skulls, and examine dozens of high-res, 3D skull images.

The skulls of ancient human ancestors are also on display in the Skulls exhibit.

Human Origins

Three sets of skulls tell the story of our species, from the chimpanzee (our closest living relative) to Australopithecus afarensis—our distant, upright-walking ancestor. Compare and contrast these specimens to find clues about our evolutionary history.

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3D Skull Viewer

3D Skull Viewer

Academy scientists partnered with Google to image specimens from our research collections using an advanced, automated 3D technique. The results? Jaw-dropping.

Warthog skull

Bandar’s Bones

Bandar’s Bones

For more than 60 years, Academy field associate Raymond Bandar has been collecting thousands of skulls. In a ten-case display curated by “Bones” Bandar himself, visitors to the Naturalist Center can explore a variety of skulls featuring curious traits and abnormalities.