Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Temporal Line: There's a Kansas City That Isn't In Kansas

Now that we've covered basic head anatomy in The Head: Part One of Oh My Gosh, Who Knows?, we're ready to observe the individual bones and landmarks of the skull. The first rule of thumb to establish is that bony landmarks of the head tend to be more prominent and visible in adult males. This is especially evident in the superciliary crest (a.k.a. brow ridge), the mental protuberance (a.k.a chin bump), the zygomatic arch (the bony ridge along the cheek) and the temporal line, which we'll look at more closely today.

The temporal line runs along the side of the head across two separate bones-- the frontal bone, which forms the forehead, and the parietal bone, which, with its bilateral twin on the other side, forms the "roof" of the head. 

The temporal line's name can be a little confusing for those first learning about skull anatomy, because we also have a temporal bone (shown in blue below). But, just to keep you on your toes, the temporal line is not on the temporal bone. The temporal bone, which is also bilateral, lies lower down on the side of the head. It's the bone on which the external ear rests, and in which the delicate inner ear structures lie. It's quite an elaborate cranial bone, so we'll take time to look at it and its many surface features later.

This whole situation was summed up nicely by one of my anatomy students last spring. Several students were quizzing one another in preparation for an upcoming skull test, and as they reviewed the temporal line, one said, "the temporal line is not on the temporal bone-- kind of like there's a Kansas City that isn't in Kansas." Indeed!

So let's take a look at the structures involved:

The temporal line (shown in red dashes) is a subtle ridge that runs across the frontal bone (shown in green) and the parietal bone (shown in peach). The temporal bone is shown in blue, but the temporal line does not run across the temporal bone.

Several anatomical structures in this area of the head have all or part of the word temporal in their names. The temporal line, the temporal bone, the temporal fossa (which is the shallow depression on the side of the cranium), the temporalis muscle (a muscle that rests in the temporal fossa), the temporal lobe of the brain (which is the part of the brain that lies on the sides of the head), and several temporal arteries and veins (blood vessels that run through this area). The only of these that we can observe directly on the surface, though, are the temporal line and the temporalis muscle (which we can sometimes see moving when an individual is chewing.)

The slightly sunken area on the lateral skull, just below the temporal line, is known as the temporal fossa.

The temporalis muscle rests in the temporal fossa, just below the temporal line (shown with a red dashed line). The movement of this muscles can sometime be observed when the figure is chewing.

As you can probably guess, most of the temporal line is obscured by hair (unless, of course, the individual in question is losing said hair). At its anterior end, though, it often shows up on the sides of the forehead, where hair would not get in the way. This is one of the skull landmarks that seems to be more prominent on older males-- particularly the bad guys in comic books. (Google Professor X to see what I mean.)

If you look around a little bit, you should have no trouble seeing examples of the temporal line. Even on an individual with a full head of hair, look for a ridge on either side of the forehead, positioned at the same degree laterally as the outer edges of the orbits.

What did I say about older males? Just take a look at Fred Thompson's temporal line. And really, next time you see your dad, take a close look at his forehead. There's a very good chance you'll see at least part of his temporal line. Perhaps all of it, if he's losing his hair!

Older males do not, however, hold a monopoly on the temporal line, as this photo of a bald Britney will demonstrate. She has quite a few prominent skull landmarks, so we'll revisit this image soon. And you thought her abs were defined!

Uncle Fester can join the fun, too. Not much hair blocking this one.

Hey, even individuals sewn together from spare parts can have a temporal line. Dr. Frankenstein was clearly meticulous in his attention to head detail.

The great Oz has spoken! His temporal line rules all! It's prominent as well as quite elaborate. Enough so to have haunted me as a child, anyway. Did anyone else worry that this guy was going to show up in their closet when they were trying to fall asleep?

And finally...

Here is one last shot of the temporal line, this time on my pal Tim. This is from my book, The Figure Artist's Book of Anatomical Landmarks, for which Tim was kind enough to pose. Tim is an accomplished a capella singer, so be sure to check out his group Chicago Voice Exhange!

Well, I think we've about exhausted this topic. Next time we'll either cover more head landmarks, or possibly to finish up one of the other several areas we've begun. Until then, go out and look for some temporal lines! They're everywhere! Even Kansas City.


  1. First off let me just say how much I love your blog here. I am being completely honest when I say that your postings have actually increased my level of understanding the human anatomy and I have an MFA in Illustration. I am not tooting my own horn here, I am just saying that I have some education in this area and still, BOOM! you shed the light on some landmarks and that I was never taught.

    I have your book on my Xmas wishlist too!

    Anywho I know that this will seem a bit too pedantic of me, but there is actually a Kansas City, Kansas. The original Kansas City was founded in a town on the border between Missouri and Kansas. And long story short the official officials at the time both wanted the city, but the state borders had already been established. So we have twin cities. KCK and KCMO!

    I know it's awful picky of me! And I am not the type to say, "Oh you have to fix your blog page because you got this minute detail wrong...." Nope. Just thought you might be interested to know that little bit of geographical trivia. Oh and that I love your blog!

    Thanks for all the hard work you put into this and keep it up! I am a regular on here!

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words! I'm so happy to hear the blog is helping you understand anatomy better. I love writing about the subject, and knowing someone is getting something out of it is a big yummy layer of icing on the cake!

      Your comment about Kansas City is not picky at all! (Anyway, this blog is all about picky.) When I first published this post, a colleague immediately said something to me like, "Sorry to burst your bubble, but..." and she pointed out the existence of KCK. So I changed the name of the post from "Kansas City Isn't In Kansas" to "There's a Kansas City That Isn't In Kansas." I didn't want to change the entire post, so I thought the title change got me off on a technicality-- after all, there is *a* Kansas City that is not in Kansas.

      Thanks so much again for the nice comments, and for visiting my page. All the best to you!