"(...I'm just a pile of bleached bones. I can't talk.)"
Whenever a show features or references a desert, savannah or other barren land, odds are good that a bovine cranium will be involved to set the mood.
Often accompanied by cacti
Compare Ribcage Ridge
, a sister trope.
Anime and Manga
- The opening scene of GUN×SWORD has Van looking down at an animal skull in the desert and questioning why the creature isn't still alive for him to eat.
Film — Animated
- Shows up in many Georgia O'Keefe paintings.
- Arthur Rothstein's photo series documenting the dust bowl in South Dakota included several of these. It was a scandal at the time because it was pretty obviously the same skull every time (the series was part of a government program documenting the drought). According to the photographer he was just moving a skull he found around the same small area to capture the shadows differently.
Film — Live Action
- The owl mariachi band from Rango stood on one of these while singing about Rango's journey.
- On An American Tail: Fievel Goes West, Tiger runs into a buffalo skeleton that seems to come to life when he's not looking. Turns out it's being manipulated by native mice, who then capture Tiger.
- The Lion King: As Simba returns to the Pridelands, he finds it riddled with wildebeest skeletons to show how Scar's rule has ruined the land. At the end, as Simba returns to power, there's a brief shot of a skull being washed away by the rain, to symbolize the end of the old regime.
- Cars featured a variation of this: since all animals in their world are also vehicles, in the desert surrounding Radiator Springs, there appear to be rusted-up car parts lying among the rocks and cacti.
- Fantasia - the 'Rite of Spring' segment shows the last of the dinosaurs shuffling into the desert dust - after which the camera pans to and closes in on the skull of the mighty T-Rex.
Toys, Games, Collectables
- The New Land: Robert and Arvid get a vivid illustration of just how deep they're in trouble in the Thirsty Desert when they come across the bones of a would-be miner.
- The Plow That Broke the Plains, a documentary short about how the Great Plains became the Dust Bowl, includes a shot of a bleached, broken cow skull lying on cracked and dried-out land.
- In Star Wars, on Tatooine C-3PO passes by a skull of Krayt Dragon.
- The Matchbox/Revell kit of the WW2 German Panzer III tank comes with a display base to mount the completed tank kit; it depicts a North African desert sand-dune, with the tank posed as breasting the crest of the sand. Just to emphasise the point this is an Afrika Korps panzer, there is a bleached animal skull to set artistically into the modelled sand.
- In Animal Crossing, this shows up as a furniture item in the "American West/frontier" set. Sometimes animals who are cows have them in their homes...
- In EarthBound, you can actually have a conversation with a cattle skeleton in the Dusty Dunes Desert. It, of course, claims otherwise.
- Appears multiple times throughout the Fallout series, natch. It's not always a cow skull, though...
- The original Starcraft had all sorts of bones and skulls in the randomly-generated desert terrain tiles.
- Cave Story's Sand Zone is full of bones... including animated ones.
- The standard Clonk desert scenarios contain, along with cacti, animal skulls as decoration.
- Eets uses this as decoration for desert-themed levels.
- These can be found in the desert levels of the Game Boy Advance Fire Emblem games. Rare items can be dug up in the nearby sands.
- There's a giant wraid skull on Tatooine in Star Wars: The Old Republic. Click it at your own risk - it summons a World Boss.
- There's plenty of skeletic remains for you to explore in the Western Desert from Avalon Code. In a particular area, you find what appears to be the skeleton of a dragon, as well as the skeleton of the knight who failed to slay said dragon and the skeleton of the princess devoured by said dragon.
- In Mass Effect, you can find a skull of an unknown creature on a desert planet Maji.
- If you should find the massive skull of a Monoblos or Diablos in the deserts of Monster Hunter, beware! A Daimyo Hermitaur may be using it for a shell.
- The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons: You can find a human skull (a former pirate) in the desert who you need to to carry around over your head until he spots the particular whirlpool you need to progress. He does so by suddenly chattering his teeth.
- Coyote Ville has one in Ed, who can converse and interact with the rest of the cast.