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Desert Skull

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"(...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.


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    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.

  • 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.

    Comic Books 
  • Wonder Woman (1987): The desert beyond the edges of the Sangtee Empire slave mining operation on "Hope's End" is littered with skulls and skeletons making attempts to escape out into the desert a less appealing option that it otherwise might be. There are also a few within the mining camp, but not many since the deceased are fed to the scavenger worms.

    Film — Animated 
  • 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.

    Film — Live Action 
  • 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.
  • The Winning of Barbara Worth: In fact it's an entire dessicated cow skeleton that Worth sees, underlining the aridity of this part of the desert.
  • In Star Wars, on Tatooine C-3PO passes by a skull of Krayt Dragon.
  • 1946 documentary short Facing Your Danger shows the river rafters on the Colorado finding what appears to be a human skeleton.

  • Voltaire referenced this in "Fear and Anguish"
From over the range that is where we found
Scattered on the ground, fifty heads of steer.
But what's real queer;
We searched all around
No other part was found!

    Newspaper Comics 

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons has the gambado, a monster originally from the Fiend Folio, that disguises itself as this trope. When revealed, they appear as one-legged humanoids with sharp claws and either an animal or human skull for a head.

    Toys, Games, Collectables 
  • 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.

    Video Games 

    Web Comics 
  • Coyote Ville has one in Ed, who can converse and interact with the rest of the cast.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 

Alternative Title(s): Cow Cranium


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