Animated skeletons in The Dance of Death (1493), a woodcut by Michael Wolgemut, from the Liber chronicarum by Hartmann Schedel.

A skeleton is a type of physically manifested undead often found in fantasy, gothic, and horror fiction, as well as mythology, folklore, and various kinds of art. Most are human skeletons, but they can also be from any creature or race found on Earth or in the fantasy world.

Myth and folklore

Animated human skeletons have been used as a personification of death in Western culture since the Middle Ages, a personification perhaps influenced by the valley of the dry bones in the Book of Ezekiel.[1] The Grim Reaper is often depicted as a hooded skeleton holding a scythe (and occasionally an hourglass), which has been attributed to Hans Holbein the Younger (1538).[2] Death as one of the biblical horsemen of the Apocalypse has been depicted as a skeleton riding a horse. The Triumph of Death is a 1562 painting by Pieter Bruegel the Elder depicting an army of skeletons raiding a town and slaughtering its occupants.[3]

"The Story of the Youth Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was" is a Brothers Grimm fairy tale in which a boy named Hans joins a circle of dancing skeletons.[4]

In Japanese folklore, Mekurabe are rolling skulls with eyeballs who menace Taira no Kiyomori.[5]

José Guadalupe Posada's 1913 La Calavera Catrina zinc etching


Figurines and images of skeletons doing routine things are common in Mexico's Day of the Dead celebration, where skulls symbolize life and their familiar circumstances invite levity. Highly-decorated sugar-skull candy has become one of the most recognizable elements of the celebrations.[6][7] They are known in Mexico as calacas, a Mexican Spanish term simply meaning "skeleton". The modern association between skeleton iconography and the Day of the Dead was inspired by La Calavera Catrina, a zinc etching created by Mexican cartoonist José Guadalupe Posada in the 1910s and published posthumously in 1930.[8] Initially a satire of Mexican women who were ashamed of their indigenous origins and dressed imitating the French style, wearing heavy makeup to make their skin look whiter, it later became a more general symbol of vanity.[9] During the 20th Century, the Catrina entrenched itself in the Mexican consciousness and became a national icon, often depicted in folk art.

Modern fiction

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Film and TV

A CG art skeleton, as commonly found in modern fantasy-theme games.


See also


  1. ^ Paffenroth, Kim; Morehead, John W. (2012). ""Can These Bones Live Again?": Theological Considerations of the Zombie Walk". The Undead and Theology. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers. pp. 112–120. ISBN 9781610978750.
  2. ^ "Dancing with Death: The origins and development of the Dance of Death motif and its representation in graphic art". University of Glasgow Library. Retrieved 2018-12-29.
  3. ^ V., Andrey (8 June 2018). "The Triumphant Return of The Triumph of Death - Pieter Bruegel the Elder Restored at Museo del Prado". Widewalls. Retrieved 2018-12-29.
  4. ^ Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm (1819). Grimm's Fairy Tales (2nd ed.).
  5. ^ "Mekurabe –". Retrieved 2018-12-29.
  6. ^ Chef, Katelyn (1 November 2016). "A Sweet History of Sugar Skulls on Day of the Dead". Martha Stewart. Retrieved 2018-12-29.
  7. ^ "History of Day of the Dead & the Mexican Sugar Skull Tradition". Retrieved 2018-12-29.
  8. ^ Widyolar, Keith (4 November 2018). "Catrina La Calavera Garbancera is the icon of the Day of the Dead". New York Latin Culture Magazine. Retrieved 29 December 2018.
  9. ^ "La Catrina". Copal, Mexican Folk Art at its best Online. Retrieved 2018-12-29.
  10. ^ Leeder, Murray (2017). The Modern Supernatural and the Beginnings of Cinema. Calgary, AB: Palgrave Macmillan. p. 149. ISBN 9781137583710.
  11. ^ "Thousands ask Death to give Terry Pratchett back". The Independent. 2015-03-13. Retrieved 2018-12-29.
  12. ^ Clark, Nick (8 May 2013). "Ray Harryhausen, the visual effects master famed for skeleton battle in Jason and the Argonauts, dies aged 92". The Independent. Retrieved 2018-12-29.
  13. ^ Khon Mong Nang (2021-01-03). "บรรพบุรุษของ "น้าผี" แห่งจักรวาลจักรๆ วงศ์ๆ "สามเศียร"" [The ancestor of the "Uncle Ghost" of the folk universe of the "Samsearn"]. Konmongnangetc (in Thai). Retrieved 2023-05-05.
  14. ^ "Skeletons (Concept)". Giant Bomb. Retrieved 2018-12-29.
  15. ^ "Sir Daniel returns in 4K in MediEvil Remaster for PlayStation 4". VG247. 2017-12-09. Retrieved 2018-12-29.
  16. ^ "Morte (Character)". Giant Bomb. Retrieved 2018-12-29.
  17. ^ Schilling, Chris (2018-05-05). "The making of Undertale". PC Gamer. Retrieved 2018-12-29.
  18. ^ Kelly, Andy (2017-09-26). "The joys of being dead in Divinity: Original Sin 2". PC Gamer. Retrieved 2018-12-29.