Written By: Ben Cosgrove

Design is a funny, marvelous, sometimes unsettling thing especially when evolution itself is the designer.

Take these six-decade-old pictures of skulls and bones. Seen in a certain light, and photographed for LIFE by the great Andreas Feininger, the bones of creatures as varied in size and temperament as fish, bats, elephants, hummingbirds and humans are eloquent totems, raising questions about life, death and what we ultimately leave behind.

In the end, though, perhaps the way that humans and our fellow creatures appear when seen at the most elemental level in other words, how we look when literally stripped to the bone says more about us than we’d like to admit. Even as these pictures summon thoughts that swing between the morbid and the exalted, one thing remains strikingly clear: in the right hands, bones are beautiful.

Many of these Feininger photographs appeared in the Oct. 6, 1952, issue of LIFE.

Andreas Feininger, owl’s skull

Andreas Feininger Time & Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Andreas Feininger, picture of a mole

Andreas Feininger Time & Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Andreas Feininger photograph of a bat

Andreas Feininger Time & Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Andreas Feininger photograph of a fish

Andreas Feininger Time & Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Andreas Feininger, skeletal vertebrae of catfish, 1951

Andreas Feininger Time & Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Andreas Feininger, pygmy armadillo, 1951

Andreas Feininger Time & Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Andreas Feininger, jumping mouse, 1951

Andreas Feininger Time & Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Andreas Feininger, Human and horse skeletons, 1951

Andreas Feininger Time & Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Andreas Feininger, elephant, 1951

Andreas Feininger Time & Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Andreas Feininger, hummingbird and elephant’s femur, 1951

Andreas Feininger Time & Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Andreas Feininger, gorilla rib cage, 1951

Andreas Feininger Time & Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Andreas Feininger, shrew, 1951

Andreas Feininger Time & Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Andreas Feininger, skeletal structure of a bird, 1951

Andreas Feininger Time & Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Andreas Feininger, ostrich femur, 1951

Andreas Feininger Time & Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Andreas Feininger, bear femur, 1951

Andreas Feininger Time & Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Andreas Feininger, sloth, 1951

Andreas Feininger Time & Life Pictures/Shutterstock

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