Knowledge of elastic properties and of their variation in the cortical bone of the craniofacial skeleton is indispensable for creating accurate finite-element models to explore the biomechanics and adaptation of the skull in primates. In this study, we measured elastic properties of the external cortex of the rhesus monkey craniofacial skeleton, using an ultrasonic technique. Twenty-eight cylindrical cortical specimens were removed from each of six craniofacial skeletons of adult Macaca mulatta. Thickness, density, and a set of longitudinal and transverse ultrasonic velocities were measured on each specimen to allow calculation of the elastic properties in three dimensions, according to equations derived from Newton's second law and Hooke's law. The axes of maximum stiffness were determined by fitting longitudinal velocities measured along the perimeter of each cortical specimen to a sinusoidal function. Results showed significant differences in elastic properties between different functional areas of the rhesus cranium, and that many sites have a consistent orientation of maximum stiffness among specimens. Overall, the cortical bones of the rhesus monkey skull can be modeled as orthotropic in many regions, and as transversely isotropic in some regions, e.g., the supraorbital region. There are differences from human crania, suggesting that structural differences in skeletal form relate to differences in cortical material properties across species. These differences also suggest that we require more comparative data on elastic properties in primate craniofacial skeletons to explore effectively the functional significance of these differences, especially when these differences are elucidated through modeling approaches, such as finite-element modeling. Am J Phys Anthropol 2006. © 2006 Wiley-Liss, Inc.