Lambdoid craniosynostosis (CS) is a congenital anomaly resulting from premature fusion of the cranial suture between the parietal and occipital bones. Predominantly sporadic, it is the rarest form of CS and its genetic etiology is largely unexplored. Exome sequencing of 25 kindreds, including 18 parent–offspring trios with sporadic lambdoid CS, revealed a marked excess of damaging (predominantly missense) de novo mutations that account for ~ 40% of sporadic cases. These mutations clustered in the BMP signaling cascade (P = 1.6 × 10–7), including mutations in genes encoding BMP receptors (ACVRL1 and ACVR2A), transcription factors (SOX11, FOXO1) and a transcriptional co-repressor (IFRD1), none of which have been implicated in other forms of CS. These missense mutations are at residues critical for substrate or target sequence recognition and many are inferred to cause genetic gain-of-function. Additionally, mutations in transcription factor NFIX were implicated in syndromic craniosynostosis affecting diverse sutures. Single cell RNA sequencing analysis of the mouse lambdoid suture identified enrichment of mutations in osteoblast precursors (P = 1.6 × 10−6), implicating perturbations in the balance between proliferation and differentiation of osteoprogenitor cells in lambdoid CS. The results contribute to the growing knowledge of the genetics of CS, have implications for genetic counseling, and further elucidate the molecular etiology of premature suture fusion.