The 82nd Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2013)

Effects of wrappings on the decomposition process


1Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Social Work, Texas Tech University, 2Department of Archaeology, Flinders University, Adelaide, SA 5001, Australia, 3Department of Anthropology, Science Centre, South Australian Museum, Adelaide, SA 5001, Australia, 4Department of Anthropology, Texas State University-San Marcos, 5Institute for Forensic Science, Texas Tech University

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Decomposition is a process that happens to every deceased individual. Understanding how decomposition works and how long each stage takes is crucial to being able to determine Time Since Death (TSD) or the Post Mortem Interval (PMI) in forensic cases. There have yet to be many studies done looking into the effect of wrappings or coverings, other than clothing, in retarding decomposition of a corpse. The purpose of this research is to improve our understanding of how a body being wrapped in various materials affects the decomposition process.

This study was conducted at the Forensic Anthropological Research Facility in San Marcos, Texas. Since human cadavers were not available at the time of study, three pigs were used as replacement specimens. One was wrapped in a plain, cotton bed sheet while the other was placed into black garbage bags. The third pig was left uncovered and served as the control. All three pigs were placed inside a cage intended to deter scavengers. Data such as outdoor daily temperature and conditions, written and photographic documentation of visual observances, and internal temperature of the specimen was collected. It was hypothesized that the coverings would have an accelerative effect on the decomposition process. The garbage bag accelerated the decomposition process while the sheet slowed the process to an extent. The results from this research will help shed light on one of the many variables of the decomposition process and assist in the calculation of TSD and PMI in forensic cases.

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