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

Defining Postmortem Changes in West Central Montana


Anthropology, University of Montana

Friday All day, Clinch Concourse Add to calendar

Research conducted by forensic anthropologists on the rate and sequence of human decomposition can assist law enforcement with estimates of time since death for remains from the forensic context. Preliminary research conducted in western Montana indicates that decomposition does not follow the patterns found in other geographic locations. The purpose of this study is to better define west central Montana’s unique environmental factors that affect the rate and pattern of decomposition by documenting changes in mature pigs (Sus scrofa) employed as human proxies. The pigs were placed at different times throughout the year and analyzed by comparing the following variables: ambient temperature, relative humidity, weather patterns, internal temperature, external temperature, bloat, odor, color, entomological activity, and other visual observations.

The results from this study indicate that regardless of time of year, mummification of external tissues occurs and is persistent for at least a year in the absence of animal scavenging. Additionally, at a specific point in the decomposition process cold weather induced stasis occurs, directly affecting the rate and sequence of decomposition. The remains deposited in the fall (October) and winter (December) stayed in stasis throughout the winter and showed a slower rate of decomposition after the thaw. The pig placed in the spring (May) decomposed at a quicker rate and reaching mummification of external tissues more rapidly. The ultimate result of this study is to contribute to building a baseline data set for documenting decomposition in western Montana’s highly variable and unpredictable weather.

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