Comparison of Decomposition Rates between Autopsied and Non-Autopsied Human Remains in Central Texas




Bates, Lennon N.

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Human decomposition studies are necessary to understand the processes of degradation that commence upon death and to develop methods for estimating time-since-death. Such studies often take place using human body donations at forensic decomposition facilities. At most of these facilities, both autopsied and non-autopsied remains are accepted for donation, yet no study has examined if autopsied and non-autopsied bodies should be separated for analyses. Consequently, it is necessary to test if the rate of decomposition varies between autopsied and non-autopsied bodies in the same environment. As temperature affects decomposition, it is also beneficial to compare the internal body temperatures of autopsied and non-autopsied remains to see if differences between the two may be leading to differential decomposition. To compare decomposition rates between autopsied and non-autopsied human remains, 59 non-autopsied and 24 autopsied remains donated to the Forensic Anthropology Center at Texas State (FACTS) from 2010-2013 and placed at the Forensic Anthropology Research Facility (FARF) on Freeman Ranch were studied. All remains were placed in a similar manner, and the day each set of remains reached early, advanced, and mummified decomposition stages were documented. The number of accumulated degree days (ADD) between each stage was then determined and analyzed using t-tests. The results showed that the difference in decomposition rates between autopsied and non-autopsied remains was not statistically significant, though the average ADD was slightly lower for autopsied bodies than non-autopsied bodies in each stage of decomposition. To compare internal body temperatures between autopsied and non-autopsied human remains, eight non-autopsied and five autopsied bodies were investigated. For each body, internal temperature was collected once a day for two weeks. The ambient temperature was subtracted from the internal temperature to determine the degrees above or below ambient temperature for each of the 14 days. The difference between body temperature and ambient temperature for the autopsied and non-autopsied bodies was compared using t-tests. In general the body temperature changed rapidly, especially in the non-autopsied bodies, in the first three days but then leveled off. Internal temperature did not statistically differ between autopsied and non-autopsied remains. In conclusion, no statistically significant difference was observed in the rate of decomposition between autopsied and non-autopsied remains; therefore, it is unnecessary to separate these two types of remains when studying gross stages of human decomposition in Central Texas. Nevertheless, the decomposition pattern of autopsied remains should be examined to ensure that these findings apply to other environments.



Taphonomy, Human decomposition, Accumulated degree days, Forensic anthropology, Human remains, Internal body temperature, Forensic anthropology research facility, Forensic Anthropology Center at Texas State, Autopsy, Decomposition facility, Postmortem interval, Time-since-death


Bates, L. N. (2014). <i>Comparison of decomposition rates between autopsied and non-autopsied human remains in Central Texas</i> (Unpublished thesis). Texas State University, San Marcos, Texas.


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