Remember when I said some body farms have used pigs in taphonomic reasearch? Well, it looks like the times are changing.
This week, the original Body Farm in Knoxville released new information that may affect an enormous amount of cases around the world.
It was a previously accepted practice to study decomposing animals to get information about humans. However, this new study illustrated such variance between animal and human decomposition that they become incomparable.
“Now anthropologists and entomologists may be asked in court which studies they used to base their estimate of postmortem interval, and if they are based on nonhuman studies, their testimony could be challenged,” – Dawnie Steadman, director of the Forensic Anthropology Center
For the study, the researchers placed fifteen of each species of pig, rabbit, and human at the Anthropology Research Facility over three seasons to assess decomposition patterns and rates.
In the study, 15 pigs, 15 rabbits and 15 human subjects were set to decompose over spring, summer and winter (5 of each per season) at the Anthropology Research Facility. Scientists were looking to analyze the patterns of insect activity and scavenging associated with decomposition as well as the rate at which each body decomposed.
In the spring, the pigs skeletonized faster than the humans. The rabbits were initially slower, but the rate of decomp took off when the maggots developed. In the summer, the pigs decomposed much faster and more completely than both humans and rabbits. Lastly, in the winter, it took 100 days before there was any insect activity, but there was scavenging. The humans seemed to make a tastier snack to the local critters as they didn’t pay much attention to the dead animals until after the human remains were picked clean.
These observations show that comparing animal and human decomposition is basically impossible. The future of forensic science and litigation will depend more on human body donations than ever before.