M.B., Ch.B. (Aberdeen); F.R.C.S. (Edinburgh); F.R.A.C.S.; M.A. (Hons) [Archaeology] (A.N.U.)
Thesis Topic: The Estimation of the Time since Death in Human Bodies Found Decomposed
When a decomposed human body is found two questions arise; when did the person die and how did the person die? It is the second question that the thesis is concerned with. The more accurate estimation of the time since death (TSD) or post-mortem interval (PMI) is a subject which researchers have been pursuing in the modern era for nearly 200 years. When a human body decomposes, it first cools down to ambient temperature over a period of 24 to 48 hours, then enters the stage of autolysis and putrefaction which may last for a varying period due to many factors. Eventually all soft tissue decays and a skeleton remains before this is also eventually absorbed into the environment.
The longer the interval between death and discovery, the more difficult it is to determine the TSD. Most research to date has focussed on the immediate period after death when the body is cooling to ambient temperature. Until recent years, research in the stage of putrefaction has been limited because of the ethical issues of carrying out research on putrefying human material. However this type of research was given an impetus in the 1980s with the establishment of the “Body Farm” by Dr. William Bass at the Forensic Research Center at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. Recently other facilities have been established in the United States.
The subject of this research is to more accurately estimate the TSD in the stage of putrefaction. Two approaches have been pursued viz: 1. the formulation of a system to determine the TSD by studying hundreds of cases of decomposed bodies catalogued in the National Coroners Information System database as well as studying post mortems on decomposed human bodies at the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine in Melbourne. 2. Studying and monitoring two human bodies decomposing.
The second part of this research was greatly helped by the grant of an Australian Government Endeavour Research Fellowship. This enabled the research to be carried out at the Grady Early Forensic Research Laboratory of the Texas State University in San Marcos, who were kind enough to accept the research model proposed to them.
1. Hayman J., 2010, “Conflict in the Highlands: The Archaeology of the Scottish Highland Clearances”, Archaeological Review from Cambridge, April 2010.
2. Hayman J, Oxenham M, 2012, “Peri mortem Disease and Treatment: A Little Known Cause of Error in the Estimation of the Time since Death in Decomposing Human Remains” Journal of Forensic Sciences (Article submitted but not yet published