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euclid
05-12-2009, 01:50 PM
A corpse is left in a (draughty) closed room. There is no access for small animals.

How long before it becomes a skeleton?

smcc360
05-12-2009, 06:13 PM
Depending on environmental factors, it can take from between three months to just under one year. Assuming no extremes of temperature (like, Arctic conditions), the big factor is whether or not insects have access to the body. From your scenario, it sounds like they do.

If the body is wrapped in such a way that the crawlies can't get at it, you might very well end up with a mummy. Plastic sheeting and, for some reason, carpet scraps seem to be very good for that.

A safe benchmark is about half a year, if larger animals can't get in. Keep in mind that housecats and rats are surprisingly inventive at breaking in to places if they smell a meal.

S.C. Denton
05-12-2009, 10:35 PM
I've wondered this myself. A few months ago, my similar question was, 'how long would it really take for a body to decompose under the ocean?'

After searching for the longest time, I found a site that was hosting an ongoing scientific experiment with pigs under the ocean posing just my question. It seems that even forensics experts aren't one hundred percent sure. So, they and the scientific community came up with this test to try to understand what their window was for being able to determine what happened to a dead body thrown into the ocean.

I checked my bookmarks and search history, and the site seems to have vanished. Since I will be looking into it again, I'll come back and post the address here when I find it out. It could be of great potential for the writer wanting that sort of information.

blacbird
05-12-2009, 10:52 PM
At the University of Tennessee there's an ongoing research effort aimed at helping police investigators determine time of death for corpses. They have a "body farm" where cadavers are left to rot under various conditions, and examined forensically as the process goes on. You might be able to get some solid information via searching for that.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Body_farm

caw

S.C. Denton
05-12-2009, 11:25 PM
And the blacbird says... Ka-Caw, Ka-Caw.:) Thanks for listing the body farm thing. I bookmarked it. Hopefully it'll stay right where I left it, unlike the last one bookmarked on body decomp.

Mithra
05-13-2009, 11:59 PM
A corpse is left in a (draughty) closed room. There is no access for small animals.

How long before it becomes a skeleton?


At the University of Tennessee there's an ongoing research effort aimed at helping police investigators determine time of death for corpses. They have a "body farm" where cadavers are left to rot under various conditions, and examined forensically as the process goes on. You might be able to get some solid information via searching for that.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Body_farm

caw

There was a documentary about the body farm shown in the UK sometime ago now. I watched as research for the drama I was writing. I will have a look through my 'stuff' in a box upstairs and see what I can find.

I remember looking at all sorts of websites about decomposing bodies- also the UK Forensic Science Service and Forensic Science Society have been helpful in th past. I've even queried my local police force and they put me in touch with a senior SOCO...

dgiharris
05-14-2009, 05:35 AM
Depending on environmental factors, it can take from between three months to just under one year. Assuming no extremes of temperature (like, Arctic conditions), the big factor is whether or not insects have access to the body. From your scenario, it sounds like they do.

Yeah, I was going to say the same thing. If insects have access, I would say 3 - 8 weeks.

Hell, the ants in Africa and South America can strip an animal bare in 24 hours, though those cases involve MILLIONS of ants.

As a reader, I could buy a scenario in which a corpse was turned into a skeleton over a period of a couple of months, and this goes doubly so if rats had access.

Mel...

Juneluv12
05-14-2009, 05:55 AM
I agree with what's been said about the animals and insects. But I think it takes a lot longer without the elements to become a skeleton.

I think you mention it's left in a drafty and damp environment, which will also enhance the decomposition process. It speeds up the microbobes or whatever those things are. It's kinda like the difference between how a body decomposes in a casket underground with a vault compared to a mauseoleum. The moment air hits a body which has been sealed in a vault, it begins to rapidly decompose. That's why most caskets have a seal that allows the gases emitted from a body to expel. Of course, an embalmed body is going to stay perfected for awhile, sometimes up to fifty years.(I've got family who are Funeral Directors).

Without bugs and all, it would probably take longer, and you'd have more a mummified effect. You'd probably still have hair left and finger nails.

Is it cool in the room or hot? Probably with three to six months you'd have some nasty bloating of the organs if it's really hot. Cool might keep things perserved for awhile.

euclid
05-14-2009, 12:51 PM
Draughty, yes,
Damp, no,
Cold, yes,
Insects, yes,
Small animals (rats), yes.
Larger animals, no.

I like the idea of hair and nails.

RJK
05-15-2009, 07:57 PM
Take a look at this movie (http://www.deathonline.net/decomposition/decomposition/index.htm)(if you have the stomach for it).

Shamisen
05-16-2009, 02:50 AM
*wonders what the actual content of the movie is before going gung-ho into watching it...*

Remember that fingernails and hair do not continue to grow after death - it's a myth. The skin retracts/shrinks, giving the appearance of growth.

veinglory
05-16-2009, 02:58 AM
If it is drafty and not humid, with no nsect access, it might mummify.

SirOtter
05-16-2009, 08:05 AM
At the University of Tennessee there's an ongoing research effort aimed at helping police investigators determine time of death for corpses. They have a "body farm" where cadavers are left to rot under various conditions, and examined forensically as the process goes on. You might be able to get some solid information via searching for that.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Body_farm

caw

Dr. Bill Bass, founder of the Body Farm (and my old anthropology professor) now co-writes forensic mysteries under the name Jefferson Bass. He has three or four novels out. He also does non-fiction forensic anthropology books under his own name. Check your local bookstore for when he might be coming around on a book tour. He's a fascinating speaker and a nice guy. He'd probably give you the most accurate answer you're apt to find anywhere.

Newguy1428
06-10-2009, 07:22 AM
It's not the animals, it's the flies. I studied forensic anthropology in school. There's only two full-time jobs in the world, so I chose another route. Your question is really about the preservation of dead tissue rather than decay.

A body in a sealed room can remain preserved for quite a while if insects can't get to it. The soft, bacteria laden tissues of the abdomen are the least preservable.

The climate of Egypt inspired mummification. There are plenty of hot sand preserved bodies displayed in museums. The Egyptians discovered that if you remove the internal organs, they put them in canopic jars, then dry the rest of the tissues in salts, you could preserve a body forever. It's similar to tanning leather or making beef jerky.

When I write, I am interested in the emotional impact. Do you want insects? Bugs like a fresh corpse, one month generally, but can reduce a corpse to bones in a couple of days. Do you want a dried corpse? It would take a month or two minimum. Completely skeltonized? A year or more in your draughty room.

Something, I didn't notice in other posts was nature of death. Death by fire would create a different corpse than a heart attack. The fire would work like mummification, except smaller parts would be missing.

Also, complete skeletonization produces a disassembled body. The jaw falls away from the skull. The spine and rib cage disarticulate. Interestingly, untrained people will only recognize the skull and femurs as human. Which makes sense, they are the most unique evolutionally. This all depends on the clothes worn at death. The clothes will decompose at different rates. I can private mesage you about some stories I have read.

Cause of death can be deduced. Blunt trama, stab wounds and gunshot wounds are quite apparent through unhealed wounds to soft and hard tissues.

The sex and health of the individual can be worked out through analyzing the bones.

Finally, it is the recognition of something normal that tips people into strong emotion when viewing a human corpse or any corpse. That's why the head, hands and feet? are removed from most animals served for meals. I was at Body Worlds, a traveling exhibit of plasticized human bodies, and I overheard someone complain that they saw the eyelashes of a particular body. Not to mention they saw the entire skinned body with organs exposed. Finger nails may be present on a corpse. Contacts in the eye sockets....