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senka
04-23-2012, 06:34 PM
Does anyone know how long it would take for a corpse of an adult person (buried and in a coffin) to decay? How many years until there would be left only bones?
And what would it look like if someone would dig it up after around two years?

Shakesbear
04-23-2012, 06:48 PM
It depends on a lot of variables - type of soil, type of coffin, if the body has been embalmed, condition of body at time of internment. How long the person was dead at time of internment and where and how the body had been stored.

Can't resist . . .

HAMLET
How long will a man lie i' the earth ere he rot?

Grave Digger

I' faith, if he be not rotten before he die--as we
have many pocky corses now-a-days, that will scarce hold the laying in--he will last you some eight year or nine year: a tanner will last you nine year.

HAMLET
Why he more than another?

Grave Digger
Why, sir, his hide is so tanned with his trade, that he will keep out water a great while; and your water is a sore decayer of your whoreson dead body.

Act V scene i

senka
04-24-2012, 03:57 AM
It depends on a lot of variables - type of soil, type of coffin, if the body has been embalmed, condition of body at time of internment. How long the person was dead at time of internment and where and how the body had been stored.

Of course...


It would be in or around London (but for the type of soil I'd have to do some research first)
Burial is at April 9th, person dead since April 5th, but body is burned (died in a fire).
Embalmed - no.
Type of coffin - I think it would be plywood (have to do some research here, but in any case it would be some cheap material).

The thing is, I have NO idea how long it approximately takes (for average Western/Central European standards) until there is left nothing but bones.
I mean, if someone would tell me "between 2 and 5 years" or "between 10 and 15 years" that would already help a lot, as I have absolutely no clue.



Can't resist . . .

HAMLET
How long will a man lie i' the earth ere he rot?

Grave Digger

I' faith, if he be not rotten before he die--as we
have many pocky corses now-a-days, that will scarce hold the laying in--he will last you some eight year or nine year: a tanner will last you nine year.

HAMLET
Why he more than another?

Grave Digger
Why, sir, his hide is so tanned with his trade, that he will keep out water a great while; and your water is a sore decayer of your whoreson dead body.

Act V scene i

:D and this did help, besides the fact that it gave me a laugh, as now I guess digging up a body after only two years might probably be pretty disgusting.

jclarkdawe
04-24-2012, 05:08 AM
Of course...


It would be in or around London (but for the type of soil I'd have to do some research first)
Burial is at April 9th, person dead since April 5th, but body is burned (died in a fire).
Embalmed - no.
Type of coffin - I think it would be plywood (have to do some research here, but in any case it would be some cheap material).

The thing is, I have NO idea how long it approximately takes (for average Western/Central European standards) until there is left nothing but bones.
I mean, if someone would tell me "between 2 and 5 years" or "between 10 and 15 years" that would already help a lot, as I have absolutely no clue.


You might want to look at University of Tennessee Forensic Anthropology Center (http://web.utk.edu/%7Eanthrop/index.htm).

No one can tell you for sure, and two bodies in the same cemetery can have markedly different decomposition rates. Result is all you can get is a S.W.A.G. (scientific wild ass guess). London burials are probably somewhat close to the water table, if they go down the full six feet. But I doubt they go down a full six feet, because most of London involves graves that have seen multiple uses. Closer to the surface means you're probably going to get more variation in water, with soaking and drying both happening.

Being soaked tends to speed decomposition, being dry tends towards mummification. Repeated cycles tends to cause movement in the soil as the water drains down. This will help speed decomposition.

I don't know anything about the soil in London. Soil with high levels of acids tend to produce a lot of destruction to the body. Cold, damp soil tends to help in the production of adipocere, which slows decomposition. Body fat composition also helps in the production of adipocere, with the higher the fat content of the body, the more likely adipocere is to appear.

Decomposition for a buried body is about eight times as long as a body on the surface. (Water is about twice as long as a body on the surface.)

Lack of embalming will speed decomposition. However, you've got a burnt body, which preserves meat. Depending upon how badly burned the body is will be how much bodily fluids have exited the body. Lack of bodily fluids will delay decomposition. (Think jerked meat here.) Further, burning will impact the digestion system. Digestion, which continues after death, speeds decomposition.

Net result, and here's where the S.W.A.G. comes in, is my guess is that a body buried for two years with the conditions your describing would be significantly intact, with some level of adipocere, and some bone showing. Body would be easily recognized as human, and possibly maintain enough integrity in the face for some level of identification, at least identification consistent with her facial image after the fire.

But I wouldn't put any money down on this bet.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

blacbird
04-24-2012, 06:58 AM
The University of Tennessee has a corpse-study ground, referred to as the "body farm", where they lay out dead bodies to decay, and study how this works. It's become famous, and would be worth a bit of googling, if you are really interested in details.

caw

Shakesbear
04-25-2012, 01:43 PM
You might want to look at University of Tennessee Forensic Anthropology Center (http://web.utk.edu/%7Eanthrop/index.htm).
But I doubt they go down a full six feet, because most of London involves graves that have seen multiple uses.
Jim Clark-Dawe

Yes and no! Many cemeteries in Central London are closed and no more burials can take place in them. Abney Park and Highgate are two that spring to mind. There are graveyards in Greater London that are still open. They tend to be located where the soil is not fit for any other purpose, e.g gardens or housing. I have been to several funerals in such cemeteries and the soil is heavy clay. Though most of them were on the east side of London.

You might find this site useful:
http://www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/Corporation/LGNL_Services/Community_and_living/Deaths_funerals_and_cremations/Cemetery_and_crematorium/

The FAQs have some interesting answers - well, I thought they were interesting!

jclarkdawe
04-25-2012, 03:59 PM
Yes and no! Many cemeteries in Central London are closed and no more burials can take place in them. Abney Park and Highgate are two that spring to mind. There are graveyards in Greater London that are still open. They tend to be located where the soil is not fit for any other purpose, e.g gardens or housing. I have been to several funerals in such cemeteries and the soil is heavy clay. Though most of them were on the east side of London.

You might find this site useful:
http://www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/Corporation/LGNL_Services/Community_and_living/Deaths_funerals_and_cremations/Cemetery_and_crematorium/

The FAQs have some interesting answers - well, I thought they were interesting!

The FAQs were definitely interesting. Among other things was the intentional use of stacked burials. It would appear that the bottom most body might well be considerably below six feet.

It's my impression that central London is somewhat influenced by the Thames, producing a higher water level then you might normally get. But my guess is that the further you get from the Thames, the more normal the water table becomes. And since the graves are now being intentionally designed for several uses, I'm going to guess water is factored into this.

Heavy clay is an interesting image for me. Clay is a heavy, solid soil that restricts water movement, by and large. Yet in spring, often clay can come out dripping wet (you'll see this in the piles as the water drains out). I'm thinking, however, that what you're describing has limited water in it.

Based upon your information, Shakesbear, I'd change my SWAG to even less decomposition. Heavy clay is going to limit both water and air movement, and probably packs down fairly well after being disturbed.

But it's still a SWAG. You need to talk to the gravediggers at the specific cemetery to get a solid answer.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

Shakesbear
04-25-2012, 06:41 PM
Jim there is some useful information about the geological make up of the London basin here:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/London_Basin

If you want more techie stuff try the Geological Society, http://www.geolsoc.org.uk/index.html

Makes my head hurt, all this techie science stuff.

senka
04-27-2012, 09:38 AM
Thanks so much for your help!

In case of the graveyard question, the burial itself takes place in April 1998, so I'd have to look up which ones would have been used at that time, not now.

And for the body - there are a few people digging it up to get something that was put into the coffin together with the corpse, and as the person was a person they knew, some of them will have a closer look at it. Nevertheless it's in the middle of the night (meaning: pitch dark) and they're in a hurry as they of course fear to get caught.
Looking at this, I won't have to know it that very, very exactly, like it might be the case if the corpse would be described inch by inch when examined by a coroner, or such.
Nevertheless I want to write about something that is realistically possible.

jclarkdawe
04-27-2012, 05:11 PM
First off remember that a burn victim is pretty hard to look at. Depending upon how badly burned they are, they might only be marginally recognizable as human when they are removed from the fire. This will be improved somewhat when they're placed in a coffin, because you have to straighten them out, but there might be no face left, sexual identifying body parts may be gone, bones might be in sight in places, and hair completely burnt off. If you've got a strong stomach, run a search for "burn victims" in Google, asking for just images.

So that's your starting point. First thing your diggers are going to notice when they open the coffin is the smell. Take a look at Body -- How long after death before odor? (http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=240660&highlight=decomposition), which has some links to other threads on the smell of decomposing bodies. However, in your case, not only are you going to have the odor of decomposition, but it's going to be overlaid with the smell of burnt meat. Without even looking, you'll probably have some of the diggers losing their lunch.

The body is going to be somewhat damp and slimy, as the body fluids leave the body but don't have any place to go. This will be less then normal, but probably still would be noticeable. Clothing would be pretty ugly looking, and depending upon the fabric, would probably be in pieces, breaking apart somewhat easily on touch. The body itself would probably be in worse shape then after the fire, but you could probably see the connection between what the body looked like after the fire and the condition of the body now. It would probably be covered with adipocere in a thin layer. Again, run a search in Google for images of adipocere. Body openings (eyes, mouth, nose, rectum) would be more pronounced.

Understand that this is a SWAG. There are a lot of variables in this. Personally if I was writing this scene, I'd concentrate less on what the body looked like then the reactions of the diggers -- the vomiting, the nightmares to come in the future, the shock, the reeling back, et cetera.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

Bufty
04-27-2012, 05:52 PM
Great point in your final sentence, Jim - no need to describe the corpse at all.

And trying to keep from vomitting while both your pal's are throwing up and retching and you're leaning over the coffin...rummaging around looking for whatever it is you're looking for - with bare hands so you can feel...oh, excuse me...dashes to nearest bathroom.....

Incidentally, any coffin lids I've seen would be well nigh impossible to break into and would necessitate digging up the whole grave to access the screws. Maybe it's a cheapo cardboard box -if the legislation permitted such coffins. I don't know. Check with the gravediggers.

And make certain it's not a new plot because he'd have gone deep.

Good luck

Torgo
04-27-2012, 05:55 PM
Buy any Patricia Cornwell novel (I would suggest "The Body Farm") and you'll learn probably more than you wanted to know.