Australian research suggests dead bodies move while decomposing

Science

14 Sep 2019

Study finds dead bodies continue to move months after death

For the longest time, humans have believed that after a person dies, their corpses remain still, especially after rigor mortis sets in. However, Australian scientists have recently made a startling discovery.

Researchers at Australia's first 'human body farm'- Australian Facility for Taphonomic Experimental Research (AFTER)- observed a donor body over 17 months using time-lapse cameras and found that it continued to move while decomposing!

Details

Bodies showed significant movement throughout 17-month study

Bodies showed significant movement throughout 17-month study

According to ABC, AFTER researcher Alyson Wilson filmed a donor body at 30-minute intervals over 17 months.

Wilson, a medical science undergraduate at CQUniversity, told the publication that she expected some movement in the early stages of decomposition, however, her observations left her surprised.

Reportedly, Wilson observed that the bodies continued to show significant movement, throughout 17 months of filming.

Quote

The arms were significantly moving, says Wilson

Further, Wilson told ABC, "The arms were significantly moving so that arms that started off down beside the body ended up out to the side of the body."

She added, "One arm went out and then came back in to nearly touching the side of the body again."

Wilson said that this could be shrinking and contracting as the body's ligaments dried out.

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Response

Research findings already creating waves

Although the findings are yet to be published in a peer-reviewed journal, they have already spiked many of Wilson's colleague's curiosity.

Senior Lecturer, Newcastle University, Dr. Xanthe Mallett, who also conducts research at AFTER, said the findings could have crucial implications for crime scene investigations (CSI), where it's presumed that dead bodies remain still unless evidence suggests that they have been moved.

Research very important to help law enforcement solve crimes: Wilson

Additionally, Wilson said, "This research is important to help law enforcement to solve crimes and it also assists in disaster investigations. It's important for victims and victims' families, and in a lot of cases it gives the victim a voice to tell their last story."

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Findings are 'invaluable' in establishing time-since-death

Findings are 'invaluable' in establishing time-since-death

Meanwhile, AFTER Deputy Director Dr. Maiken Ueland said the findings will be "invaluable in the search for better ways to establish time-since-death by determining when certain visible markers occur."

Dr. Ueland said, "Knowing that body movement can result from decomposition rather than scavengers or original placement will be important in determining what happened, particularly if this movement is much greater than first believed."

AFTER

AFTER is Australia's first taphonomic facility

Notably, AFTER is the first taphonomic (a study of how organisms decay) facility outside the US and hence offers unique insight into how the atmosphere in the southern hemisphere impacts decomposition of a body.

Established three years ago, AFTER is owned and led by Sydney's University of Technology and collaborates with academics, police, and forensics for its research projects.

History

Here are some previous works conducted at AFTER

Here are some previous works conducted at AFTER

Last month, Wilson published a study in the journal Forensic Science International: Synergy wherein she used time-lapse cameras to test whether the scientific equations used in the northern hemisphere to estimate the decomposition process were also applicable in Australia.

Last year, another AFTER study established that human remains tend to mummify in the Sydney environment across seasons rather than decompose.

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Sydney

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CSI

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Xanthe Mallett

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