Human Body Decomposition - 1st Edition - ISBN: 9780128036914, 9780128037133

Human Body Decomposition

1st Edition

Authors: Jarvis Hayman Marc Oxenham
eBook ISBN: 9780128037133
Paperback ISBN: 9780128036914
Imprint: Academic Press
Published Date: 7th April 2016
Page Count: 162
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The fate of the human body after death is a subject that has fascinated enquirers, both in the scientific and legal realms for millennia. However, objective research into the causes and nature of human decomposition has only taken place in the last two centuries, and quantitative measurement of the process as a means of estimating the time of death has only recently been attempted. The substantial literature concerning this research has been published in numerous scientific journals since the beginning of the nineteenth century. Human Body Decomposition expands on the current literature to include the evolving research on estimating the time of death. This volume details the process of decomposition to include early period after death when the body cools to ambient temperature, and when the body begins to putrefy. This process is significant because the estimation of the time of death becomes increasingly more difficult when the body begins to putrefy.
Human Body Decomposition compiles a chronological account of research into the estimation of the time since death in human bodies found decomposed in order that researchers in the subject field can concentrate their thoughts and build on what has been achieved in the past.

Key Features

  • Provides concise details of research, over the last 200 years, of estimating the time of death in decomposed bodies.
  • Covers methods of research into human decomposition in the stages of body cooling to ambient temperature and the later stages of autolysis, putrefaction and skeletonisation.
  • Includes a detailed account of recent research and future concepts.
  • Concludes with an account of the difficulties which future research into human decomposition will encounter.


Introductory and/or upper level courses in forensic anthropology. Also, reference for other courses involving human identification, skeletal biology or human osteology; practical guide for beginning practitioners

Table of Contents

  • Biography
  • Preface
  • Chapter 1. Supravital Reactions in the Estimation of the Time Since Death (TSD)
    • Abstract
    • Rigor Mortis
    • Livor Mortis
    • Measurement of Mechanical and Electrical Excitability of Muscle
    • References
  • Chapter 2. Algor Mortis and Temperature-Based Methods of Estimating the Time Since Death
    • Abstract
    • Early Research in the 19th Century
    • Mid-20th Century Research
    • Contemporary Research from 1988 to the Present Time
    • Other Studies Attempting to Improve the Estimation of TSD
    • Conclusion
    • References
  • Chapter 3. Biochemical Methods of Estimating the Time Since Death
    • Abstract
    • Introduction
    • Chemical Investigation of Vitreous Humor
    • Acceptance of the Relationship of Vitreous Potassium with the PMI
    • Recent Advances and the Current Status of Research Into Vitreous Potassium
    • The Estimation of Hypoxanthine in Vitreous Humor
    • Chemical Investigation of Synovial Fluid
    • Biomarkers of the PMI in the Bone Marrow and Other Body Organs
    • Immunohistochemistry
    • High-Resolution Proton Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy
    • Electrolyte Concentrations in CSF
    • Electrolyte Concentrations in Pericardial Fluid
    • The Use of DNA and RNA in the Estimation of the PMI
    • Conclusions
    • References
  • Chapter 4. Research in the Later Stages of Decomposition
    • Abstract
    • Estimation of the Postmortem Interval During the Stage of Autolysis and Early Putrefaction
    • Extrinsic Factors Affecting Decomposition: Temperature, Environment, Insects, Burial, Moisture, Scavenging
    • Delayed Decomposition and Preservation: Mummification and Adipocere Formation
    • Estimation of the PMI in the Later Stages of Putrefaction and Skeletonization
    • Estimation of the PMI in Skeletal Remains
    • Methods Measuring Physicochemical Changes
    • Conclusions
    • References
  • Chapter 5. Recent Research and Current Trends
    • Abstract
    • Development of a Grading System of Human Decomposition
    • Correlation of a Decomposition Grading System With the PMI
    • Reservations Concerning the Use of ADDs and Numerical Body Scoring Systems
    • Conclusion
    • References


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© Academic Press 2016
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About the Author

Jarvis Hayman

Jarvis Hayman graduated in Medicine at Aberdeen University. After coming to Australia in 1974, he worked for many years as a surgeon in Sydney and in a regional city in New South Wales. Upon retiring, he studied archaeology at the Australian National University, obtaining a Master’s degree in 2006 with a thesis on the archaeology of the Scottish Highland Clearances. He then combined his archaeological and medical knowledge to undertake a PhD in forensic archaeology. Research for the thesis included a detailed study of the National Coronial Information System, based at the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine (VIFM) in Melbourne, studies of the autopsies of decomposed bodies at the VIFM and researching the decomposition of human bodies at the Grady Early Anthropology Research Facility (GEFARL) of the Texas State University in San Marcos. The thesis developed mathematical models using numerical total body scores of the decomposition process, to estimate the time of death up to 14 days, of human bodies found in many of the states of Australia.

Affiliations and Expertise

Visiting Fellow, Australian National University, Canberra, A.C.T., Australia

Marc Oxenham

Marc Oxenham is a Reader in Archaeology and Biological Anthropology and an Australian Future Fellow at The Australian National University. He has played a leading role in understanding human biological (health and disease related) and cultural responses to significant human and climate induced events in Southeast Asia during the last 10,000 years. In addition to his close involvement over many years as an osteologist and archaeologist with the Australian Defence Force’s Unrecovered War Casualty-Army unit, he edited the first Australian focused book on forensic anthropology and allied disciplines in 2008 “Forensic Approaches to Death, Disaster and Abuse”. Over the past decade or so he has authored and edited 7 books and some 75 research papers and book chapters on topics ranging from forensic anthropology, palaeopathology, bioarchaeology, palaeoparasitology, to the archaeology of children and the elderly.

Affiliations and Expertise

Australian National University, Canberra, Australia


"...represents a detailed review of the extensive body of research relating to TSD estimation of human decomposition. In just over 150 pages, the authors have managed to cover the copious methods proposed from the early hours of post-mortem through to the skeletal stage and beyond...a useful reference to a range of audiences including students, academics, pathologists, police and anyone involved in death investigations." --Australian Journal of Forensic Sciences

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