• Modelling the buried human body environment in upland climes using three contrasting field sites

      Wilson, Andrew S.; Janaway, Robert C.; Holland, Andrew D.; Dodson, Hilary I.; Baran, Eve N.; Pollard, A. Mark; Tobin, Desmond J. (2007)
      Despite an increasing literature on the decomposition of human remains, whether buried or exposed, it is important to recognise the role of specific microenvironments which can either trigger or delay the rate of decomposition. Recent casework in Northern England involving buried and partially buried human remains has demonstrated a need for a more detailed understanding of the effect of contrasting site conditions on cadaver decomposition and on the microenvironment created within the grave itself. Pigs (Sus scrofa) were used as body analogues in three inter-related taphonomy experiments to examine differential decomposition of buried human remains. They were buried at three contrasting field sites (pasture, moorland, and deciduous woodland) within a 15km radius of the University of Bradford, West Yorkshire, UK. Changes to the buried body and the effect of these changes on hair and associated death-scene textile materials were monitored as was the microenvironment of the grave. At recovery, 6, 12 and 24 months post-burial, the extent of soft tissue decomposition was recorded and samples of fat and soil were collected for gas chromatography mass spectrometry (GCMS) analysis. The results of these studies demonstrated that (1) soil conditions at these three burial sites has a marked effect on the condition of the buried body but even within a single site variation can occur; (2) the process of soft tissue decomposition modifies the localised burial microenvironment in terms of microbiological load, pH, moisture and changes in redox status. These observations have widespread application for the investigation of clandestine burial and time since deposition, and in understanding changes within the burial microenvironment that may impact on biomaterials such as hair and other associated death scene materials.