New UT research shows humans have different decomposition patterns than pigs and rabbits—a finding that could immediately impact court cases around the world.
For years, forensic court cases worldwide have routinely used animal models to estimate time since death, or postmortem interval, of human remains, largely because access to human subjects was not available. The UT study shows that doing so could yield flawed results because decomposition rates, insect activity, and scavenger activity vary greatly between human and nonhuman subjects.
The study indicates that human decomposition is much more variable than that of either pigs or rabbits.
This study, the first of its kind, was conducted at the UT Anthropology Research Facility, commonly known as the Body Farm. It is the first outdoor laboratory in the world to study human decomposition.
“This research provides guidance to lawyers and judges concerning the admissibility of testimony by anthropologists and entomologists,” said Dawnie Steadman, the project’s lead principal investigator and director of the UT Forensic Anthropology Center, which houses the Anthropology Research Facility.
The work was funded by the National Institute of Justice.
Steadman and her colleagues have presented three papers about the findings to the American Academy of Forensic Sciences and are preparing three articles to be submitted to the Journal of Forensic Sciences.
Lee Jantz and Giovanna Vidoli, associate director and assistant director, respectively, of the UT Forensic Anthropology Center, were co-principal investigators on the project. The FAC team collaborated with Amy Mundorff, assistant professor of anthropology; Jennifer DeBruyn and Sean Schaeffer, assistant professors of biosystems engineering and soil sciences in the UT Institute of Agriculture; entomologist Ralph Williams; and Angela Dautartas, an anthropology graduate assistant who is completing her dissertation using data from the project.
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