According to a report presented at the yearly American Academy of Forensic Sciences conference, forensic experts should no longer examine dead pigs in hopes of gaining an understanding on how the bodies of human beings decompose in various weather (and other environmental conditions) or to determine how long a subject has been dead. An investigative team did the research from the University of Tennessee’s Forensic Anthropology Center also known as The Body Farm. Their recent study indicates that pigs don’t make the grade in determining time of death and that instead actual deceased humans should be used.
While forensic investigators have relied on data originating from dead pigs to establish timelines for murder trials, this new report suggests that the data is not reliable enough to use in legal settings. The scientific team specifically studied how 15 rabbits, pigs and humans decomposed in an identical environment. They use three trials exposing five of each type of corpse to the elements of winter, spring and summer.
Their series of experiments demonstrated that every single one of the various test subjects decomposed at vastly different rates. On average the dead pigs decomposing faster than the dead humans. Additionally, they learned that a human body varied significantly more on a boy to body basis than the pigs or the rabbits did.
Dawnie Wolfe Steadman, the director of the University of Tennessee’s Forensic Anthropology Center commented on this. She told The New York Times: "What we’re saying is that to estimate the time since death for human forensic cases, our results indicate that human subjects are best, because the pigs and the rabbits do not capture the variation we saw in the humans.”
She went on to note, however, that while dead pigs might not help in accurately reporting on the process of human decomposition, they still have some value in the field of forensic investigation. She explained that pigs permit scientists to study the different kinds of scavengers and insects that reportedly flock to decomposing flesh in different areas.
The team of researchers also learned other things as well. They discovered that there is a noteworthy difference in the way one human body decomposes from that of another. For example, their data revealed that the corpses of those who had been taking chemotherapy drugs decomposed significantly differently than those that had not.
Steadman stated that every human body is different. "All of us have various diets, our body composition varies widely, and it’s not just weight,” she told the press, “Individuals who have a lot of fat decompose faster than lean individuals."
Dead pigs have a long history of being used in place of human corpses because human corpses have been more difficult to stockpile. However, in 1987, William M. Bass learned just how clueless forensic anthropologists really were regarding what to look for at crime scenes. He apparently believed in the importance of studying actual human bodies.
Since then human “body farms” have become a reality on a more historically regular basis. So while this new study may truly only prove that further study is needed, there is no question that there is already a proven need for these growing outdoor body farms Scientists need to be able to store human corpses and more readily study exactly how actual human beings decompose and everything else occurs during the decomposition process.