September 11, 2019 – In Breaking News – ABC Australia
Researchers at Australia’s first ‘human body farm’ have observed that dead bodies move significantly when they decompose and believe the movement could be important in death investigations.
Researcher Alyson Wilson made the discovery using time-lapse cameras to film the decomposition of a donor body in 30-minute intervals over 17 months.
The observations are yet to be published in a peer-reviewed journal, but have intrigued Ms Wilson’s colleagues.
The body farm is the Australian Facility for Taphonomic Experimental Research (AFTER), which was set up three years ago to investigate human decomposition under a variety of conditions to replicate crime scene scenarios.
(Behind a high-security fence at a secret bushland location outside of Sydney lies one of the only body farms in the world, where scientists are studying the various ways human corpses decompose. Courtesy of ABC News Australia and YouTube.)
It lies in a secret bushland location on the outskirts of Sydney.
“What we found was that the arms were significantly moving, so that arms that started off down beside the body ended up out to the side of the body,” Ms Wilson said.
“One arm went out and then came back in to nearly touching the side of the body again.”
Ms Wilson, a medical science undergraduate at CQUniversity, said she expected some movement in the early stages of decomposition, but was surprised to see the movement continued for the 17 months of filming.
She said the movement could be a result of shrinking and contracting when the body’s ligaments dried out, but the information could help with police investigations.
“This research is very important to help law enforcement to solve crime and it also assists in disaster investigations,” Ms Wilson said.
“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.”
(Inside the body farm: Where scientists and detectives go to learn about death. Courtesy of 60 Minutes Australia and YouTube.)
Building on research
The findings follow Ms Wilson’s previous work, published last month in the journal Forensic Science International: Synergy.
In that study, Ms Wilson used the time-lapse camera to test whether a scientific equation to estimate the decomposition of a body in the northern hemisphere was applicable to the Australian environment.
“Until we had AFTER, most of the science on how bodies decomposed was based on the northern hemisphere, where the climate is different, the weather is different and even the insects can be different,” she said.
This is the first time a time-lapse camera had been used to capture human decomposition, and it confirmed the equation could be used in the Australian environment.
(Francesca Fiorentini goes to the Texas State University Forensic Anthropology Research Facility to see how donated bodies help solve crimes. Courtesy of National Geographic and YouTube.)
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