The different stages of decomposition

For instance, a body swaddled in blankets or buried under a few feet of soil will be significantly less exposed than a naked, unburied cadaver exposed to the elements.

Purging releases nutrients into the underlying soil, and maggot migration transfers much of the energy in a body to the wider environment. A submerged corpse can vary in temperature and is colonized by very few terrestrial insects.

The passage of breath through this mucous due to spasms will cause a gurgling or rattle-like sound. Here, scattered among the pine trees, are about a half dozen human cadavers, in various stages of decay.

This is called algor mortis. Ultimately, the rate of bacterial decomposition acting on the tissue will depend upon the temperature of the surroundings. However conversely fire could cause injuries which ultimately expose the body further, accelerating the decomposition process.

Their activity is so rigorous that their migration paths may be seen after decomposition is finished, as deep furrows in the soil emanating from the cadaver.

Adipocere Also referred to as corpse wax or grave wax, adipocere is a grey or light brown waxy material primarily composed of saturated fatty acids, typically formed within approximately one month of death but has been known to form within up to 6 months. Environmental conditions will equally affect the species of insect present in the area, in turn having an effect on the state of the corpse depending on the species colonizing the remains.

Current research is also examining the chemicals produced by the body during the decomposition process with the aim of determining time since death based on the volatile compounds emitted at the different stages of decomposition.

The speed at which decomposition occurs varies greatly. They can therefore provide information that is useful for estimating time of death, and for learning about the circumstances of death.

To this date, bromazepamlevomepromazinemalathionphenobarbitaltrazolamoxazepamalimemazineclomipraminemorphinemercuryand copper have been recovered from maggots. Human Decomposition Research The process of human decomposition is still relatively unknown, thus a great deal of research is currently being conducted in hopes of understanding it better.


Higher temperatures favor the reproduction of bacteria inside high nutrient areas of the liver and other organs. A dry and windy environment can dehydrate a cadaver, resulting in mummification see above. Each of these stages are also associated with the arrival of different species of insects, though more can be read about this on the forensic entomology page.

Given the paucity of human decomposition research, we still know very little about the insect species that colonise a cadaver. If the conditions are right, the body dries out instead of liquefying in a process called butyric fermentation or mummification. After this time the muscles then begin to relax.

The Stages of the Human Decomposition Process

Like penguins huddling, individual maggots within the mass are constantly on the move. They then extracted bacterial DNA from the samples, and sequenced it to find that bloating is characterised by a marked shift from aerobic to anaerobic species.

Vultures and other scavengers, as well as other, large meat-eating animals, may also descend upon the body. Decomposition of a corpse is a continual process that can take from weeks to years, depending on the environment.

In this website we have divided the process into stages, which are characterised by particular physical conditions of the corpse and the presence of particular animals. To illustrate the process of decomposition, we use the piglet as.

What Are the Four Stages of Human Decomposition?

Current research is also examining the chemicals produced by the body during the decomposition process with the aim of determining time since death based on the volatile compounds emitted at the different stages of decomposition.

The process of decomposition — the breakdown of raw organic materials to a finished compost — is a gradual complex process, one in which both chemical and biological processes must occur in order for organic matter to change into compost.

1 Early Postmortem Changes and Stages of Decomposition 3 decomposition but recorded different species. By contrast, work in Hawaii by Early and Goff (), using domestic cats as the animal model, recognized five.

Stages of decomposition. Five general stages are used to describe the process of decomposition in vertebrate animals: fresh, bloat, active decay, advanced decay, and dry/remains.


The general stages of decomposition are coupled with two stages of chemical decomposition: autolysis and putrefaction. Human decomposition has a few more steps than the decomposition of animals and plants, but is a bit easier to describe without scientifically refering to the processes that are actually occuring.

The different stages of decomposition
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Life after death: the science of human decomposition | Science | The Guardian