The Fitness Fixer
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Body Farm Not Just For Halloween

The Anthropological Research Facility in Tennessee studies decomposition of human corpses. Their informal name is The Body Farm. The bodies are real and donated to forensic science by willing donors, or are bodies unclaimed at a medical examiner's office.

At a body farm, dead human bodies are left lying in various environments, such as a wooded area, a pool of water, in a garbage bag, a roll of carpet, the trunk of a car, or tied to a tree. They may be buried shallowly or deeply, entombed or left exposed. The purpose is to study key forensic identifiers as time of death, insect colonization changes with environment and temperature, interpretation of insect evidence, and various changes related to whether a body has been moved from one location to another. Information gained helps the science and technology of forensics, forensic anthropology, entomology (study of insects), law enforcement, and others.

Some of the research goes toward determining causes and time of death. Previous assumptions for determining time of death from cooling or insect colonization have been found to be in error and in need of restudy. Another line of study is to develop identification technology to "sniff" and find a concealed body, creating an electronic version of a cadaver dog. It has been found that different conditions and geographic locations create different decomposition chemicals. A dog or machine calibrated to one area may be ineffective in another

There are three facilities in the United States (so far) that study the science of changes in a body after death. The University of Tennessee facility is the first body farm. Another facility is part of the Forensic Anthropology Center at Texas State (F.A.C.T.S.) A third opened through the Western Carolina University Forensic Anthropology program in 2006.

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About the Author


Dr. Bookspan is an award-winning scientist whose goal is to make exercise easier and healthier.