Spatial patterning of vulture scavenged human remains

Forensic Sci Int. 2012 Jun 10;219(1-3):57-63. doi: 10.1016/j.forsciint.2011.11.030. Epub 2011 Dec 26.


This article presents the results of a pilot study on the effects of vulture modification to human remains. A donated body from the Willed Body Donation Program was placed at the Forensic Anthropology Research Facility (FARF), an outdoor human decomposition laboratory located at Texas State University-San Marcos. The effects of vulture scavenging on the timing and sequence, and the rate of skeletonization, disarticulation, and dispersal were observed via a motion sensing camera and direct observation. Using GIS (Geographic Information Systems) and GPS (Global Positioning System) technologies and spatial analytical methods, the transport of skeletal elements was mapped in order to analyze dispersal and terrain-influenced patterns of active vulture scavenging. Results showed that the initial scavenging took place 37 days after placement at FARF. This delay in scavenging differs from previous research. After the initial appearance of the vultures, the body was reduced from a fully-fleshed individual to a skeleton within only 5h. This underscores the potential for errors in postmortem interval estimations made at vulture scavenged scenes. Additionally, spatial analysis showed that skeletal elements were dispersed by vultures to lower elevations, and that the disarticulation and dispersal of the skeletal elements occurs early in the scavenging sequence.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Carnivora*
  • Falconiformes*
  • Feeding Behavior*
  • Female
  • Forensic Anthropology
  • Forensic Pathology
  • Geographic Information Systems
  • Humans
  • Pilot Projects
  • Time Factors