The taphonomy of human remains in a glacial environment

Forensic Sci Int. 2016 Apr:261:161.e1-8. doi: 10.1016/j.forsciint.2016.01.027. Epub 2016 Feb 3.


A glacial environment is a unique setting that can alter human remains in characteristic ways. This study describes glacial dynamics and how glaciers can be understood as taphonomic agents. Using a case study of human remains recovered from Colony Glacier, Alaska, a glacial taphonomic signature is outlined that includes: (1) movement of remains, (2) dispersal of remains, (3) altered bone margins, (4) splitting of skeletal elements, and (5) extensive soft tissue preservation and adipocere formation. As global glacier area is declining in the current climate, there is the potential for more materials of archaeological and medicolegal significance to be exposed. It is therefore important for the forensic anthropologist to have an idea of the taphonomy in this setting and to be able to differentiate glacial effects from other taphonomic agents.

Keywords: Forensic anthropology; Glacial dynamics; Glacial movement; Glacial taphonomy.

MeSH terms

  • Accidents, Aviation
  • Alaska
  • Body Remains*
  • Bone and Bones / pathology
  • Extreme Cold Weather*
  • Forensic Anthropology
  • Humans
  • Ice Cover*
  • Postmortem Changes