When in forensic casework or empirical research in-person assessment of human decomposition is not possible, the sensible substitution is color photographic images. To date, no research has confirmed the utility of color photographic images as a proxy for in situ observation of the level of decomposition. Sixteen observers scored photographs of 13 human cadavers in varying decomposition stages (PMI 2-186 days) using the Total Body Score system (total n = 929 observations). The on-site TBS was compared with recorded observations from digital color images using a paired samples t-test. The average difference between on-site and photographic observations was -0.20 (t = -1.679, df = 928, p = 0.094). Individually, only two observers, both students with <1 year of experience, demonstrated TBS statistically significantly different than the on-site value, suggesting that with experience, observations of human decomposition based on digital images can be substituted for assessments based on observation of the corpse in situ, when necessary.
Keywords: data verification; forensic anthropology; forensic science; photographs; taphonomy; visual assessment.
© 2017 American Academy of Forensic Sciences.