The Effect of Body Mass on Outdoor Adult Human Decomposition

J Forensic Sci. 2017 Sep;62(5):1145-1150. doi: 10.1111/1556-4029.13398. Epub 2017 Feb 23.


Forensic taphonomy explores factors impacting human decomposition. This study investigated the effect of body mass on the rate and pattern of adult human decomposition. Nine males and three females aged 49-95 years ranging in mass from 73 to 159 kg who were donated to the Complex for Forensic Anthropology Research between December 2012 and September 2015 were included in this study. Kelvin accumulated degree days (KADD) were used to assess the thermal energy required for subjects to reach several total body score (TBS) thresholds: early decomposition (TBS ≥6.0), TBS ≥12.5, advanced decomposition (TBS ≥19.0), TBS ≥23.0, and skeletonization (TBS ≥27.0). Results indicate no significant correlation between body mass and KADD at any TBS threshold. Body mass accounted for up to 24.0% of variation in decomposition rate depending on stage, and minor differences in decomposition pattern were observed. Body mass likely has a minimal impact on postmortem interval estimation.

Keywords: body mass; forensic anthropology; forensic science; forensic taphonomy; human decomposition; postmortem interval estimation.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Body Weight*
  • Environment*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Postmortem Changes*
  • Temperature*