Rest in peace after death is apparently not as restful or peaceful as we first thought. An Australian scientist has evidenced that human bodies move around significantly for more than a year after death. Her findings that were recently published in the journal “Forensic Science International: Synergy”, could have significant implications for detectives and pathologists around the world.
After observing and photographing the movements of a cadaver decomposing in the elements outside of Sydney with a time-lapse camera over a period of 17 months, Alyson Wilson said that she noticed that humans do not exactly stay still after death. In one particular case study, arms that were initially held close to the body were noted flung out to the side.
She said, “We think the movements relate to the process of decomposition, as the body mummifies and the ligaments dry out”.
To undertake her unusual study, Ms. Wilson traveled from Cairns to Sydney every month to check on the progress of the cadaver. Her subject was one of 70 bodies kept at the Southern Hemisphere’s only “body farm located at a secret bushland location on the outskirts of Sydney.
The farm that is officially known as the Australian Facility for Taphonomic Experimental Research (AFTER) carries out pioneering research into post-mortem movement. The farm is also involved in the study of animal carcasses in their various stages of decomposition and also aids training of cadaver finding dogs.
Ms. Wilson and her team were attempting to improve a commonly used method for estimating the time of death using time-lapse cameras and, during the process, made the stunning discovery that human bodies actually move around significantly.
An improved understanding of these movements and the rate of decomposition can assist police in estimating the time of death more accurately. For example, Ms. Wilson hopes the knowledge could potentially narrow down the number of missing persons that could be connected to an unidentified corpse. Better knowledge of the post-mortem movement could also benefit from reducing the incorrect cause of death or misinterpretation of a crime scene.
She explains, “They’ll map a crime scene, they’ll map the victim’s body position, they’ll map any physical evidence which is found, and they can understand the cause of death.”
The CQ University criminology graduate recalls that she started her exceptional project after a trip to Mexico to help classify Mayan-era skeletal remains.
She shared, “I was fascinated with death from a child and was always interested in how the body breaks down after death. I guess that comes about from being raised on a farm and seeing livestock die and watching that process. Once I observed a movement in a previous study, I started researching, and couldn’t find anywhere in the world that looks at quantifying the movement, so I thought OK, I’m going to do this.”