A researcher at Australia’s first ‘human body farm’ discovered that movement occurs in bodies for more than a year after death, after setting up time-lapse cameras to observe the corpses.
Alyson Wilson, a medical science undergraduate at CQUniversity, made the surprising discovery while filming the decomposition of a donor body in 30 minute intervals over a period of 17 months.
The observations have been deemed significant by Wilson’s colleagues, who believe the findings could potentially be important in future police investigations.
As reported by ABC News, the body farm – the Australian Facility for Taphonomic Experimental Research (AFTER) on the outskirts of Sydney – was set up three years ago to investigate human decomposition under a variety of conditions to replicate crime scene scenarios.
Wilson told the television station:
What we found was that the arms were significantly moving, so that arms that started off down beside the body ended up out to the side of the body.
One arm went out and then came back in to nearly touching the side of the body again.
Although the undergraduate expected some movement in the early stages of decomposition, Wilson said she was surprised to see the movement continue for the 17 months of filming. She believes the movement could be a result of shrinking and contracting when the body’s ligaments dried out.
Importantly, the findings could play a vital role in police investigations, with Wilson saying it was ‘very important to help law enforcement to solve crime’.
It’s important for victims and victims’ families, and in a lot of cases it gives the victim a voice to tell their last story.
Her findings have also excited forensic anthropologist and criminologist, Dr Xanthe Mallett, who conducts research at AFTER.
Dr Mallet, who supervised the study, said the findings were significant because investigators previously worked on the assumption that the position a body was found in was the same position the person died in – unless there was evidence the body had been moved by other people or by animals.
Dr Maiken Ueland, deputy director of AFTER, said some movement was caused by insect activity and gas build-up in the body in the early to mid-stages of decomposition.
She agreed the findings could impact crime investigations:
Being able to watch the human decomposition process in detail, as it happens, over time in 30-minute intervals will be invaluable in the search for better ways to establish time since death by determining when certain visible markers occur.
Knowing that body movement can result from the decomposition process rather than scavengers or original placement will be important when it comes to determining what happened, particularly if this movement is much greater than first believed.
AFTER currently has 70 donor bodies, with Associate Professor Jodie Ward saying the research is ‘only possible’ because of the ‘generous and invaluable’ contribution of the donors and their families.
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A Broadcast Journalism Masters graduate who went on to achieve an NCTJ level 3 Diploma in Journalism, Lucy has done stints at ITV, BBC Inside Out and Key 103. While working as a journalist for UNILAD, Lucy has reported on breaking news stories while also writing features about mental health, cervical screening awareness, and Little Mix (who she is unapologetically obsessed with).