Mapping the lateral extent of human cadaver decomposition with soil chemistry. Academic Article uri icon


  • Soil below decomposing cadavers may have a different lateral spatial extent depending upon whether scavengers have access to the human cadaver or not. We examined the lateral spatial extent of decomposition products to a depth of 7cm of soils beneath two decomposing corpses, one in which the subject was autopsied, unclothed and placed under a wire cage to restrict scavenger access and one in which the subject was not autopsied, unclothed and exposed to scavengers. The two bodies had accumulated degree days (ADD) of 5799 and 5469 and post mortem interval (PMI) of 288 and 248d, respectively. The spatial extent for dissolved organic carbon (DOC) and organic nitrogen (DON) for both bodies was large but similar suggesting some movement off site for both compounds. Mean DOC was 1087±727 and 1484±1236μgg(-1) dry soil under the two corpses relative to 150±68μgg(-1) in upslope control soils. Sulfate tended to have 'hot spots' of lower values relative to the control soils indicative of anaerobic respiration. pH was lower and electrical conductivity was higher in the soil under both decomposing cadavers relative to control soils. Some of the nutrients examined downslope of the human remains were significantly higher than control soils upslope suggesting movement of decomposition products off-site which could be an important factor when using human remains detector dogs.

published proceedings

  • Forensic Sci Int

altmetric score

  • 20.754

author list (cited authors)

  • Aitkenhead-Peterson, J. A., Owings, C. G., Alexander, M. B., Larison, N., & Bytheway, J. A.

citation count

  • 44

complete list of authors

  • Aitkenhead-Peterson, JA||Owings, CG||Alexander, MB||Larison, N||Bytheway, JA

publication date

  • March 2012