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Body Farms



This completely updated, new edition of Forensic Science approaches its subject from multiple directions. One primary approach is from the points of view of forensic investigators. In addition to its core essays on subspecialties and allied fields, the set has essays on specific types of investigations, investigative techniques, specialized equipment, and types of evidence. Also included is coverage of the role of forensic science in the American legal system. The articles define the topic and summarize their relevance to forensic science. This new edition adds hundreds of new entries and a complete update of existing entries to offer a comprehensive overview of this popular field. See citation of the chapter at:
Raton, Fla.: CRC Press, 2007. Comprehensive
volume discusses common issues in forensic
pathology, including determination of instru-
ments in blunt force trauma situations.
Ferllini, Roxana, ed. Forensic Archaeology and
Human Rights Violations. Springfield, Ill.:
Charles C Thomas, 2007. Collection of essays
by experts in various disciplines includes dis-
cussion of the forensic examination of bodies
subjected to blunt force trauma and other
deadly injuries in human rights violation
Moore, Ernest E., Kenneth L. Mattox, and Da-
vid V. Feliciano. Trauma Manual. 4th ed.
New York: McGraw-Hill, 2003. Focuses
mostly on trauma surgery, but discusses
blunt force trauma in surgical situations.
Shkrum, Michael J., and David A. Ramsay.
Forensic Pathology of Trauma: Common
Problems for the Pathologist. Totowa, N.J.:
Humana Press, 2007. Addresses common
trauma patterns, including determination of
blunt force trauma, in forensic settings.
Wilson, William C., Christopher M. Grande,
and David B. Hoyt, eds. Trauma: Critical
Care. Vol. 2. New York: Informa Healthcare,
2007. Discusses the determination of types of
blunt force trauma and wound analysis.
See also: Antemortem injuries; Blood residue
and bloodstains; Blood spatter analysis; Child
abuse; Crime scene investigation; Defensive
wounds; Driving injuries; Forensic anthropol-
ogy; Osteology and skeletal radiology; Peruvian
Ice Maiden; Physical evidence; Skeletal analysis.
Body farms
Definition: Outdoor facilities that allow fo-
rensic anthropologists to study postmor-
tem decomposition of human remains.
Significance: Research conducted at body
farms helps the practitioners of a number
of forensic disciplines—including medical
examiners, crime scene investigators, and
law-enforcement personnel—with the iden-
tification of human remains.
The first body farm was established in 1972 by
Dr. William M. Bass at the University of Ten-
nessee in Knoxville. Shortly after he moved to
Tennessee, Bass was asked to join the staff of
the state’s medical examiner’s office as state fo-
rensic anthropologist. Part of Bass’s duties in
this position included consulting on death in-
vestigations being conducted by federal, state,
and local law-enforcement agencies. Although
Bass had extensive training in forensic anthro-
pology, he did not have a lot of knowledge about
or experience with the decomposition of human
remains. In addition, research in this area was
nearly nonexistent. This need led Bass and his
colleagues to open the University of Tennessee
Anthropological Research Facility, which came
to be known as the Body Farm.
Purpose of Body Farms
The research conducted on body farms allows
forensic anthropologists to study the postmor-
tem decomposition of human remains. This
work is important for a number of reasons.
First, it helps scientists to gain a more compre-
hensive understanding of what occurs to the
body after death and thus to develop better
methods of determining the “time since death”
in specific cases. Time since death, or the post-
mortem interval, is a critical element in homi-
cide investigations, as law-enforcement officers
or crime scene investigators must often confirm
or disprove the alibis of potential suspects.
Second, the research on body farms provides
information that is useful to forensic anthropol-
ogists and medical examiners who must iden-
tify bodies from skeletal remains. By examining
a set of skeletal remains, a forensic anthropolo-
gist or medical examiner can determine a great
deal about the decedent, including age, sex,
stature, ancestry, and the presence of unique
features. Body farm research also provides in-
formation that can help examiners to determine
the cause of death in individual cases. In homi-
cide investigations, law-enforcement officers or
crime scene investigators need to know whether
the decedents have died of natural causes or
whether they have been the victims of foul play.
When the University of Tennessee’s Anthro-
pological Research Facility first began its work,
almost no research had been done documenting
Body farms Forensic Science
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what happens to the human body after death.
Even the most rudimentary questions—for ex-
ample, When do blowflies show up on a body?
How long does it take for a corpse to become a
skeleton?—could not be answered. As the Body
Farm’s studies progressed, the questions be-
came more sophisticated: How do decomposi-
tion rates differ between sunshine and shade?
How do climate differences (cool versus hot) af-
fect decomposition rates? How is decomposition
affected when bodies are buried in shallow
graves as opposed to left on top of the ground?
Do bodies decompose faster in water than they
do on land? How do bodies decompose in vehi-
cles? What effects do other variables—such as
clothing, body weight, and condition of the
body—have on rates of decomposition?
What Happens to Bodies
The University of Tennessee’s body farm oc-
cupies a three-acre tract of land situated near
the University of Tennessee Medical Center; it
is surrounded by razor wire and a wooden pri-
vacy fence. When a corpse arrives at the facility,
it is assigned an identification number to en-
sure the confidentiality of the donor. The body is
then examined and its condition is thoroughly
documented. Bodies are placed in various envi-
ronmental conditions across the property. For
example, some bodies are placed in car trunks,
some are left lying in the sun or shade, some are
buried in shallow graves, some are covered with
brush, and some are submerged in water.
Two things happen when a body decays. At
death, enzymes in the digestive system, having
Forensic Science Body farms
Author Patricia Cornwell, whose best-selling crime nov els feature forensic pathology, shakes hands with Dr. W illiam M. Bass, founder of the
first body farm in the United States , the University of Tennessee Anthropological Research Facilit y. Cornwell is wearing a special outfit be-
cause of her part icipation in a mock airplane crash event st aged for a crime scene investigat ion training exercise in July, 2005. (AP/Wide
World Photos)
Copyright © 2009. Salem Press. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced in any form without permission from the publisher, except fair uses permitted under U.S. or applicable
copyright law.
EBSCO Publishing : eBook Collection (EBSCOhost) - printed on 12/13/2017 9:50 PM via UNIV OF HOUSTON - CLEAR LAKE
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Account: s8478290
no more nutrition, begin to eat on the body and
the tissues liquefy. This process is known as pu-
trefaction. Insects gather on the body, and mag-
gots consume the rotting flesh. At the Univer-
sity of Tennessee, forensic anthropologists Dr.
Richard Jantz and his wife, Dr. Lee Meadow
Jantz, document such insect activity and how
long it takes the insects to do their work. Most of
the characteristics used to determine time since
death are related to insect activity.
After the bodies at the Tennessee facility
have completed the decomposition process, the
bones are cleaned and measured, and the data
are entered into the University of Tennessee’s
Forensic Anthropology Data Bank, which was
created by Dr. Richard Jantz. This database is
the primary tool that forensic anthropologists
use to determine age, sex, stature, ancestry, and
other unique characteristics from skeletal re-
mains. The database is the central component of
a computer program called FORDISC (for Fo-
rensic Discrimination). The FORDISC software
is used all over the world as a tool to assist in the
identification of bodies. For example, a medical
examiner or anthropologist can enter a few skel-
etal measurements and the program can pre-
dict with a fairly high degree of accuracy the
age, race, sex, height, and ancestry of the dece-
dent. The bones are then cataloged and added to
the William M. Bass Donated Skeletal Collec-
tion, which is the largest modern bone collection
in the United States.
Sources of Bodies
The bodies studied at body
farms come from three pri-
mary sources. First, bodies
are often donated through
state medical examiners’ of-
fices. For instance, if a body
comes through a county med-
ical examiner’s office and it
ends up unclaimed—either
because the decedent is never
identified or because the de-
cedent had no friends or rel-
atives to claim the body—
the medical examiner may
choose to send it to a body
farm for decomposition re-
search or for addition to the facility’s skeletal
collection. Second, family members who are
aware of the valuable research conducted at
body farms and who are genuinely interested in
furthering the cause of science may choose to
donate the bodies of loved ones. Third, some
people make the decision before their deaths to
donate their bodies to body farms; by complet-
ing donor consent forms, they ensure that their
wishes are carried out.
Body farms do not accept the corpses of per-
sons who were infected with the human immu-
nodeficiency virus (HIV), with hepatitis, or with
antibiotic-resistant bacteria. These facilities
will accept the donation of anyone’s bones, how-
Impact of the University of Tennessee’s Body
The success of the research conducted at the
Body Farm in Tennessee inspired the opening of
other body farms in the United States and
abroad. Western Carolina University in Cul-
lowhee, North Carolina, created a body farm in
2006 as part of the Western Carolina Human
Identification Laboratory. The facility is run by
the university’s forensic anthropology program
on several acres of land near the campus. Like
the original Body Farm, the North Carolina fa-
cility studies the decomposition of human re-
mains. Researchers at the facility hope to learn
more about the decomposition of bodies in the
Body farms Forensic Science
The Body Farm in Popular Culture
The University of Tennessee’s Anthropological Research Facility
came to widespread public attention, and gained its nickname, with
the 1994 publication of Patricia Cornwell’s novel The Body Farm.In
2003, the nonfiction book Death’s Acre: Inside the Legendary Foren-
sic Lab the Body Farm Where the Dead Do Tell Tales, by Bill Bass
and Jon Jefferson, increased the public’s knowledge of the work
done on body farms. In addition, author Mary Roach visited the Ten-
nessee facility and included discussion of its work in a chapter of her
2003 nonfiction book Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers.
Since coming to the attention of television writers, body farms have
figured as settings in several episodes of crime and suspense shows,
including CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,Law & Order: Special
Victims Unit, and The Dead Zone.
Copyright © 2009. Salem Press. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced in any form without permission from the publisher, except fair uses permitted under U.S. or applicable
copyright law.
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Account: s8478290
western Carolina mountain terrain, which is
very different from the terrain of eastern Ten-
nessee. They are interested in discovering
whether these differences may affect rates of
decomposition and suggest that it is important
to study postmortem decomposition in a variety
of geographic locations.
Texas State University planned to have a
body farm operational by the fall of 2007, but
completion of the facility, which will be run by
the San Marcos Department of Anthropology,
part of the Forensic Anthropology Center at
Texas State, was delayed by objections from res-
idents in the area and concerns about the pres-
ence of buzzards, which might interfere with
flight operations at a nearby airport. Re-
searchers at Texas State are interested in learn-
ing about rates of decomposition in Texas,
where both geography and climate are signifi-
cantly different from those of western Carolina
and eastern Tennessee. Differences in climates
may well be found to affect the rates of decompo-
sition in human remains.
Other body farms are in various stages of
planning and development across the United
States, including in California, Florida, Kansas,
and Iowa. In India, a student, Roma Kahn, who
received a master’s degree in forensic archaeol-
ogy from Bournemouth University in England,
has been conducting preliminary work on the
decomposition of cattle. She hopes to open a fa-
cility to study human decomposition in India,
modeled along the lines of the body farms oper-
ating in the United States.
Dr. Bass and the faculty of the University of
Tennessee’s Department of Anthropology have
played a key role in shaping the field of forensic
anthropology. It has been estimated that as of
2007, the University of Tennessee was responsi-
ble for the education of some 25 percent of the
board-certified forensic anthropologists in the
United States. Entry into the forensic anthro-
pology program at the University of Tennessee
is highly competitive, with roughly sixty stu-
dents applying for the fewer than ten doctoral
positions available annually.
The University of Tennessee’s Forensic An-
thropology Center also inspired the formation
of the National Forensic Academy (NFA), one
of the leading law-enforcement investigation
training centers in the United States. The NFA
offers an intensive ten-week training program
designed to educate law-enforcement agents in
evidence identification, collection, and preser-
vation. The primary goal of the NFA is to pre-
pare law-enforcement officers to recognize cru-
cial components of crime scenes and improve
the process of evidence recovery and submission.
Opposition to Body Farms
Although the research conducted at body
farms has undoubtedly contributed a great deal
to the field of forensic anthropology, some peo-
ple are disturbed by the idea of such facilities in
their neighborhoods. At the heart of many de-
bates is the placement of body farms. Residents
who live near proposed sites often protest the
opening of these facilities for a variety of rea-
sons, including fears that insects will be at-
tracted to the area or that scavenging animals
will carry off body parts, perhaps dropping them
in residents’ backyards. When Texas State Uni-
versity proposed placing its body farm about
two miles from the San Marcos Outlet Mall, one
of the biggest tourist attractions in the area, lo-
cal government officials objected, saying that
the mall’s businesses would likely be hurt by
their proximity to such a facility.
The University of Tennessee’s Body Farm
was subject to similar opposition in its early
days. Members of a local health care advocacy
group called Solutions to Issues of Concern to
Knoxvillians (SICK) protested at the research
facility, holding up signs proclaiming, “This
makes us SICK.” A number of local residents
also complained about the odor emitted from
the Body Farm. The primary point of conten-
tion, however, was that the facility was not com-
pletely fenced in, and some people could see the
decaying bodies from their homes. The univer-
sity solved this problem by agreeing to install a
privacy fence.
Kimberly D. Dodson
Further Reading
Bass, Bill, and Jon Jefferson. Beyond the Body
Farm: A Legendary Bone Detective Explores
Murders, Mysteries, and the Revolution in
Forensic Science. New York: William Mor-
row, 2007. Examines the forensic science em-
Forensic Science Body farms
Copyright © 2009. Salem Press. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced in any form without permission from the publisher, except fair uses permitted under U.S. or applicable
copyright law.
EBSCO Publishing : eBook Collection (EBSCOhost) - printed on 12/13/2017 9:50 PM via UNIV OF HOUSTON - CLEAR LAKE
AN: 253534 ; Pass, Allan D., Embar-Seddon, Ayn.; Forensic Science
Account: s8478290

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