Temperature dynamics in different body regions of decomposing vertebrate remains
Forensic Science International
The decomposition of vertebrates is controlled largely by external temperature, yet internal temperatures can also play an important role but are generally poorly documented. In this study, we compared continuous hourly temperature recordings from the mouth, under the head, right chest and right abdomen, and in the rectum of one refrigerated human and one fresh pig cadaver during 29 days of decomposition. Each cadaver differed in its internal starting temperature, thus providing two contrasting case studies for examining temperature dynamics among body regions. We used time-series analysis methods common to hydrology to reveal key differences in internal temperature dynamics. Within both cadavers, the chest region experienced the highest average temperatures, and the mouth experienced the highest maximum hourly temperature. Temperatures exceeded 30 °C inside the pig for between 40% (rectum) and 75% (chest) of the duration of the study, but for only 20% (rectum) and 35% (chest) of the time in the human. Our study provides evidence of the different thermal trajectories occurring in different body regions, and some similarities between two cadavers despite their different starting thermal conditions. These results improve our understanding of why decomposition occurs at different rates within the same cadaver, and that the location of blowfly larvae collections should be noted to improve estimates of the post-mortem interval.
Open Access Status
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Australian Research Council