How does mass loss compare with total body score when assessing decomposition of human and pig cadavers?

Publication Name

Forensic Science, Medicine, and Pathology


Providing accurate and reliable measures of decomposition is paramount for forensic research where decomposition progress is used to estimate time of death. Mass loss is routinely used as a direct measure of biomass decomposition in ecological studies, yet few studies have analysed mass loss in a forensic context on human cadavers to determine its usefulness for modelling the decomposition process. Mass loss was examined in decomposing human and pig cadavers, and compared with other common decomposition metrics, such as total body score (TBS). One summer and one winter field decomposition experiment was conducted using human and pig cadavers, as pigs are often used as proxies for human cadavers in forensic research. The two measures of decomposition revealed two contrasting patterns of decomposition on pigs and humans, particularly in winter where TBS stabilised at similar values, but mass loss differed greatly. Mass loss was found to be faster in pigs than humans during early decomposition. Pigs lost 75% of their mass in winter, while humans lost less than 50%; however, in summer, both lost around 80% of their mass. TBS displayed similar patterns in both experiments, with TBS increasing more rapidly in pigs compared with humans but both eventually reaching similar TBS values in late decomposition. Measuring mass loss can provide additional information about decomposition progress that is missed if using TBS only. Key differences in decomposition progress between cadaver types were also observed, suggesting caution when extrapolating data from pigs to humans for forensic research and decomposition modelling.

Open Access Status

This publication may be available as open access

Funding Number


Funding Sponsor

Australian Research Council



Link to publisher version (DOI)