Date of Award
Master of Science (MS)
Department of Sociology and Anthropology: Archaeology
Maria O. Smith
Temperature is one of the most crucial variables affecting the decomposition process, significantly increasing or decreasing the rate at which decomposition occurs. Few studies have been conducted to show how the effects of cold temperatures and weather conditions influence the postmortem interval (PMI). The PMI is defined as the amount of time that has passed since death. The purpose of this study was to evaluate estimations for the PMI when remains are exposed to cold temperatures and weather conditions. Secondly, this study seeks to explain whether variables (i.e., coverings, burial depth, soil pH) can affect the decomposition process during colder months in central Illinois.
Over the course of five months, ten partial domestic pig specimens (Sus scrofa) were variably exposed to the elements of central Illinois. Information was gathered about how cold weather exposure affected these specimens from early January until early May. Four specimens were covered in white cotton t-shirts, four were wrapped in plastic garbage bags, and the remaining two were left uncovered on the ground surface. The covered pig human proxies were placed under the ground at depths of 6 and 18 inches. These variations were tested in order to gauge how a wide variety of decompositional conditions would affect decomposition during cold temperatures and associated weather conditions.
It was determined from the observations in this study that burial depth and types of coverings, or lack thereof, are significant to the decomposition process in cold weather conditions. This study concludes that precautions in determining the PMI must be taken when remains are identified during, or closely after, a period (circa four months) of cold temperatures have occurred.
Woollen, Katharine C., "Chilled to the Bone: an Analysis on the Effects of Cold Temperatures and Weather Conditions Altering the Decomposition Process in Pig ( Sus Scrofa ) Remains" (2019). Theses and Dissertations. 1059.