A team of scientists in Australia has found that dead bodies move for more than a year after being pronounced dead. These findings could have implications for diverse fields such as criminology.
The science and other stuff to know
Researchers at the Australian Facility for Taphonomic Experimental Research (AFTER) studied the movements of corpses over a 17-month timeframe, a press release explains. Using time-lapse cameras to film corpses in 30-minute intervals, they discovered they continued to move for the entire duration. The surprising discovery has been published in the journal Forensic Science International: Synergy.
“What we found was that the arms were significantly moving… Arms that started off down, beside the body ended up out to the side of the body,” Alyson Wilson, the leader of the research team, told ABC.
Wilson explained that they expected some post-mortem movement in the very early stages of decomposition. But the fact that the bodies continued to move for the entire 17 months duration was a complete surprise.
“We think the movements relate to the process of decomposition, as the body mummifies and the ligaments dry out,” she stated in the press release.
This is the “first-time” scientists have recorded corpse movements, according to Xanthe Mallett, a forensic anthropologist and criminologist at the University of Newcastle.
“Previously, if the police had asked me if a set of human remains were found and they were mummified, I would have said it’s likely that that person was left outside in autumn and winter,” said Mallett.
Researchers believe understanding postmortem movements and decomposition rates could help better analyze and interpret crime scenes. This is particularly helpful when human remains have been undiscovered for some time.
“This research is very important to help [police and forensic anthropologists] solve crimes and also assists in disaster investigations,” Wilson said. “It’s important for victims and victims’ families. In a lot of cases, it gives the victim a voice to tell their last story.”
The findings also provide evidence that the assumption about body position at the time of death may not hold, unless there’s evidence someone or an animal moved the body.
The discovery offers a curious new understanding of what happens to the body after we die, opening up “the entire year for mummification in the correct circumstances. And it stops us from going down the wrong path,” Mallet said.