Master of Arts (MA)


Geography and Anthropology

Document Type



The first human decomposition facility, the University of Tennessee’s Anthropological Research Facility, or the “Body Farm,” as it is more commonly known, was established in 1980. Not until the year 2006 did another of its kind open. In the past six years, the number of such facilities has tripled. Human decomposition facilities, and their amenities, are being used for research purposes more frequently each year, although there is little in the literature that describes the facilities themselves. Interviews with facility representatives were used to gather data in order to better understand how these facilities are initiated, the difficulties and successes that come with such a facility, and their uses beyond decomposition research. Also, surveys were distributed to forensic professionals (including Physical Anthropologists) in the American Academy of Forensic Sciences and to university students to understand perceptions on the utilization and usefulness of human decomposition facilities, and what place they have in the future of the forensic sciences. Results show that the majority of those involved in the forensic sciences, and especially, forensic anthropology, find that human decomposition facilities provide vital research opportunities. Based on both interview and survey responses, more human decomposition facilities should be established, in unique climate regions, in order to better understand decomposition rates. Also, individuals affiliated with facilities that are already established intend to continue collaboration with one another, to extend research opportunities to other departments and universities, and to expand their own research goals. Finally, the perceptions of non-forensic professionals (as represented by university students), regarding both human decomposition facilities and the role of forensic anthropology, appear to be influenced by the popular media. In order to realize the full potential of these facilities, representatives and researchers must continue to provide factual information, and publishable material, to counter misconceptions that are so readily provided by popular culture. The human decomposition facility provides a unique opportunity for research, training, and hands-on experience for all that use them. The continuation of these facilities is vital to better understanding taphonomic changes and, thereby, assisting in a medicolegal context.



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Committee Chair

Listi, Ginesse