Master of Arts (MA)


Geography and Anthropology

Document Type



Numerous studies have been conducted on the taphonomy of human remains since the inception of forensic anthropology. Through these studies, the rates of decomposition, animal activity, and insect activity have been investigated in a diverse range of situations. One area where few studies have been carried out concerns embalmed bodies left to decompose in the open. This study considers the effect of embalming fluid on the decomposition rate of bodies. Using the pig as an experimental model, three juvenile specimens were injected with increasing levels of formaldehyde –1%, 5%, and 10%– and a fourth pig, the control, was not embalmed. Subjects were placed in wire cages in an open field, and their progress in decomposition was monitored for 50 days. The results showed differences between the embalmed and non-embalmed pigs in insect activity and sequence of decomposition. The 1% formaldehyde embalmed pig began decomposing after 10 days and had maggot activity for the majority of the experiment. The 5% and 10% formaldehyde embalmed pigs quickly mummified and had little fly activity. The embalmed pigs followed a pattern of decomposition that was related to the strength of the formaldehyde. These results can be used to estimate the time an embalmed body was exposed to the elements.



Document Availability at the Time of Submission

Release the entire work immediately for access worldwide.

Committee Chair

Tague, Robert