A preliminary examination of differential decomposition patterns in mass graves

Troutman, Lauren, Moffatt, Colin and Simmons, Tal Linda Ileen (2014) A preliminary examination of differential decomposition patterns in mass graves. Journal of Forensic Sciences, 59 (3). pp. 621-626. ISSN 0022-1198

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This study represents a preliminary, quantitative approach to the examination of differential decomposition patterns in mass graves. Five pairs of mass graves, each containing the carcasses of 21 rabbits, were used to examine decomposition rates at four fixed positions within the burial. A pair of graves was exhumed at approximately 100 accumulated degree day (ADD) intervals. At exhumation the total body score (TBS) and internal carcass temperature of each rabbit were recorded. Although there was no significant difference between decomposition rates for core and deep-positioned carcasses (p = 0.13), all other position differences were significant (p < 0.001). Decomposition occurred fastest in shallow carcasses, followed by mid-outer carcasses; both deep and core carcasses exhibited a slower rate. Internal carcass temperature was significantly influenced by carcass location
within the mass grave; there was a mean internal temperature difference of ca. 1 oC between deep and
shallow carcasses (30 cm apart). Adipocere formation was minimal and confined, with the exception of a single individual in the mid- periphery, to the deepest level. Decomposition rate may be as affected by the compactness of a mass as by interment depth and/or peripheral substrate contact, and further investigation into the role of oxygenation and pH are required.

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