The Body Farms

Roma Khan doing preliminary work on decomposition of cattle. She finally hopes to open up a Human Anthropological Facility (popularly known as a body farm), where similar decomposition of humans would be studied.

Roma Khan doing preliminary work on decomposition of cattle. She finally hopes to open up a Human Anthropological Facility (popularly known as a body farm), where similar decomposition of humans would be studied.

A “body farm” is a research facility where human decomposition after death is studied in a variety of settings to gain a better understanding of this process within the field of forensic anthropology and related disciplines. The information gleaned from these facilities is widely used by law enforcement, medical examiners and crime scene investigators. Although the first body farm was created almost thirty years ago, today three such facilities operate in the U.S.

1. The first ‘body farm’ was created by William Bass III, a forensic anthropologist. He established the University of Tennessee Forensic Anthropology Facility in Knoxville to learn more about the rate and patterns of decomposition under various environmental conditions. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) regularly uses Bass’s expertise, along with many graduates from that program who have gone on to specialize in various criminal investigative work and forensic pathology.

The bodies used at this facility were and are obtained from various sources, including unclaimed bodies from the medical examiner’s office and voluntary full body donations. After Patricia Cornwell conducted research at this facility for her book, Body Farm, the place was nicknamed the “Body Farm,” and the name caught on for all such facilities.

2. Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, North Carolina is part of the Western Carolina Human Identification Laboratory. It was opened in 2006 and is run by WCU’s Forensic Anthropology program on a small plot within the rural mountain campus. They, unlike the previous facility, can accommodate only six bodies at a time.

3. The Forensic Anthropology Research Facility was recently commissioned by the Texas State University – San Marcos and is under the direction of Dr. Michelle Hamilton, a former student of Dr. Bass in Knoxville.

The only problem with body farms as they exist today is that they can only find conclusive evidence on decomposition with  bodies that are found in given areas such as Texas, Knoxville and North Carolina mountain regions – the same areas where current body farms now exist. In other words, the information discovered in Knoxville may not apply to bodies discovered in Utah. More facilities have been proposed, but the funding has not be available to continue with plans. Roma Khan of India is taking initial steps toward establishing a body farm in India along the lines of those in the U.S. (see image above).

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

css.php