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Decomposition of Juvenile-Sized Remains: a Macro- and Microscopic Perspective

NCJ Number
Forensic Sciences Research Volume: 3 Issue: 4 Dated: 2018 Pages: 310-319
Date Published
10 pages

This study examined the environmental variables important in determining decomposition patterns of juvenile bodies, and it assessed whether the currently accepted methodology for quantifying adult decomposition can be applied to juvenile remains, along with a histological analysis that tested the Histological Index (HI) as a semi-quantitative indicator of decomposition.


Absent sufficient research, It is considered that juveniles and infants decompose at an increased rate relative to adults due to body mass and that skeletal preservation is dependent on intrinsic levels of bone mineral density (BMD). In the current study, 35 Sus scrofa ranging between 1.8 and 22.7 kg were deposited to simulate the body mass of human infant and juvenile remains. Pigs were deposited every season over 2 years in the southeastern United States, using five depositional types: bagged, blanket-wrapped, and surface control fetal remains, surface, and buried juvenile remains. Remains were scored quantitatively throughout soft tissue decomposition. Following skeletonization, a femur was selected from each set of remains for histological analysis. Thick sections were assessed under standard brightfield light and scored using Oxford Histological Index (OHI). Results indicate that seasonal variation is an important factor to consider, even when using a standardized time variable such as accumulated degree days (ADD), particularly variation in soil moisture. Soil moisture was a consistent significant variable in the mixed effects model. The pattern of decomposition, using total body score (TBS), was similar to that observed by others prior to log transformation, with a rapid incline early in decomposition, followed by a slower, steady rate. The correlation between time in days, ADD, and TBS was not as strong as those previously reported, suggesting that TBS as it is currently formulated cannot be directly applied to juvenile remains. The OHI model performed moderately well, but was variable even within seasons across multiple years. (publisher abstract modified)

Date Published: January 1, 2018