The New Kid on the Block

So - the body farm in Knoxville was the original body farm.  Once it was established other people saw how useful it could be and body farms were opened all over the continental US.  It meant that experiments could be conducted for different types of environment, as well as different climates.  But until very recently the only body farms were in the US.  What about the rest of the world?

In 2016 the University of Technology in Sydney Australia began operation of the AFTER facility.  AFTER stands for the Australian Facility for Taphonomic Experimental Research.  Here they have started doing their own experiments on human decomposition.  I was very lucky to be able to visit the AFTER facility this week as part of my research trip.

I wanted in particular to visit AFTER because it is,the most recent, and can highlight the processes involved in getting such a massive undertaking started.  But false because it is the first such facility in a different legal jurisdiction to the US, it can hi…

The Original Body Farm

Well, my adventure has finally begun, and I got to visit the world renowned Forensic Anthropology Centre at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.  It didn't disappoint.

I was lucky enough to meet with Dr Dawnie Steadman, the director of the facility.  Dr Steadman gave me an overview of the history of the facility, as well what they are doing at present and where they hope to go in the future in terms of research and development.

I was shown round the facility, and had the privilege of seeing some of the current research.  There are thousands of pre-donors - people who have made the decision to leave their bodies to the FAC after they die.  

As can be guessed from the number of people willing to donate their bodies, the facility is very well thought of by the public.  I spoke to a lot of locals about why I was in Knoxville, and I was impressed by the level of support they gave it, and the pride they displayed in it.  I would say they were almost as proud as of the university footb…

Detection of Human Remains

When a murder occurs, the bad guys don't always want to make it easy for us to find out exactly what happened.  This can sometimes include trying to hide the body - if we can't find the body then they can't be presecuted for murder, right?  Well, wrong - it is possible to try someone for murder even if no body has been discovered, but finding the body isn't just important for justice - it can help the victim's family and friends in the grieving process.   
There are other circumstances when police might be trying to find human remains as well.  If someone is believed to have drowned, or after a mass casualty disaster, we need to be able to recover all the human remains.
Human beings have come up with a lot of different technologies that can help with this search - ground penetrating radar, infrared photography, and aerial photographs.  One of the best ways for finding human remains however is to use a specially trained dog.

Where did body farms come from?

I thought I'd use this post to tell you all about the beginnings of body farms - how on earth did someone come up with the idea?
The idea was first developed by anthropologist Dr. William M. Bass.  In 1977 Dr Bass was called to investigate when the civil war grave of Confederate officer Lieutenant Colonel William Shy was discovered to have been disturbed.  The grave had been dug up and a headless body was found sitting on top of the antique coffin.  Dr Bass forst concluded that that due to the state of the remains the body had been there less than a year.  The coffin below was empty, but Dr Bass knew that after 100 years in the damp Tennessee soil, the body, includig the bones, would be expected to completely break down. 

Hello again 
A lot of work has gone into planning my trip to the Human Taphonomy Facilities.  As part of my preparation I attended a conference at University College London on 'Does the UK need a Body Farm?'
Dr Anna Williams of Huddersfield University introduced us to Body Farms and what they are, and why we are campaigning for one in the UK.
Speakers included Dr Jamie Pringle of Keele University who spoke to us about geophysics research and how it can help when trying to find buried human remains.  There are various methods used, including ground penetrating radar (think Time Team).  Studies in this area would be greatly improved if they could use human remains to search - we need to be able to research what human remains 'look' like when searched for using geophysical methods.
Dr Lorna Irish, from the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, spoke about the training of Victim Recovery (VR) Dogs.  At present VR dogs are trained using pig carcasses.  I'm sure you all…

Welcome to my blog!

Hi everyone!  Thanks for coming to read my blog.  I'll use this first post to tell you a bit about myself & what I'm doing here.  

I'm a Crime Scene Coordinator with the police in the UK, and this year I have been awarded a Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Travelling Fellowship in order to visit Human Taphonomy Facilites (commonly known as Body Farms) in Knoxville Tennessee and Sydney.  The visits aren't for fun, though I'm sure I'll have a good time when I get there; I'm going to research how HTFs are run, and what the challenges are in running them.

So - Why am I doing this?

HTFs are used in order to study how human remains decompose in different circumstances.  This can be very important in police and forensic settings, as knowing how long a body has been there, or if it has been moved post mortem, can be vital when we are investigating murders.  We can be looking for changes in the appearance of the body, as well as chemical differences, or what insect…