Corpses move for more than a year after death: scientist

When the coffin’s a-rocking, don’t come a-knocking.

Long after rigor mortis has set in, human corpses actually move their bodies “significantly,” according to forensic researcher Alyson Wilson.

Wilson revealed this disturbing fact after using time-lapse cameras to capture the decomposition process of a donor body at the Australian Facility for Taphonomic Experimental Research (AFTER) near Sydney. (Taphonomy refers to the study of how organisms biodegrade in death.)

The so-called “body farm” — currently home to 70 dead bodies — where she works was founded to help forensic scientists learn more about the decomposition process in order to aid crime-scene investigations.

One body she observed was buried with its arms close to the side, yet were later found opened away from the sides.

“What we found was that the arms were significantly moving, so that arms that started off down beside the body ended up out to the side of the body,” Wilson, an undergraduate student at CQ University in Cairns, told Australian news site ABC.

She thought she’d find some movement early in the decomposition process — but was not expecting to see it 17 months into filming.

Wilson now believes the shifting “relate[s] to the process of decomposition, as the body mummifies and the ligaments dry out,” she also told AFP.

Dr. Maiken Ueland, deputy director of AFTER, added that some movement is also caused by insects, as well as gases filling the body’s cavity.

Previous studies at AFTER have found that human remains break down in different ways and at different rates depending on location. Their researchers are focused on how these findings impact police investigations.

“Knowing that body movement can result from the decomposition process rather than scavengers or original placement will be important when it comes to determining what happened, particularly if this movement is much greater than first believed,” said Ueland.

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