A body farm is a research facility where decomposition can be studied in a variety of settings. They were invented by an anthropologist named William Bass in 1972 after he had realized how little was known about decomposition of the human body. Previous to this, in the 1970s, pig remains were used to study decomposition processes. The aim is to gain a better understanding of the decomposition process, permitting the development of techniques for extracting information such as the timing and circumstances of death from human remains. Body farm research is of particular interest in forensic anthropology and related disciplines and has applications in the fields of law enforcement and forensic science. By placing the bodies outside to face the elements, researchers are able to get a better understanding of the decomposition process.
Seven such facilities exist in the United States, with the research facility operated by Texas State University at Freeman Ranch being the largest at 26 acres in area. A single body farm is also operational in Australia.
The seven research facilities in the United States can be found at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, Western Carolina University, Texas State University, Sam Houston State University, Southern Illinois University a, d Colorado Mesa University. These seven research facilities have been deemed “body farms” due to the nature of the decomposition research they perform. Numerous purposes exist for these research facilities, yet the main purpose of these research facilities is to study and form an understanding of the decompositional changes that occur with the human body. This research is then used for medical, legal and educational purposes.
Dr. Richard Jantz, a director of the forensic anthropology center, advises others to look where humans look, breathe and smell by watching how humans perform different movements in everyday life. Jantz finds it important to recognize the basic structure and the necessity for the body farm’s facilities by emphasizing the importance of the environmental events that lead to developing timing of death and understanding of how scavengers interact with decomposition. Rick Schewien, head of the FBI office in Asheville, N.C., also finds use in the Body Farms, claiming the information from them can be used at many different levels and thus constitutes a good thing for science.
There are three ways in which the farms can access a body. The first way is through the state medical examiners’ offices. This means that when a body is left unclaimed or unidentified, the medical examiner might then decide to donate the body to a body farm for the advancement of science. The second way is through family members. Family members can also donate the body of their loved ones. The third way is by filling out a donor consent form before dying. Many people decide that they would like to donate their bodies to science and can fill out this form to ensure that their wishes are carried out. The only time that the body farms will reject a body is if the person had been infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), hepatitis, or with antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
The bodies that make up the research facility has been agreed to be donated prior to the person’s death. As one can only imagine, the pictures floating around the Internet of body farms are not for the faint of heart.
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