Forensic Taphonomy - the study of events that occurred after a person has died.
What happens to a body upon death and discovery. We are looking at the Postmortem
changes to the bone essentially.
We study Taphonomy because?
• to understand the position, color, weathering, erosion of remains and see if they
are consistent with WHERE the body and HOW the body was found. This can be
used to elaborate from a tip or testimony of a witness regarding a body.
• We also study Taphonomy to see if a body has been moved by humans, gravity,
animals or water.
• Taphonomy allows us to understand the elapsed time since death of a body
• Taphonomy also goes to whether evidence has been added to , altered o r lost.
• Taphonomy also goes to differentiating peri-rauma versus postmortem damage.
• Taphonomy also relates to FORENSIC SIGNIFICANCE
- an informant had claimed that the suspect of this case had tried to burn the body
- the bone was in fact damaged
- and the evidence given was certainly consistent with the tip from the informant
- the same informant claimed that the suspect tried to destroy the body by trying to
stick and stir the body parts
- The broken bones, and the taphonomic changes are consistent with the informants
tip of what the suspect did
- The defense claimed that the defendant did not kill the victim of this case
- Trauma however was caused by dragging the victim behind a pickup truck on a
- However, the was no erosion of the bone on the back of the skull, no gravel
pitting or embedded gravel on the bone
- The taphonimic changes were certainly not consistent with the defendants claim
Traditional Archaeological Taphonomy
• Disarticulation sequences refer to the loss of tissue and this can happen from:
Animal scavenging, animal scatter, environmental transport, weathering/discoloring
Remember that traditional Taphonomy looks at the survivability of skeletal elemtents. The DisarTICULATION sequence says that:
• you go from the LEAST STABLE to the MOST STABLE of joints
• the sequence is based on the joint type, amount and type of tissue present
• Ball and socket refers to thhe HIP
• HINGE refers to the knee
NOMRAL DECOMPOSITION involves:
• bacterial & enzymatic action
• involves the skull & atlas being separate from the vertebrae
• the ribs loosen and the chest collapses
• the limbs will follow to disarticulate
• the jaw will eventually disarticulate from the skull
• there will be overlapping in these stages from the vertebrae column
disarticulating, to weathering beginning to happen before the vertabreae
Variation in Sequence
• Insect activity will speed up the removal of tissue. They will enter through natural
orifices like the eye but if you have a wound they will go to the wound first as
• SEDIMENTATION & BURIAL will inadvertently fix the the position of a body
• Water can affect the body as well
• Animal scavenging and human intervention also can change the body after death
Scavenging & Animal Scatter
• Animal Activity includes: gnawing, digging and clawing at a body.