More than just dying…

For those of you who know me well enough, you’d also know about my fascination, or should I say obsession, with the dead. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean anything paranormal. I literally mean The Dead. So before I embark on this post, you are warned.


Okay, so you have been warned. This post is going to be gory, so you might want to give this a miss if you are squeamish. But then again, why miss this golden opportunity to step out of your comfort zone (literally) and learn something new? Such is human nature, the more you are ‘advised’ not to read on, the more you want to. Okay, so here goes…

What exactly happens when someone dies? Now, I’m a fan of forensic science. In fact, I think calling myself a fan is an understatement. I’ve long outgrown C.S.I., because that show was something I watched in my Primary and Secondary school days. Long gone were the days when I believed forensic scientists wear heels and sashay into crime scenes. Now, I go for the real thing; digging up whatever information I can about any murder crimes, the more bizarre the better.

So what exactly happens after someone dies? I think the correct question to ask should, instead, be where is the dead body located? Generally speaking, after someone dies, whether by natural causes or of an accident, a dead body goes through the same process. The decomposition of dead organisms is, in my opinion, evolution at its best.

Unless the body is burned or cremated, a dead body when left untouched will go through the following processes:

  • Algor mortis: the process where the body temperature drops to about room temperature due to the lack of metabolic processes which produces heat. The blood starts to pool at the bottom of the body, depending on how the body is placed upon death. The picture below shows a body placed on its back after death.
  • After some time, rigor mortis sets in. The body stiffens.
  • Putrefaction occurs when the bacterial enzymes still in the body starts acting on it. The main culprit is the bacteria Clostridium perfringens. This is the period where disintegration starts to occur and gas starts to form in the blood vessels and tissues. External organisms enter the body and because the immune system does not work anymore, the bacteria spreads rapidly around the body, speeding up the decomposition process. The skin tone becomes ‘marbled’ as a result of the blood vessels breaking down, releasing haemoglobin in the process.
  • Fluids, know as purge fluid, will also be drained from the body through the orifices. As the body tissues breakdown, gas inside the body will be released and that is why a decomposing body always smells so bad.
  • The organs will start to breakdown and the stomach’s rate of decay depends on whether the person had just recently eaten. The last organs to breakdown will be the prostate and the uterus. This is a very important point to consider for forensic scientists to determine the person’s time of death.
  • Putrefaction is also highly dependent on the surrounding temperature. Bodies decompose faster in warm places and slower when it is cold. Hence, bodies found in places like Mount Everest can remain in an almost mummified conditions. Below is an example of a body found on Mt. Everest.

Note that up to now, I have yet to talk about maggots, a super crucial part in this whole process. I’ve saved the best for last. To conclude this post, I’m sharing this super cool video that I found. The video below shows a Vox Science Writer who visited a Body Farm recounting his experience. A body farm, for those who don’t already know, is a place where dead bodies are left out in the elements under different conditions for the purpose of seeing how bodies decompose differently. So here goes.



One thought on “More than just dying…

  1. zhihan says:

    Wow…the maggots are good indeed.. An environmental friendly way to die!
    Am rather interested in forensics, do you know of any good references?
    [My meagre knowledge on forensics stopped at the first stage- algor mortis. Once set it as a exam question in a math module (solve the differential equation of Newton’s cooling to obtain the time of death).]


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