PLoS ONE (Jan 2020)

The applicability of forensic time since death estimation methods for buried bodies in advanced decomposition stages.

  • Stefan Pittner,
  • Valentina Bugelli,
  • M Eric Benbow,
  • Bianca Ehrenfellner,
  • Angela Zissler,
  • Carlo P Campobasso,
  • Roelof-Jan Oostra,
  • Maurice C G Aalders,
  • Richard Zehner,
  • Lena Lutz,
  • Fabio C Monticelli,
  • Christian Staufer,
  • Katharina Helm,
  • Vilma Pinchi,
  • Joseph P Receveur,
  • Janine Geißenberger,
  • Peter Steinbacher,
  • Jens Amendt

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 15, no. 12
p. e0243395


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Estimation of the postmortem interval in advanced postmortem stages is a challenging task. Although there are several approaches available for addressing postmortem changes of a (human) body or its environment (ecologically and/or biochemically), most are restricted to specific timeframes and/or individual and environmental conditions. It is well known, for instance, that buried bodies decompose in a remarkably different manner than on the ground surface. However, data on how established methods for PMI estimation perform under these conditions are scarce. It is important to understand whether and how postmortem changes are affected under burial conditions, if corrective factors could be conceived, or if methods have to be excluded for respective cases. We present the first multi-methodological assessment of human postmortem decomposition carried out on buried body donors in Europe, at the Amsterdam Research Initiative for Sub-surface Taphonomy and Anthropology (ARISTA) in the Netherlands. We used a multidisciplinary approach to investigate postmortem changes of morphology, skeletal muscle protein decomposition, presence of insects and other necrophilous animals as well as microbial communities (i.e., microbiomes) from August to November 2018 associated with two complete body exhumations and eight partial exhumations. Our results clearly display the current possibilities and limitations of methods for PMI estimation in buried remains and provide a baseline for future research and application.