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Value of Nonhuman Animal Models in Forensic Decomposition Research

NCJ Number
Date Published
November 2018
2 pages

This paper summarizes the methodology and findings of a study that measured the progression of decomposition in five humans, five domestic pigs, and five domestic rabbits in each of three separate seasonal trials (spring, summer, and winter), so as to determine whether pigs and/or rabbits are suitable models in studies of the decomposition of deceased humans.


The bodies of the three species were left in a natural outdoor environment at the Anthropology Research Facility at the University of Tennessee, a 2-acre facility designed for the systematic study of human decomposition in interaction with particular environments after death. Researchers observed and recorded their observations twice daily for each set of remains. The researchers found differences in the patterns of insect activity on the bodies and in the preference for body types by scavengers, primarily raccoons. The data showed that scavengers preferred humans over the pigs and rabbits. Although pigs were a closer proxy for human decomposition than rabbits, there were still significant differences in the decomposition of humans and pigs. The researchers thus concluded that human data is best for determining human patterns of decomposition in forensic cases, and forensic scientists should be cautious in applying non-human data to the decomposition of human bodies.

Date Published: November 1, 2018