Free Essay: Research on the Effects of Different Elements in Soil on a Decomposing Body

Published: 2022-05-04
Free Essay: Research on the Effects of Different Elements in Soil on a Decomposing Body
Type of paper:  Research paper
Categories:  Biology
Pages: 7
Wordcount: 1843 words
16 min read

The decomposition of the human body starts with an internal process known as autolysis that begins immediately after death. A quick bloat stage then follows, caused by enzymes from the first stage. After the bloat, the body opens up, and the active decay stage starts off. The active decay of the body is heavily dependent on environmental factors, and when the body gets buried in the soil, it is carried out by microbes and organisms existing within the soil. Different elements of the soil determine the speed of decomposition of the body to the final stage of skeletonization. The research paper will seek to find the various elements within the soil that affect the decay of a body. It will also seek to explain what their effect is to the body and how they affect it.

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Literature review

The science of decomposition

The science of decomposition is the field of study that provides information on the decomposition, its value, and the natural cycle dynamics and allows people to make better choices based on the information. The basis of research is on social, cultural and environmental studies (Janaway, Percival & Wilson, 2009). Animals have mostly been the specimens in the analysis of the relationship between soil and a decomposing body. Temperature, moisture, and elements within the soil are essential factors in determining the rate of decay of an animal. Based on an understanding of these elements, the forensic scientists in crime scenes easily detect the how long a body has been under the ground.

The Corpse project

It was a project initiated to provide the public with information on death and the decomposition process to help with better decision making when it came to burials. The research projected unraveling truths that change the perspectives attached to the dead (Belben, 2006). The research on relationships between the body disposal and its environmental impact championed for natural burials. The picture the project paints about cremation is that of a lower carbon impact. It, however, reveals that the ashes harm plants. When the body gets buried naturally, there is an initiation of the natural environmental cycle thus benefiting the soil. Once the body dies, the heart stops beating; the cells die from not receiving oxygen and their acidity increases (Janaway, Percival & Wilson, 2009). Enzymes digest the membranes, and the cell components leak out. This process is autolysis. The result of the study is the creation of human body farms where they get planted into the ground, and the decomposition process and the soil elements monitored over a period. The prospects that the project gives for the future is the adoption of more decomposition friendly methods of burial. These methods include dissolving the body before introducing it to the soil or using a shallow grave that offers more microbial activities that aid in the decomposition of the body.

Human Body Farms

The idea was introduced by William Bass in 1972 to investigate the decomposition of bodies in various settings (Schotsmans et al., 2012). Previously, they used pig remains but later gained the courage to use human beings who had donated their bodies for research. San Marcos, Texas has the most extensive human body farm consisting of 26 acres with 50 human bodies in different stages of decomposition. The bodies within these human farms facilities range from fresh ones to mummified one and even skeletons that are used for the study of bone decomposition processes. The conditions for the decay of the bodies are varied from being left in the sun, exposing the body to vultures, exposing the body to different temperature and shade, covering the body, leaving it naked and placing the body is the soil. Apart from the analysis of the various stages of decay, significant discoveries of the factors or microorganisms that bring about the decay are brought forth (Wilson et al., 2007). Contrary to common belief, the microorganisms that cause the decomposition of the body and bones are not the only ones within the dead body but also the ones introduced by the soil or the environment the of the body. The environment created by a decomposing body in the soil is a complex underappreciated and tightly evolved ecosystem.

Research Questions

What are the different elements of soil within the ecosystem of a decomposing body?

What are the effects of these elements in the soil to a decomposing body?


The research used secondary sources as the basis of the information. The sources included books, articles, and journals within the fields of anthropology and soil, ecology and biology analysis. The central databases used for the research were EBSCO, AA, AnthroSource, Scopus, and eHRAF. Peer-reviewed articles were considered, with emphasis or articles published after the year 2000. The tool used for the search was google scholar, and the keywords used were; decomposing body in the soil, elements in soil that affect a decomposing body, and how different elements in soil affect the bones when the bones are decomposing. After collection of articles, journals, and books, the data was analyzed and information relevant to the topic collected.

The use of secondary data for the research was economically saved on time as it eliminated the need for collection of data using primary means that are expensive and time-consuming. The secondary data covered all gaps within the research process as there is variety to reference from, and efficiencies of one met by another. The secondary data also provides a better understanding of the topic as a proper analysis and definition are already provided. Moreover, it provided a basis for comparison with the data that I collected for the research. It was however disadvantageous because most of it was irrelevant to the topic of the research. The primary challenge experienced during the research was identifying outdated data and verification of the accuracy of the extracted information.


The depth of burial in Soil and Rock Fragment Content

Studies to understand the putrefaction of a dead body in soil have proved that burial in soil reduces the decomposition rate of a body. The deeper the burial of the body, the lesser the interaction with activities of the insects and other vertebrates on the body (Schotsmans et al., 2012). It also prevents contact of the body with carnivorous animals. The ambient fluctuations of temperature that is experienced in the areas close to the ground would have been avoided with deep burial. Deeper burial also means less availability of oxygen that supports decomposition (Goff, 2009). Two weeks in the Decomposition in water is equivalent to one week at the upper soil layers and eight weeks under the soil. The size and number of rock fragments increase within a soil; the possibility of deeper burial reduces.

Soil pH

The pH of the soil impacts significantly on the preservation of the bones. Preservation occurs in soils of pH above 5.3 while decomposition occurs significantly in those of 5.3 or less (Vass et al., 2002). Highly acidic pH decomposes the bones as the acid dissolves the bone hydroxyapatite inorganic matrix through hydrolysis. A neutral pH or that of a base preserves the body within the soil for more extended periods. It also leads to the formation of an adiopocere on then body leading to slower decomposition.

Soil temperature

The most influential factor affecting decomposition of a body is temperatures. The temperature of soil determines the physical, chemical and biological places that occur in it (Janaway, Percival & Wilson, 2009). Therefore, within the cadaver ecosystem, the microbial activity is strongly associated with the temperature of the soil. Increased temperatures within the soil resultantly increase the microbial activities and the chemical-related activities. Therefore, there is increased decomposition at high temperatures. Cold temperatures make the microbial components of the soil dormant. Wet-dry cycles and freeze-thaw action that is associated with colder soil result to bone splintering within the decomposing body (Goff, 2009). Deeper burial counters the activities of freeze and thaw.

Soil texture and moisture

The microorganism that is involved the decomposition process is dependent on the moisture content of the soil. The microbial activity is thus heavily dependent on the water table fluctuations. A wet-dry cycle within the soil brings about a biomass turnover. Desiccation caused by dry conditions in the soil promote slower decomposition (Dent et al., 2004). Extremely wet conditions are also detrimental to decomposition as they lead to the formation of an adiopocere on the body. Soil texture is related to the water content and water retention capacity. Fine textures soil retain water more but inhibit decomposition. It Is because their airspaces are small thus less oxygen within the soil that promotes the living conditions for microorganisms. Therefore, aerobic organisms are absent in the soil leaving only the anaerobic decomposers available. Desiccation occurs within coarse-textured soil because of low moisture content. When desiccation happens, the body preserves itself naturally for even thousands of years (Wilson et al., 2007).

Organisms in Soil

Different organisms within the soil are vital in the putrefaction process. Bacteria are the key components of the soil that effects decomposition directly. Their population grows exponentially and results in increased activities over a short period if the conditions are favorable. The actions of bacteria are heavily dependent on the aeration, moisture content and the temperatures of the soil. While the specific roles of the bacteria are not defined, they are heavily associated with aerobic decomposition within the body. Other microorganisms involved in decomposition are fungi, actinomycetes, and molds which start the decomposition process shortly after burial (Dent et al., 2004). They thrive in temperatures of between 50-1150F (Hopkins, Wiltshire & Turner, 2000). After 5-10 days when the body has gained enough temperature, the microorganisms kick in and accomplish rapid composting of the body within a short period. These organisms survive best at the topsoil, and thus it is the region where there is quick decomposition of the body.

Other organisms play a role in physical decomposition of the body. They function best at medium mesophilic temperatures. Mites are associated with rapid reproduction and when within the soil ecosystem of a body, they ingest the flesh component of the body. Other insects involved in the decomposition of the body include beetles, ants, springtails, and flies. Flies are the number one transporters of bacteria (Hopkins, Wiltshire & Turner, 2000). They also lay eggs on the body, and due to metamorphosis, the egg develops to the maggot stage. This stage is actively connected with the physical decomposition of the fleshy body. Nematodes, eelworms, and earthworms increase aeration through bring the soil thus promoting the microbial; activities within the soil (Hopkins, Wiltshire & Turner, 2000).

Discussion of Results

Decomposition of a body is heavily dependent on microbes. The general opinion among anthropologists in the past was that the decomposition of the human body is dependent on its internal processes and that the microbes originate from within the body itself. However, the soil is a microbial seed bank that thrives with the introduction of a body. Presence of the source of nutrients such as a body leads to the creation of a small ecosystem around it (Statheropoulos et al., 2005). There is therefore explosive growth of the animals and microorganisms within the ecosystem over a short period. The process...

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