# Decomposition-- how long?

I apologize in advance for this gruesome topic—How long does it take for a human body to decompose down to a skeleton? What exactly does it look like as it decays? I know its not exactly the most pleasant thing in the world to discuss, but that’s never stopped us before, so any info would be appreciated!

Here is Cecil’s column on the subject…

The speed of decomposition will depend upon a whole host of factors such as temperature, types of bacteria, amounts of oxygen etc.

Try looking up information on the Parsees (a religious group in india that allow vultures to feed on the bodies of the dead)

A very informative book is available on the subject.

Death’s Acre: Inside the Legendary Forensic Lab the Body Farm Where the Dead Do Tell Tales
by William M. Bass, Jon Jefferson, Patricia Cornwell, Bill Bass

Also a fictional tale written around the body farm located in Tennesse. Coincidently the title is “Body Farm” by Cornwell
The farm is used to scientifically investigate decay of real subjects. The farm also is used in training of forensic investigators.

This question has been asked before:

“How long will a man lie i’ the ground ere he rot?”

Follow-up question. We all took a lovely tour of Woodlawn Cemetery recently, and many of the stars we “met” had been dead since the 1920s: Bert Savoy, Olive Thomas, Nora Bayes. What would be left of them after 80 years in a coffin?

there’s a great book by mary roach called ‘stiff: the curious lives of human cadavers’ that’s all about how cadavers are used in science for education and experimentation, with a whole section on decomposition. the university of tennessee at knoxville has a grassy field where they study different effects variables have on decomposition (shade, sunlight, clothing, etc.) by watching rotting corpses.

The general answer is: It all depends."

What kind of box, vault, ground/climate conditions etc.

Eventually the body will decay vault or none.

OP - About a year give or take to a skeleton, then longer depending on weather to destroy the bones.

Abraham Lincoln’s coffin was opened in 1901 during the reconstruction of his tomb. Although it was 36 years after his death, he wasn’t substantially decomposed:

Abraham Lincoln’s Body Exhumed in 1901

As said above, it appears it depends on a lot of factors. Not all of them, or their effects, may be predictable.

There are numerous stories of saints from Western Europe who appear to have been remarkably resistent to decay. This is sometimes seen by the pious as a sign of God’s favor. Alternatively, in Eastern Europe it could traditionally be taken to mean the opposite, the implication being that you must be a vampire or somesuch.

Catherine Laboure is a Roman Catholic saint who lived in relative obscurity, but attained celebrity posthumously. She was originally interred under the stone floor of the chapel at the convent where she had lived. Fifty years after she died, it was decided she should be exhumed, and placed in statelier tomb. It is said that as workmen lifted the stone slab which covered her, one of them dropped it in surprise; she showed little or no sign of decay whatever, and her eyes were open, giving the illusion she was alive.

The body of St. Francis Xavier is said to have been resistent to decay for centuries. It was brought from Goa to New York for the World’s Fair in 1964-65. Objections from the Vactican dissuaded the government of Goa from agreeing to allow a New Jersey department store to exhibit it as a promotion. It is said that a year or so after Xavier died a doctor was ordered to perform an autopsy to determine if the body was embalmed, but he stopped after his first incision drew blood.

There is a rather pathetic story told about St. Bernadette. According to James Randi, an American documentarist was permitted some years ago to photograph her body. While doing so, her skin appeared to warp. It developed that he was actually looking at a veneer of wax of the kind used to make was dummies, and the hot lights he and his film crew were using was causing it to melt. If I understand correctly, local church officials say that the wax is just a thin veneer to “touch up” the body, which has withered some over time.

The cellar of St. Mickens Church in Dublin, Ireland is said to preserve things unaccountably. Among the people interred there
is a Viking who is still still essentially intact.

By contrast, I remember an icky story a friend told me years ago when he was first working as a reporter for the now-defunct St. Louis Globe-Democrat; he was in attendance when a body which had been buried only a few months before was exhumed. A great deal of water had seeped into the casket, and as it was tipped so that the water could drain, apparently a fair amount of the deceased was draining with it.

As said above, it appears it depends on a lot of factors. Not all of them, or their effects, may be predictable.

There are numerous stories of saints from Western Europe who appear to have been remarkably resistent to decay. This is sometimes seen by the pious as a sign of God’s favor. Alternatively, in Eastern Europe it could traditionally be taken to mean the opposite, the implication being that you must be a vampire or somesuch.

Catherine Laboure is a Roman Catholic saint who lived in relative obscurity, but attained celebrity posthumously. She was originally interred under the stone floor of the chapel at the convent where she had lived. Fifty years after she died, it was decided she should be exhumed, and placed in statelier tomb. It is said that as workmen lifted the stone slab which covered her, one of them dropped it in surprise; she showed little or no sign of decay whatever, and her eyes were open, giving the illusion she was alive.

The body of St. Francis Xavier is said to have been resistent to decay for centuries. It was brought from Goa to New York for the World’s Fair in 1964-65. Objections from the Vactican dissuaded the government of Goa from agreeing to allow a New Jersey department store to exhibit it as a promotion. It is said that a year or so after Xavier died a doctor was ordered to perform an autopsy to determine if the body was embalmed, but he stopped after his first incision drew blood.

There is a rather pathetic story told about St. Bernadette. According to James Randi, an American documentarist was permitted some years ago to photograph her body. While doing so, her skin appeared to warp. It developed that he was actually looking at a veneer of wax of the kind used to make was dummies, and the hot lights he and his film crew were using was causing it to melt. If I understand correctly, local church officials say that the wax is just a thin veneer to “touch up” the body, which has withered some over time.

The cellar of St. Mickens Church in Dublin, Ireland is said to preserve things unaccountably. Among the people interred there
is a Viking who is still essentially intact.

By contrast, I remember an icky story a friend told me years ago when he was first working as a reporter for the now-defunct St. Louis Globe-Democrat; he was in attendance when a body which had been buried only a few months before was exhumed. A great deal of water had seeped into the casket, and as it was tipped so that the water could drain, apparently a fair amount of the deceased was draining with it.