Date of Award


Degree Type

Honors College Thesis

Academic Program

Forensics BS


Criminal Justice

First Advisor

Marie Danforth, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Janet Donaldson, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Sabine Heinhorst, Ph.D.

Advisor Department

Anthropology and Sociology; Criminal Justice


Forensic taphonomy involves the use of forensic techniques to determine the post mortem interval of a corpse. There are many factors that are known to influence the rate of decomposition, such as the temperature, season, soil type, moisture potential of the soil, and presence of insects or other decomposers. Previous studies in this field have focused primarily on decomposition patterns in mountainous environments in terms of terrestrial habitats or strictly aquatic environments, leaving this particular aspect of coastal settings to be unexplored.

To study these effects, the superior portion of a female pig was buried in sandy soil in mid-October in Ocean Springs, MS. The site was a couple of meters from the edge of Halstead Bayou that directly empties into the Gulf of Mexico about 0.1 miles away. The corpse was checked weekly, with a variety of qualitative observations being made. During the first week, the corpse was bloated, and the body deflated. Advanced decomposition began four weeks after burial, and continued until the cessation of the observations after the eleventh week. Due to the winter and sandy conditions, insect activity was severely limited, and thus, the rate of decomposition was slower than studies performed in warmer environments with a less sandy soil. The salinity of the bayou water did not appear to have an effect on the decomposition. The results of this experiment followed the original expectation that the variables would slow decomposition, and further research in different settings would provide additional insight into decay patterns.

Keywords: Forensic taphonomy, entomology, decomposition, post mortem interval, coastal environments, bayou