Environmental Geology

, Volume 45, Issue 4, pp 576–585

Review of human decomposition processes in soil

Original Article

DOI: 10.1007/s00254-003-0913-z

Cite this article as:
Dent, B.B., Forbes, S.L. & Stuart, B.H. Env Geol (2004) 45: 576. doi:10.1007/s00254-003-0913-z


In-soil human decomposition is comprehensively described in terms of the physico-chemical and bacterial environmental conditions. Much of the understanding comes from considerations of cemetery studies and experimentation with adipocere. The understandings are relevant for further studies in cemetery management, exhumations, forensic investigations and anthropology. In the soil, cadavers are subject to various sets of decomposition processes principally resulting from aerobic (usually the initial) or anaerobic (usually the sustaining) conditions. The presence of percolating groundwater and microorganisms further affects the rate of breakdown and fate of the products. The major human tissue components—protein, carbohydrate, fat and bone, are discussed; and the likely pathways of decomposition products enumerated. The effects of liquefaction, availability of oxygen and other in-grave processes are considered.


Human decompositionCemeteryAdipocereGrave soilsExhumation

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Environmental SciencesUniversity of TechnologySydneyBroadway 2007, Australia
  2. 2.Centre for Forensic Science (M420)University of Western AustraliaCrawley6009, Australia
  3. 3.Department of Chemistry Materials and Forensic SciencesUniversity of TechnologySydneyBroadway 2007, Australia