2009, pp 313-334

Decomposition of Human Remains

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Introduction

Early scientific research into “putrefaction” by eighteenth century physicians was driven by a need to understand and treat living patients who were suffering from “putrid diseases” (presumably conditions such as treponemal disease, non-specific osteomyeli-tus, bacterial skin infections, abscesses, and the like, which could result in the formation of necrotic tissue, but which today can be treated by modern medicine).1,2 But these works clearly recognized and tried to seek explanation to some of the fundamental microbially induced changes in the human body, in particular, to soft tissue that occur during different stages in the decomposition process and which result in pH change, and the evolution of volatile compounds. As such, these works are an early precursor to the discipline that today we know as “taphonomy”. This term, originally coined by the Russian palaeontologist Ivan Efremov to describe the “transformations from the biosphere to the lithosphere”3 in