The development of a post-mortem interval estimation for human remains found on land in the Netherlands


The decomposition process of human remains can be used to estimate the post-mortem interval (PMI), but decomposition varies due to many factors. Temperature is believed to be the most important and can be connected to decomposition by using the accumulated degree days (ADD). The aim of this research was to develop a decomposition scoring method and to develop a formula to estimate the PMI by using the developed decomposition scoring method and ADD.

A decomposition scoring method and a Book of Reference (visual resource) were made. Ninety-one cases were used to develop a method to estimate the PMI. The photographs were scored using the decomposition scoring method. The temperature data was provided by the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute. The PMI was estimated using the total decomposition score (TDS) and using the TDS and ADD. The latter required an additional step, namely to calculate the ADD from the finding date back until the predicted day of death.

The developed decomposition scoring method had a high interrater reliability. The TDS significantly estimates the PMI (R 2 = 0.67 and 0.80 for indoor and outdoor bodies, respectively). When using the ADD, the R 2 decreased to 0.66 and 0.56.

The developed decomposition scoring method is a practical method to measure decomposition for human remains found on land. The PMI can be estimated using this method, but caution is advised in cases with a long PMI. The ADD does not account for all the heat present in a decomposing remain and is therefore a possible bias.

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This research could not have been conducted without the help of the forensic physicians, forensic scientists and medical students scoring the photographs. We also want to thank the PHS IJsselland and PHS Drenthe. Special thanks to Drs S.P.H. Letmaath. Finally, we want to thank Miss J. van Amerongen for her statistical assistance and Miss J. Ouwejan for providing language help.

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Corresponding author

Correspondence to W. L. J. M. Duijst.

Ethics declarations

This study was approved by the PHS IJsselland and performed according to the ethical and legal standards in the Netherlands. All data were processed anonymously. For this type of study, formal consent is not required.

Conflicts of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Additional information


-The development of a decomposition scoring method which has proven to be valid.

-Using the developed and validated decomposition scoring method, the post-mortem interval can be predicted for cases indoors and outdoors with respectively 67 and 80%.

-Accumulated degree days do not seem to control for every heat unit present during the decomposition process.

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Gelderman, H.T., Boer, L., Naujocks, T. et al. The development of a post-mortem interval estimation for human remains found on land in the Netherlands. Int J Legal Med 132, 863–873 (2018).

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  • Forensic science
  • Forensic taphonomy
  • Post-mortem interval
  • Decomposition process
  • Decomposition phenomena
  • Accumulated degree days