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Ever wondered what is done with your body after you donate it to science? You sure won’t need it, so what could scientists use it for? Well, some bodies are given to universities, academic hospitals, ect., for study of something that perhaps your body had, for dissection training, or even for tissue testing.

However, some bodies are destined for a far more natural, albeit horrific, demise.

At the Forensic Anthropology Research Facility in Texas, a human decomposition research facility, donated bodies to this specific program will be used in research that will help determines the rates, patterns, and sequences of human decay applicable to Texas and western states. This might sound morbid, but there is a real need for this kind of study. For example, if someone stumbles across the body of a homicide victim in the woods, forensic experts need to compare the decomposition to known rates in order to establish timelines of death, etc. The FARF is also used to train forensic anthropology students, law enforcement, and medicolegal personnel in methods for searching and recovering human remains in a medicolegal context.

But back to the vultures. Researchers used a body donated to the facility to determine two things: how fast vultures would find a body, and how fast it would take them the “skeletonize” it (reduce it to only bones). More practically, these results would help forensic experts establish time-of-death records for found bodies because carnivores like vultures can seriously throw off time estimates (the body looks more decomposed because of animal feeding and not purely environmental exposure).

From the study press release:

The video camera was triggered after 37 days when a 30-strong wake of American black vultures – Coragyps atratus – discovered the body and set to work consuming it. They reduced it to bones in just five hours. Both results surprised the researchers: pigs have been found and consumed by vultures within 24 hours of being left in the facility. And the skeletonisation was much quicker than the day they had expected it to take. This will feed into future time-of-death calculations.

So vultures can reduce you to just bones in hours. Gross, maybe. Fascinating, definitely.

[Via New Scientist]