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Precocious Natural Mummification in a Temperate Climate (Western Cape, South Africa)

Finaughty, D.A., Morris, A.G. (2019) Precocious Natural Mummification in a Temperate Climate (Western Cape, South Africa). Forensic Science International, 303 . Article Number 109948. ISSN 0379-0738. (doi:10.1016/j.forsciint.2019.109948) (KAR id:76966)


The general process and pattern of decomposition is well-documented and understood. However, specific environmental conditions may alter this pattern and prematurely terminate the decay process. An example of this is natural mummification – a preservative process characterized by desiccation, brittleness and shrinkage of the skin and body tissues. It is important to understand how, when, and where such variations may occur, and for this reason environmentally-specific studies of decay are required. The aim of the present study was the establish baseline data on soft-tissue decomposition in two terrestrial habitats in the Western Cape. A total of 16 pig carcasses serving as analogues for humans were deployed in these habitats during two successive winters and summers between 2014 and 2016. The rate and pattern of decomposition were assessed via measurement of weight loss over time and scoring the decomposition process using Megyesi et al. (2005) Total Body Score system and study-specific criteria for mummification. Carcasses typically followed the expected pattern of decay with a few exceptions, most notably instances of rapid natural mummification. Natural mummification, as defined by Megyesi et al. (2005), was observed to occur as early as 17 days postmortem, with five carcasses mummifying in less than one month. The timing of natural mummification varies widely, from a few days to several years, averaging around three months in temperate regions. Natural mummification occurring in less than one month is termed precocious mummification and is rarely observed in temperate regions. With only three reports globally, this study’s findings are globally significant, highlighting the importance of regionally-specific decomposition studies. Two local forensic cases wherein precocious mummification has been observed are also presented and, considered together with the study’s results, a possible mechanism driving this process is proposed.

Item Type: Article
DOI/Identification number: 10.1016/j.forsciint.2019.109948
Uncontrolled keywords: South Africa Cape, Town Postmortem, interval Desiccation, Preservation, Forensic taphonomy, Mummies Temperate climate, Blow flies
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Human and Social Sciences > School of Anthropology and Conservation
Depositing User: Devin Finaughty
Date Deposited: 02 Oct 2019 13:20 UTC
Last Modified: 08 Dec 2022 23:10 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

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