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The effect of clothing on decomposition and vertebrate scavengers in cooler months of the temperate southwestern Cape, South Africa

Spies, Maximilian J., Finaughty, Devin A., Friedling, Louise J., Gibbon, Victoria E. (2020) The effect of clothing on decomposition and vertebrate scavengers in cooler months of the temperate southwestern Cape, South Africa. Forensic Science International, 309 . Article Number 110197. ISSN 0379-0738. (doi:10.1016/j.forsciint.2020.110197) (KAR id:80769)

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With research providing conflicting results from different habitats across the globe, the effect of clothing on decomposition is unclear; some studies indicate clothing increases decomposition rate by facilitating increased insect activity, and others conclude clothing prolongs the decay process. In South Africa, such research is lacking, with no data for the Western Cape Province, which suffers from a high murder rate with many unclaimed, unidentified bodies. Improving post-mortem interval (PMI) estimates will increase chances of correct forensic identification of decedents by narrowing the search window for police. Since no current PMI estimation method accounts for the possible influence of clothing, this study was designed to examine the effect of seasonally appropriate common clothing on decomposition rate in the thicketed Cape Flats Dune Strandveld, Cape Town, a forensically significant region. Four ∼60 kg domestic pig carcasses (Sus scrofa domesticus) were used as proxies for human decomposition, two were clothed and two unclothed. The clothing, altered by a seamstress to ensure an appropriate fit, caused a notable decrease in decay rate in this initial sample. Daily weight loss was used as a quantitative measure of decomposition progression, as the clothing prevented the use of visual decomposition scoring systems. Weight loss was closely associated with scavenging activity by the Cape grey mongoose (Galerella pulverulenta), with a clear scavenger preference for unclothed carcasses. This suggests that the effect of clothing on decomposition may be better assessed in this environment by examining how scavengers interact with only a single clothed carcass.

Item Type: Article
DOI/Identification number: 10.1016/j.forsciint.2020.110197
Uncontrolled keywords: Post-mortem interval, Taphonomy, Porcine models, Cape Flats Dune Strandveld, Cape Town
Subjects: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GN Anthropology
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Human and Social Sciences > School of Anthropology and Conservation
Depositing User: Devin Finaughty
Date Deposited: 07 Apr 2020 09:47 UTC
Last Modified: 16 Feb 2021 14:12 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)
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