Forensic Science, Medicine and Pathology

, Volume 15, Issue 1, pp 3–12 | Cite as

Understanding clothed buried remains: the analysis of decomposition fluids and their influence on clothing in model burial environments

  • Maiken UelandEmail author
  • Shari L. Forbes
  • Barbara H. Stuart
Original Article


Previous studies of fabric degradation have shown promising results for post-mortem interval estimations based on differences in the degradation states of clothing in the presence of decomposing remains. It is crucial to determine if a body was present when using the degradation state as an indicator of time since death. For this study, fabric samples from buried pig remains were collected and analyzed using attenuated total reflectance Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy and chromatography- mass spectrometry. Three different fabrics were investigated; 100% cotton, 100% polyester and a polyester-cotton blend. Distinct visual changes were observed between the experimental and control graves, with the fabrics in the control grave degrading more rapidly. There was also a difference between the fabric types, whereby the natural fabrics degraded much faster than the synthetic ones. Principal component analysis was used to determine that the cotton control samples could be statistically separated based on their degradation state. The presence of lipids and proteins were useful for separating “wetter” graves from those drier in nature as well as the control graves. Clothing evidence was demonstrated to provide quantitative time since death information, as well as indicating the decomposition site in the event of intentional or unintentional movement.


Forensic taphonomy Time since death Post-burial interval Lipid analysis 



The authors would like to acknowledge Dr. David Bishop, Dr. Ronald Shimmon, and Dr. Regina Verena Taudte for their technical support.


The project was funded by the University of Technology Sydney.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest


Ethical approval

Animal ethics approval was not required for this study because the experimental subjects were: 1) purchased post-mortem; and 2) not killed specifically for the purposes of this research, as outlined in the guidelines of the Australian Code for the Care and Use of Animals for Scientific Purposes (8th ed. 2013).

Informed consent



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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for Forensic ScienceUniversity of Technology SydneyUltimoAustralia

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