The Body Farm

Decaying Hand

“At this facility, the dead are silent helpers for the living.    A bizarre but necessary kingdom.”      – Patricia Cornwell

Research by Guest Topic Editor Checkitout14

A body farm is a research facility where human decomposition after death can be scientifically studied in a variety of settings. The aim is to gain a better understanding of the decomposition process, permitting the development of techniques for extracting information (such as the timing and circumstances of death) from human remains. Body farm research is particularly important within forensic anthropology and related disciplines, and has applications in the fields of law enforcement, medical examination and crime scene investigation. There are currently three such facilities in the United States with the farm at Texas State University being the largest.

Birthplace of Modern Forensics

The Anthropology Research Facility at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, is more commonly referred to as “The Body Farm” and was established in 1980 by Dr. William Bass as a research facility for forensic anthropology. Modern forensics ~ and the current TV shows about crime labs such as Forensics Files, CSI, NCIS, and Bones ~ all have their foundations in the research done at The Body Farm.

Facilities in the United States

University of Tennessee – Knoxville

““[Bass is] the real-life father of forensic anthropology.”
— Michael Baden, MD, author and former chief NYC medical examiner”

The original “Body Farm” (started by William Bass) is the University of Tennessee Anthropological Research Facility. Dr. William M. Bass became head of the university’s anthropology department in 1971, and as official state forensic anthropologist for Tennessee he was frequently consulted in police cases involving decomposed human remains. Since no facilities existed that specifically studied decomposition, in 1981 he opened the department’s first body farm.

Staged Bodies

The University of Tennessee Body Farm is also used in the training of law enforcement officers in scene-of-crime skills and techniques.

Western Carolina University

Another facility in the United States is located at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, North Carolina and is part of the Western Carolina Human Identification Laboratory. It was opened in 2006 and is run by WCU’s Forensic Anthropology program.  The facility studies decomposition in the western North Carolina mountain habitat and may be used for cadaver dog training.

Texas State University

A Forensic Anthropology Research Facility was recently commissioned by the Texas State University-San Marcos Department of Anthropology and is under the direction of Dr. Michelle Hamilton, a former student of Dr. Bill Bass. The body farm is fully operational and will be part of the Forensic Anthropology Center at Texas State (F.A.C.T.S.).

A few examples of scientific research conducted at the Body Farm facilities :

1) Study of Skin Slippage to help determine time of death

Skin Slippage

Skin Slippage 2

2)  Facial Reconstructions techniques:

Skull & Face Construction

Anatomical Landmarks


National Geographic:

YouTube – The Body Farm and Beyond

Information obtained from:

May I suggest?

Profile of Dr. Bill Bass

Articles by Katherine Ramsland ( TruTV Crime Library )

The Body Farm

From Counseling to Corpses

Bone Detective

Where the Dead Serve the Living

Cutting Edge Technologies

Solving Crime

Death’s Acre: the Film

Close to the Bone

Cross Bones

Hot Stuff

New Chapter: Breaking Ground

New Chapter: Vultures



2 Responses to The Body Farm

  1. streetsmart1 says:

    -snipped for shortness-

    * Once he joined the University of Tennessee faculty, “half of the first 10 cases I got were maggot-covered bodies,” he remembered. “And people (detectives) don’t ask you ‘Who is that,’ they ask ‘How long have they been there?’ ”

    At the time, “there was nothing much in the literature,” Bass realized. “So I asked the dean if I could have a small piece of land to put bodies on. That was the beginning of what has been 29 years of trying to figure out what happens to people. I think all we’ve done is scratch the surface.”

    ** “The maggots told you something, but the decay of the bodies told you something else,” said Bass, explaining that there was a delay between the time of death and when flies found a way to enter the house and lay their eggs.

    “Two things happen when a body decays,” he said. “At death, enzymes in the digestive system, having no more nutrition, begin to eat on a person, and the tissues liquefy. You have putrefaction.” Insect business also plays a big part as maggots take care of rotting flesh with often astonishing speed.

    “Most of the characteristics used to determine length of time since death are determined by insect activity,” said Bass. “Occasionally, there will be no flies in a house, and maybe it’s two weeks since the time of death before flies finally find a way in, and then there are two different rates of decay.”

  2. streetsmart1 says:

    – snipped for shortness –

    The Federal Bureau of Investigation finds the Body Farm helpful, too.

    Every February, agents descend on the Knoxville facility to dig for bodies that farm workers have prepared to simulate crime scenes.

    “We have five of them down there for them,” said Bass. “They excavate the burials and look for evidence that we put there.”

    Bodies come from a variety of sources — unclaimed corpses from medical examiners’ offices and outright donation. Some 300 people have willed their bodies to the facility, with more coming with each fresh wave of publicity.

    “The university lawyers have a form they’ve made up,” said Bass.

    Because of this, the science of decomposition goes on. But Bass and his colleagues never forget that the subjects of their experiments were once living, breathing beings with dreams, hopes and fears.

    “Once a year, we have a memorial service,” Bass said Tuesday, just before leaving to join a German television crew for this year’s service.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: