How Long Does it Take For a Body to Decompose Without Embalming? – Explore Forensics (2023)

Find out how long it takes for a body to decompose without embalming and answer any other question you have about the process. Looking into this fascinating subject has brought up more than one surprise.

After twelve hours, the internal tissues start to decay. However, complete decomposition of the body can vary and take weeks if buried at sea to hundreds of years if buried in ice.

Coffee House Death Investigation (P...

Coffee House Death Investigation (PartI)

The rest of the article will go into detail about the factors surrounding the decomposition of a body.

Do hair and nails still grow after death?

Internal tissues start to decay after about 12 hours, resulting in skin shrinkage and pulling back from the skeleton. The skin shrinkage is the reason that the hair and nails still seem like they are growing after death.

Why do some bodies decompose faster than others?

Where the body is buried is responsible for the rate of decomposition. Bodies buried at sea are kept moist, which is ideal for decomposition. Whereas bodies buried underground in hot, arid climates are dry and not prone to decompose.

Is there anything else that affects the decomposition?

How the person dies will also affect the decomposition. If the body is cut up, this would speed up decomposition. Where the person is buried affects decomposition, so acidic soil increases the rate while freezing temperatures will decrease the rate.

What happens to your body when you die?

Once the heart stops, and blood is no longer pumping through your body, the cells immediately start dying due to a lack of oxygen. Cells in the brain die within minutes, while cells in the skin may not die until 24 hours later.

Why does the body look like it is bruised after death?

Since the blood is no longer being evenly pumped around the body, the blood will pool in the body parts that are closest to the ground. This pooling of blood causes most of the body to look pale while the engorged parts appear bruised.

What is rigor mortis?

Rigor mortis is the stiffening of the body muscles due to chemical changes in their myofibrils. The myofibrils are rod-like organelle of a muscle cell, and their main function is to perform muscle contraction.

What are the stages of decay?

There are five stages of decay: autolysis, putrefaction, black putrefaction, fermentation, and dry decay. These five stages of decay happen to everyone but the rate for each stage varies depending upon where the body is buried.

What is the first stage of decay?

The first stage, or autolysis, of human decomposition, begins immediately after death. The body has no way of getting oxygen or removing wastes once blood circulation and respiration cease. Cell membranes rupture due to excess carbon dioxide causes an acidic environment.

What is the second stage of decay?

The second stage, or putrefaction, of human decomposition, begins once the gut bacteria start eating their way through the body. The body will smell rotten and a green patch or blister will often appear on the belly.

What is the third stage of decay?

The third stage, or black putrefaction, of human decomposition, begins once the body turns black from the bacteria. At this point, the bacteria have eaten away at the corpse so much that the body cave sin on itself as the gases from the bacteria escape.

What is the fourth stage of decay?

The fourth stage, or fermentation, of human decomposition, begins once the body begins to dry out and mold grows on the body. There is a strong sour-like odor.

What is the fifth stage of decay?

The fifth stage, or dry decay, of human decomposition, begins once the body has completely dried out, thus creating an inhospitable environment for mold and bacteria. This leads to a drastic slowdown of decay.

Why is it important to know how a body decays?

How a body decays is extremely important in homicide cases. Knowing the stage of decay that the body is at will allow the investigator to determine when the murder happened. It is also important to know where and how the victim died.

What speeds up the process of decay?

There are a couple of things that drastically speed up the process of decay, such as scavenging animals and insects. The animals and insects break the body into smaller pieces, so more area is exposed to mold and bacteria.

What is an “average” time of decay?

If the body is buried six feet under the ground and in ordinary soil, it usually takes eight to twelve years for the body to decompose to a skeleton. This assumes the body is not placed inside a coffin, which will slow the process down, especially a solid oak coffin.

Does the type of body affect decomposition?

Several factors that will affect decomposition, such as height, fat percentage, and muscle mass. Bones take very long to degrade, so a tall individual will take longer to break down. If there is a greater amount of fat and muscle, this will delay decomposition.

What is an example of a body that took a very long time to decay?

Otzi, the Iceman, was found buried in the ice. He was determined to have lived some 5000 years ago. The body was covered in ice shortly after his death, thus causing the preservation.

Will your body decompose in space?

Due to the lack of oxygen in space, your body will not decompose in the normal way. If your body were in a spacesuit, it would decompose until there was oxygen. However, if there were no source of heat, the body would freeze.

Why wouldn’t someone want to be embalmed?

Some people avoid embalming due to religious or personal beliefs, while other people avoid embalming because embalming is very toxic to the soil that the corpse is buried in.

Can I still have a funeral if I am not embalmed?

You can still have a funeral if not embalmed. But, if embalming is not chosen to preserve the body to ensure there is time for viewing from family and friends, the body should be kept in a cooler room to ensure the decay process is as slow as possible.

We recently wrote an article about Why Do We Bury Bodies?


How long does it take for a body to decompose if it's not embalmed? ›

However, on average, a body buried within a typical coffin usually starts to break down within a year, but takes up to a decade to fully decompose, leaving only the skeleton, Daniel Wescott (opens in new tab), director of the Forensic Anthropology Center at Texas State University, told Live Science.

What is the timeline of decomposition of a body? ›

24-72 hours after death — the internal organs decompose. 3-5 days after death — the body starts to bloat and blood-containing foam leaks from the mouth and nose. 8-10 days after death — the body turns from green to red as the blood decomposes and the organs in the abdomen accumulate gas.

What happens to the body after death forensics? ›

Rigor mortis generally disappears 36 hours after death, followed by a phase known as secondary flaccidity. The late post-mortem phase is when the body tissue starts disintegrating and is primarily describable as decomposition or putrefaction, adipocere formation, mummification, or skeletonization.

What happens to a body that hasn't been embalmed? ›

Where a family has chosen to not embalm, any visits to see the deceased would usually take place within a few days. In this case the body is kept in a temperature-controlled environment to slow down the natural changes that happen after death takes place. There are circumstances where embalming may not be desirable.

What happens if a corpse is not embalmed? ›

Oftentimes, there will be at least a few days in between a person's death and their burial, and during that time, their body will begin to decompose if it's not embalmed. Embalming can stop decomposition from taking place so that families have a little bit more time to honor their loved ones.

How long does it take for a body to decompose and smell? ›

Putrefaction (4-10 days after death) – Autolysis occurs and gases (odor) and discoloration starts.

What are the 5 stages of decomposition? ›

A corpse generally progresses through five stages of decomposition—fresh, bloat (autolysis), active decay (putrefaction), advanced decay and skeletonisation.

How does a body completely decompose in 3 days? ›

By three days, internal organs have decomposed. From three to five days after death, the body will begin to bloat from gasses produced from internal decomposition. The body could actually double in size and turn a greenish color. Extremely unpleasant and long-lasting odors called putrification begins.

How long does it take to do forensics on a body? ›

They may inform family members that the death is suspected to have resulted from natural causes, trauma, an overdose, or a suspected homicide. An autopsy is much more than a physical examination of a deceased person, though, and as such, it takes approximately 6 weeks to get the final autopsy report.

Why do they cover the legs in a casket? ›

It is always easier to light up the upper half of the body and present the face under the best light. By covering the legs, funeral directors save time by spending lesser time lighting the lower portion of the body.

What are early signs of death forensic? ›

Thus, immediate post-mortem changes are dubbed as the “signs or indications of death.” Immediate changes include insensibility, loss of voluntary movements, cessation of respiration, cessation of circulation, and cessation of nervous system functions. During this time, primary relaxation of muscles occurs.

How long can an unembalmed body be viewed? ›

If remains are kept in refrigeration until the time of a funeral, disposition of those remains must occur within 5 hours of removal from refrigeration. The Code further states that the public should not view an unembalmed body that has been kept in refrigeration for longer than 36 hours.

How long does an unembalmed body last? ›

Instead of preparing the body with chemicals, morticians will store it in a fridge that keeps the body at two degrees Celsius. However, like embalming, it's important to remember that this merely slows the decomposition process – it doesn't stop it. A refrigerated body will last three to four weeks.

Can a body be viewed without embalming? ›

It's absolutely possible to spend time visiting someone or have an open coffin at the funeral when the person hasn't been embalmed. We've done this many times and the person will be just as well cared for and should look peaceful.

Does a body smell if not embalmed? ›

Bodies can begin to decompose within 24 hours of death. If a body is not embalmed in time, smells caused by the decomposition process may be difficult – or impossible – to control. Funeral homes will recommend open casket funerals only for bodies that have been embalmed shortly after death for this reason.

Can you watch an embalming? ›

Some people choose to embalm before viewing because they prefer the life like appearance that embalming imparts. Some are embalmed, have a viewing and are cremated. It's strictly the choice of the family.

How long does a casket last in the ground? ›

How long does a coffin last? There is no coffin or casket that will last forever. Bronze or copper caskets will tend to last longer but they will also break down over time, bronze will last the longest though. On average, the casket will last to about as little as 5 to 20 years or as long as 80 till 125 years.

Can you be buried without being embalmed? ›

No state requires embalming as a condition of being buried. No state law requires a coffin or casket. No state requires a concrete vault.” Still, he acknowledged that many who choose green burial may prefer not to be put in the ground between plots with vaults, caskets and embalmed bodies.

How long does it take for a body to turn into a skeleton in a coffin? ›

The final, skeleton stage may be reached as quickly as two weeks or as slowly as two years, depending on temperature, humidity and other environmental conditions where the body lies. Dead bodies emit a surprising array of chemicals, from benzene to freon, which can help forensic scientists find clandestine graves.

What happens to a body in a coffin after a month? ›

After 1 month, the liquefaction process commences. During this stage the body loses the most mass. The muscles, organs and skin are liquefied, with the cadaver's bones, cartilage and hair remaining at the end of this process.


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