Have you ever heard of a body farm? If not, you’re probably imagining a large stretch of land with corpses strewn across it, hoarded by some evil overlord. If you are, you’re not that far off! Although there is no evil overlord, a body farm is in fact, a large piece of land (sometimes several acres long!) with bodies strewn across it. These bodies are put into varying situations to see the different ways that they decompose. For example, they might put a body in a river for a month or two to see how it decays, or they may put a body into the boot of a car and leave it there for a week in the middle of summer.
The point of all this is to see the differences in how a body decays based on the situation that the body was placed in. This is to help forensic scientists and the medical community determine the cause and time of death. The world would be a lot worse off if we didn’t know how bodies decomposed when placed in certain scenarios. More than one name has been cleared due to the research done on body farms.
The first body farm was opened in 1987, in Knoxville Tennessee. The plot of land is two and a half acres with somewhere between 150 to 200 bodies. Over a hundred bodies are donated per year. If you’re within 100 miles of the facility, the staff will come pick up your body free of charge. Once they’re done examining the bodies, they’re given to the Anthropology Department for students to study. Currently, there are 1,800+ skeletons in the department, with birth dates ranging from the late 1800s to today. No tours are offered of the body farm, despite many public intercut.
Police are often sent into one of seven body farms for experience. Once inside, the smell of death and decaying corpses is overwhelming, and once identified, the police can identify it again – out on the field. Lawyers and the wealthy that wish to know more about family members deaths occasionally have bodies exhumed and examined by the body farm researchers, whether to clear a criminal’s name or to find out how/when the family member died. Despite all the good body farms can do though, there are some people that are against body farms.
Most of the people that protest body farms are the neighbors of the body farm, the people that live near it. They find the facilities to be disturbing, and complain about the animals that are attracted to the bodies. There are also people who claim to be able to smell or see the bodies from their houses. A solution to this was found by adding a fence around the plot of land. Protests have been made outside of the facility, with signs reading “This makes us SICK,” a reference to the group “Solutions to Issues of Concern to Knoxvillians”, a group that tries to fix problems related to their city.
Whether body farms are ethical or not, they are very helpful to the science community and to the police whose cases have been solved due to body farms.