The Body Farm and Forensic Science

You’ve probably heard of the Body Farm, right? Officially known as the Forensic Anthropology Center at the University of Tennessee, it was established in 1971 by Dr. William Bass. Originally intended as a research facility for forensic science students to study the decomposition process of human bodies, it has since become a renowned institution in the field. Individuals can choose to donate their bodies to the Body Farm, similar to organ donation.

There are seven body farms in the U.S.—all affiliated with universities. The seven locations are:

• The original body farm at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Tennessee

• Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, North Carolina

• Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas

• Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas

• Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Illinois

• Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction, Colorado

• University of South Florida in Tampa, Florida

Forensic science involves the scientific examination and analysis of evidence in order to solve crimes and identify unknown individuals. At the Body Farm, students engage in various research methods to determine the age, sex, ancestry, and stature of the donors. This includes tasks such as excavation, examining teeth and bones, studying the rate of decomposition and insect development cycles, measuring odor and testing body leakage in the soil, creating a biological profile, conducting trauma analysis, and documenting findings through photographs and note-taking. These processes, although potentially unpleasant, are crucial in providing valuable information for forensic investigations.

Forensic science is a crucial field that aims to recreate crime scenes in order to help investigators document decay and gather evidence to identify victims or determine the time and circumstances of their death. Since the nature of decomposition and the various factors that can influence it can be challenging, this is why ongoing research and advancements in forensic science are vital in improving our ability to solve crimes.

This photo is from a three-day seminar that I attended many years ago, and the professor set up two “victims” for us to study and analyze.