Masters Theses

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts



Major Professor

Lee Meadows Jantz

Committee Members

Richard Jantz, Murray Marks


A multitude of factors can affect the decomposition process, increasing or decreasing its rate. Some of the most frequently observed variables are temperature, moisture, insect activity, and sun or shade exposure.

Coverings can impact the decomposition process, and are found frequently in forensic cases. In a survey of New Mexico cases, Komar (2003) reported that sixteen individuals were found wrapped in plastic, and twenty were noted as wrapped in a cloth or blanket. In a survey conducted of eighty-seven cases, fifty-four of the bodies were wrapped in some type of covering. Plastic was most common, but a variety was noted, including rugs, sleeping bags, and blankets, (Manhein, 1997).

In order to document how coverings affect early decomposition an experiment was designed to mimic a forensic setting. Three human cadavers were used in each of two repetitions of this experiment. Two of the cadavers were covered, one in plastic tarp, the other in a cotton blanket, while the third was left uncovered as a control. The selection of materials was based on case reports of cadavers wrapped in plastic and blankets (Komar, 2003, Derrick, 2007 personal communication). Demographic and environmental variation between individuals was kept to a minimum.

Data collected included daily minimum and maximum temperatures and two daily temperature point comparisons. The bodies remained covered for thirty days during this data collection. At the end of that period, the bodies were uncovered and the amount of decomposition was recorded.

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