Masters Theses

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts



Major Professor

Dawnie W. Steadman

Committee Members

Graciela S. Cabana, Giovanna M. Vidoli, Suni M. Edson


In disaster scenarios, identification of the dead usually is delayed until after help is given to the living. During delays in recovery and transport of deceased individuals, decomposition of soft tissues will occur at a fast rate if individuals are not refrigerated. The Better Body Bag, or BBB, was designed for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) with features such as a vacuum seal, reflective coating, and absorbent pad to help delay the onset of decomposition that could render someone unidentifiable. In this study, the BBB was tested to determine if the individuals placed within a BBB yielded a more complete Short Tandem Repeat (STR) profile and lower Total Body Score (TBS) score as compared to individuals within standard white body bags and individuals placed with no covering. Twenty-five donors total were placed at University of Tennessee’s Anthropology Research Facility (ARF) in experiments that tested the vacuum seal mechanism of the BBB or repeated opening and closure of the BBB. Each experiment lasted 21 days over the course of just over a year. The results of this study are statistically inconclusive as to if vacuum sealing assists in preservation of the individual, though they do indicate that the BBB is significantly better at preserving DNA than if an individual was left with no covering. Furthermore, a standard white body bag and a BBB are comparable for morphological preservation (TBS) among donors that were immediately placed into bags, though qualitatively, BBB donors appear to be visually in better condition on day 21 than standard white body bag donors if 48 hours has elapsed prior to placement in the bags. This study demonstrates that the BBBs are a viable alternative to standard white body bags in disaster scenarios if DNA analysis is expected to be the identification modality. In other cases, such as where antemortem dental or medical records exist, a standard white body bag may provide sufficient morphological preservation as compared to an uncovered individual during the time it takes for an identification to be made.

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