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Posts Tagged ‘Taphonomy’

Kusôzu [da]

onsdag den 15. maj 2013

Kusôzu

Kusôzu, “painting of the nine stages of a decay corpse,” emerged in the 13th century, though the Buddhist teaching was introduced in Japan several centuries earlier. Kukai (774- 835), in fact, wrote poems (kusôkanshi) based on the series. The subject is always a woman and in scrolls the images are viewed right to left.

The oldest images were probably displayed in a structure at Daigoji temple in Kyoto. As Kyoto was (and still is) Japan’s religious capital for most of the country’s recorded history, much religious art, including kusôzu, is preserved in Kyoto, either by temples or museums.

See large version of the picture here

See also my earlier post on this subject: Body of a courtesan in nine stages of decomposition, c. 1870

Body of a courtesan in nine stages of decomposition, c. 1870 [da]

lørdag den 11. maj 2013

When I read Henri Duday’s The Archaeology of the Dead: Lectures in Archaeothanatology (Oxbow Books 2009), I stumbled upon a black and white print of the same motive from the early 19th century Japan entitled “Voyages de la Mort” showing the decomposition of a corpse in 12 vignettes. In Japanese this motive is called kusôzu, lit. ‘images of the nine stages’ - a sort of Japanese Memento Mori.

Since then I have unsuccesfully tried to find these vignettes in a colour version. What I have found instead are these fascinating drawings depicting the same motive:

Description
Paintied handscroll by Kobayashi Eitaku (1843 - 1890).
Ink and colour on silk. Sealed.

Dimensions
Height: 25.5 centimetres
Width: 501.5 centimetres

Curator’s comments
The scroll shows the stages of decomposition of the body of a woman, beginning with her fully clothed body and ending with her bones being eaten by dogs. The subject is an ancient Buddhist one, treating of the transience of the physical body, but which later assumed didactic functions relating to the proper conduct of women. In this example, however, the theme is given a new and somewhat prurient twist by its featuring of a prostitute as the subject. The work intersects with the world of ‘erotic pictures’ (shunga) and gives a very useful counterpoint for studying that genre. A prolific and versatile artist trained in the traditional Kano school, Eitaku achieved success rather through ukiyoe works and newspaper illustrations, but his reputation in Japan is not yet as high as it should be. Like many important artists whose careers straddled the end of the Edo period and beginning of the Meiji era, Japanese scholars have found it problematic to classify him. (TTC, Dec 2008)

Source: britishmuseum.org

More: See further example here or here, with some interesting reflexions by Sara Reads on Kusôzu and the grotesque

Collecting insects for Forensic Investigations [en]

lørdag den 13. april 2013

Via The Order of the Good Death

Stages of decomposition [da]

fredag den 11. januar 2013

Five general stages are used to describe the process of decomposition in vertebrate animals: Fresh, Bloat, Active and Advanced Decay, and Dry/Remains. The general stages of decomposition are coupled with two stages of chemical decomposition: autolysis and putrefaction. These two stages contribute to the chemical process of decomposition, which breaks down the main components of the body.

Fresh

The fresh stage begins immediately after the heart stops beating.[5] Since blood is no longer being pumped through the body it drains to the dependent portions of the body, under gravity, creating an overall bluish-purple discolouration termed livor mortis or, more commonly, lividity. Shortly after death, within three to six hours, the muscular tissues become rigid and incapable of relaxing which is known as rigor mortis. From the moment of death, the body begins losing heat to the surrounding environment, resulting in an overall cooling called algor mortis.

Once the heart stops, chemical changes occur within the body and result in changes in pH, causing cells to lose their structural integrity. The loss of cell structure brings about the release of cellular enzymes capable of initiating the breakdown of surrounding cells and tissues. This process is known as autolysis. Visible changes caused by decomposition are limited during the fresh stage, although autolysis may cause blisters to appear at the surface of the skin.

Oxygen present in the body is quickly depleted by the aerobic organisms found within. This creates an ideal environment for the proliferation of anaerobic organisms. Anaerobic organisms, originating in the gastrointestinal tract and respiratory system, begin to transform carbohydrates, lipids, and proteins, to yield organic acids (propionic acid, lactic acid) and gases (methane, hydrogen sulphide, ammonia). The process of microbial proliferation within a body is referred to as putrefaction and leads to the second stage of decomposition, known as bloat.

Blowflies and flesh flies are the first carrion insects to arrive, and seek a suitable oviposition site.

Bloat

The bloat stage provides the first clear visual sign that microbial proliferation is underway. In this stage, anaerobic metabolism takes place, leading to the accumulation of gases, such as hydrogen sulphide, carbon dioxide, and methane. The accumulation of gases within the bodily cavity causes the distention of the abdomen and gives a cadaver its overall bloated appearance. The gases produced also cause natural liquids and liquefying tissues to become frothy. As the pressure of the gases within the body increases, fluids are forced to escape from natural orifices, such as the nose, mouth, and anus, and enter the surrounding environment. The buildup of pressure combined with the loss of integrity of the skin may also cause the body to rupture.

Intestinal anaerobic bacteria transform haemoglobin into sulfhemoglobin and other colored pigments. The associated gases which accumulate within the body at this time aid in the transport of sulfhemoglobin throughout the body via the circulatory and lymphatic systems, giving the body an overall marbled appearance.

If insects have access, maggots hatch and begin to feed on the body’s tissues. Maggot activity, typically confined to natural orifices and masses under the skin, causes the skin to slip and hair to detach from the skin. Maggot feeding, and the accumulation of gases within the body, eventually leads to post-mortem skin ruptures which will then further allow purging of gases and fluids into the surrounding environment. Ruptures in the skin allow oxygen to re-enter the body and provide more surface area for the development of fly larvae and the activity of aerobic microorganisms. The purging of gases and fluids results in the strong distinctive odours associated with decay.

Active decay

Active decay is characterized by the period of greatest mass loss. This loss occurs as a result of both the voracious feeding of maggots and the purging of decomposition fluids into the surrounding environment. The purged fluids accumulate around the body and create a cadaver decomposition island (CDI). Liquefaction of tissues and disintegration become apparent during this time and strong odours persist. The end of active decay is signaled by the migration of maggots away from the body to pupate.

Advanced decay

Decomposition is largely inhibited during advanced decay due to the loss of readily available cadaveric material. Insect activity is also reduced during this stage. When the carcass is located on soil, the area surrounding it will show evidence of vegetation death. The CDI surrounding the carcass will display an increase in soil carbon and nutrients, such as phosphorus, potassium, calcium, and magnesium; changes in pH; and a significant increase in soil nitrogen.

Dry/remains

During the dry/remains stage, the resurgence of plant growth around the CDI may occur and is a sign that the nutrients present in the surrounding soil have not yet returned to their normal levels. All that remains of the cadaver at this stage is dry skin, cartilage, and bones, which will become dry and bleached if exposed to the elements. If all soft tissue is removed from the cadaver, it is referred to as completely skeletonized, but if only portions of the bones are exposed, it is referred to as partially skeletonised.

Drowned Sheep in Tøndermasken, Denmark [da]

fredag den 30. november 2012

The sheep had drowned while trying to cross a small canal in the meadow-swamp ‘Tøndermasken’ in southern Jylland in Denmark. Birds had eaten every part abowe the surface and everything under was left totally untouched

Photo by Johannes Bojesen, source: NatGeo

[da]

onsdag den 31. oktober 2012

Secrets of the Body Farm 1/3 

A visit to the University of Tennessee Forensic Anthropology Facility in Knoxville, where forensic scientists study the decomposition of corpses in a variety of situations, including in car trunks in shallow graves and vaults, and out in the open.

Tibetan Sky Burial [da]

søndag den 30. september 2012

For the most part, Westerners formally dispose of our bodies in one of two ways: as a rule, we bury or we burn.

The Tibetans do things a little differently.

Images via ellamorte:

Sky burial, or ritual dissection, is a funerary practice in Tibet, wherein a human corpse is incised in certain locations and placed on a mountaintop, exposing it to the elements (mahabhuta) and animals – especially predatory birds. The locations of preparation and sky burial are understood in the Vajrayana traditions as charnel grounds. In Tibet the practice is known as jhator (Tibetan: བྱ་གཏོར་, Wylie: bya gtor), which means “giving alms to the birds.”

The majority of Tibetans adhere to Buddhism, which teaches rebirth. There is no need to preserve the body, as it is now an empty vessel. Birds may eat it, or nature may let it decompose. So the function of the sky burial is simply to dispose of the remains. In much of Tibet, the ground is too hard and rocky to dig a grave, and, due to the scarcity of fuel and timber, sky burials are often more practical than cremation. High lamas and some other dignitaries may receive burials so as to honor them in death, but sky burials were standard practice for commoners.

Source: Wikipedia

[da]

lørdag den 29. september 2012

Tibetan Sky Burial

Via ellamorte:

Sky burial, or ritual dissection, is a funerary practice in Tibet, wherein a human corpse is incised in certain locations and placed on a mountaintop, exposing it to the elements (mahabhuta) and animals – especially predatory birds. The locations of preparation and sky burial are understood in the Vajrayana traditions as charnel grounds. In Tibet the practice is known as jhator (Tibetan: བྱ་གཏོར་, Wylie: bya gtor), which means “giving alms to the birds.”

The majority of Tibetans adhere to Buddhism, which teaches rebirth. There is no need to preserve the body, as it is now an empty vessel. Birds may eat it, or nature may let it decompose. So the function of the sky burial is simply to dispose of the remains. In much of Tibet, the ground is too hard and rocky to dig a grave, and, due to the scarcity of fuel and timber, sky burials are often more practical than cremation. High lamas and some other dignitaries may receive burials so as to honor them in death, but sky burials were standard practice for commoners.

Source: Wikipedia

Dr. Jerry Payne: On the Decomposing Pig [da]

mandag den 2. juli 2012

My former post was Jerry Payne’s time lapse movie of the decomposition of a baby pig from the mid 1960s. Here he looks back and gives his own account of his research.

Dr. Jerry A Payne’s comments on his breakthrough research at Clemson University on insect succession in dead animals. His 1960s project was the first “detailed” study of insect succession in animal decomposition and the first with the pig as the model. The significance of the pig is that it closely approximates the human body (skin, body hair, size etc.) so the data generated could be used in modern forensic science to approximate the time of human deaths. Jerry’s work is featured in a 2001 book by Jessica Snyder Sachs titled “Corpse: Nature, Forensics, and the Struggle to Pinpoint the Time of Death”.

The decomposition of a Baby Pig [da]

mandag den 2. juli 2012

Dr. Jerry Payne’s time lapse movie of the decomposition of a baby pig. This is truely great stuff. Jerry Payne was way ahead of his time when it comes to studying the process of decomposition.

The technique of time-lapse photography is employed to illustrate the rapid removal of carrion (4 days reduced to approximately 6 minutes). The film demonstrates the sequence of tissue destruction and the role of insects in the ultimate dismemberment of the pig carcass and soil movement. The pink and purple beads were added to show the intense activities of the insects in moving the carcass and soil.

Payne writes…”My study was the first “detailed” study of succession in animal decomposition and the first with the pig as the model. The significance of the pig is that it closely approximates the human body (skin, body hair, size etc.) so the data generated could be used in modern forensic science to approximate the time of human deaths. At that time it was simply not possibly (moral/ethical/legal concerns) to perform decompositon studies with human corpses, I know because I tried and was denied. Even so there were many instances where some concerned person buried my research pigs.”

The pigs used in the experiment were dead when Jerry Payne picked them up from local farmers. Mama pigs (sows) often lay down on their tiny piglets and crush them. This was very common on small farms and led to the invention and deployment of farrowing pens(birthing pens) where the sow is contained and the piglets have a heated space where they are not in danger of being crushed.

Flies have four life stages: adult (the fly), egg, larva (the maggot) and pupa. Maggots crawl into dark, secluded places to pupate (the stage where they undergo the transformation from maggot to adult). Since the maggots are white or cream colored they are easily seen and taken by predators. Going undergroundand away from the carcass offers protection from uv light and predators and allows them seclusion to pupate. This pupal stage is immobile. Maggots don’t have to burrow into the soil as they could easily conceal themselves in leaf litter or any decayed organic material.

The original 16mm film is archived in the Human Studies Film Archive of the Smithsonian Institute