Progressive dehydration in decomposing bone: a potential tool for forensic anthropology

Steven Walden, Sam L. Evans, Jacqui Mulville, Karen Wilson, Scott Board

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The aim of this pilot study was to determine whether collagen and/or water content of bone vary during soft tissue putrefaction by thermogravimetric analysis with a view to eventually developing a possible forensic application to determine post-mortem interval. Porcine bone decomposed in a shallow burial showed an approximate difference in average mass loss of 15  ± 8% when heated between 22 and 100 °C, compared to 14 ± 3% for porcine bone decomposed in a surface deposition, equating to water loss. Mass loss showed peaks at 0, 250–500 and 1200–1500 cumulative cooling degree days’ (CCDD) deposition for the experimental porcine bone. Should these measurements prove consistent in future studies on a wider variety of porcine and eventually human skeletal elements, they may have potential to be corroborated with other data when determining post-mortem interval, especially with disarticulated bones. A downward trend in mass loss was apparent within shallow burial and surface deposition scenarios (inclusive of freeze-dried controls) for the thermolysis of collagen (and other proteins) between 220 and 650 °C during thermogravimetric analysis. This was inconsistent within the time frame examined (0–1450 cumulative cooling degree days), and so demonstrates less potential as an indicator of post-mortem interval during soft tissue putrefaction.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3517-3524
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Thermal Analysis and Calorimetry
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 20 Aug 2020


  • Anthropology
  • Bone
  • Collagen
  • Decomposition
  • Dehydration
  • Forensic


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