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Experimental Adipocere Formation: Implications for Adipocere Formation on Buried Bone*,

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Abstract:  Adipocere, or grave wax (adipo = fat, cere = wax), is a distinctive decomposition product composed primarily of fatty acids (FA) and their alkali salts. FA result from the bacterial enzymatic hydrolysis of body fats. Reactions with ammonia and alkali metals originating from body fluids and pore waters of the depositional environment produce alkali salts of FA (soap). Adipocere formation is generally associated with burial of corpses with ample adipose tissue available. No indications that adipocere can form on defleshed remains have been presented in the literature. At the termination of a long‐term bone diagenesis experiment, several samples were found to possess growths of an unknown compound. Gas chromatography–mass spectrometry confirmed that the growths are adipocere. The results herein reveal that adipocere can indeed form on defleshed bones under the right conditions and that even residual adipose and lipids in defleshed bones are sufficient to produce adipocere growth on the surfaces of bone.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Museum of Geology, South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, 501 East St. Joseph St., Rapid City, SD 57701.

Publication date: 2012-05-01

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