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Human Versus Animal: Contrasting Decomposition Dynamics of Mammalian Analogues in Experimental Taphonomy

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Taphonomic studies regularly employ animal analogues for human decomposition due to ethical restrictions relating to the use of human tissue. However, the validity of using animal analogues in soil decomposition studies is still questioned. This study compared the decomposition of skeletal muscle tissues (SMTs) from human (Homo sapiens), pork (Sus scrofa), beef (Bos taurus), and lamb (Ovis aries) interred in soil microcosms. Fixed interval samples were collected from the SMT for microbial activity and mass tissue loss determination; samples were also taken from the underlying soil for pH, electrical conductivity, and nutrient (potassium, phosphate, ammonium, and nitrate) analysis. The overall patterns of nutrient fluxes and chemical changes in nonhuman SMT and the underlying soil followed that of human SMT. Ovine tissue was the most similar to human tissue in many of the measured parameters. Although no single analogue was a precise predictor of human decomposition in soil, all models offered close approximations in decomposition dynamics.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: May 1, 2013

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