A study of decomposition in the Arizona Sonoran desert using pigs



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Present decomposition studies are focused in mild, temperate climates. Studies estimating postmortem interval from observed levels of decomposition are based on retrospective and experimental studies in environments with moderate temperatures and high relative humidity. The few studies that exist in dry, arid environments are based on retrospective case analyses. The region of desert near Phoenix is unique even from the rest of the Sonoran Desert and warrants individualized research into the rates and morphology of decomposition. High temperatures, low relative humidity, large diurnal changes, and intense sun exposure create a unique environment that produces differential decomposition. This environment is further unique in its vulnerable social populations. The city of Phoenix sees large numbers of homeless individuals and Undocumented Border Crossers that are especially vulnerable to the summer extremes. The study presented here analyzes decomposition during June and July in the desert. Two adult pigs were clothed and placed in the desert and allowed to decompose for 24 days. One pig was placed in the shade and one in direct sun. Time lapse photographs and data loggers were used to document the process of decomposition and the environmental conditions. The early stages of decomposition progressed quickly; however, externally visible decompositional changes did not progress after day 8. Significant skeletonization was not observed and there was differential morphology between the pig placed in the shade and the pig placed in the sun. Further research is warranted into this unique environment, especially for longer durations and in different seasons.



Forensic Anthropology, Decomposition, Sonoran Desert