Work is well underway on Australia’s first body farm in the Hawkesbury region of outer Sydney and the first donors have already committed their bodies to science.
Formally known as a decomposition lab, the farm, operated by the University of Technology Sydney (UTS), will help scientists and police understand how the human body deteriorates when left out in the elements.
The information collected can assist police in identifying times of death and training dogs to detect human remains.
Buried in shallow graves and protected from animals by a grate, the corpses will be monitored by a range of scientists including entomologists, archaeologists, biologists and anthropologists. The undisclosed location will be secured by high-end fencing, CCTV and security.
The team is currently experimenting with pig cadavers but with more than 30 people already agreeing to donate their bodies to the lab after their deaths, it won’t be long until the team can begin work on human specimens.
UTS Forensics Professor Shari Forbes says all research will be done with the utmost respect for the donors.
“The scientists and police involved in this research are confronted by death on a regular basis and understand the moral and ethical significance of working with human cadavers, just like doctors and medical students,” she said.
The University of Tennessee body farm.
Professor Forbes studies the smell of decomposing bodies and will use the farm to try and recreate the smells of various decomposition stages.
The farm will be the first of its kind outside of the United States. Until now, local scientists have had to rely on American data, which doesn’t account for the tough Australian climate, and experiments conducted on pig cadavers.
The world’s first body farm started in 1981 at the University of Tennessee. After being called to consult on forensic cases, forensic anthropologist William Bass developed the farm to study human decomposition. Every year, more than 100 bodies are donated to the facility.