Volume 38, Issue 4 (July 1993)
Disappearance of Soft Tissue and the Disarticulation of Human Remains from Aqueous Environments
Human remains recovered from aquatic environments were scored for regional presence of soft tissue, exposure of bone, and loss of body parts to determine the general pattern of soft tissue loss and loss of body parts. Regions scored were: the cranium, mandible, neck, hands, forearms, upper arms, feet, legs, pelvic girdle, and trunk. Initial disappearance of soft tissue, resulting in exposure of underlying bones, occurred in areas thinly overlain by soft tissue beginning with the head, hands, and anterior lower legs. Disappearance of body parts followed the general sequence: bones of the hands and wrists, bones of the feet and ankles, and the mandible and cranium. The lower legs, forearms, and upper arms are the next units to separate from the body.
Known postmortem intervals for remains analyzed ranged from weeks to years and could not reliably be estimated based on the condition of the body at the time of recovery. As parts drop away from a floating carcass in large or current-driven bodies of water, they are often separated from the major body unit. This complicates recovery. Knowledge of disarticulation sequences allows more informed assessment of skeletal element recoveries to be expected and assists in the interpretation of artifacts and events produced by different disarticulating environments.