Volume 47, Issue 3 (May 2002)

    Experiments in the Combustibility of the Human Body

    (Received 1 November 2001; accepted 23 October 2001)

    Published Online: May


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    This paper provides possible explanations for two previously misunderstood circumstances surrounding cases of socalled “spontaneous human combustion”—the nearly complete cremation of human bone, and the failure of such fires to spread to nearby combustibles. Two experiments were conducted. The first involved the cremation of “healthy” and “osteoporotic” human bone and observing the resulting fragmentation and color change. Osteoporotic elements consistently displayed more discoloration and a greater degree of fragmentation than healthy ones. The second experiment involved the combustion of a sample of human tissue and observation of the flame height and burning area in order to calculate the effective heat of combustion. The resulting heat was 17kJ/g indicating a fire that is unlikely to spread. These results, which are among the first obtained for human samples, lend further support and credence to previous scientific explanations for “spontaneous human combustion.”

    Author Information:

    Christensen, AM
    The University of Tennessee Department of Anthropology, TN

    Stock #: JFS15287J

    ISSN: 0022-1198

    DOI: 10.1520/JFS15287J

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    Title Experiments in the Combustibility of the Human Body
    Symposium , 0000-00-00
    Committee E30