5 Places to Leave a Body (at a Body Farm)

If the name ‘The Body Farm’ stirs a sense of dread within you, you wouldn’t be the only one. And no, it’s not just the name of the third-rate pre-Halloween movie you went to see last week — it’s actually the most bizarre and one of the most interesting research facilities in the world, where the gruesome effects of decomposition of the human body are studied.

Why create a body farm? The use of forensic pathology of to examine recently deceased human remains is well established. This sort of work can be used to pinpoint a time of death fairly accurately. What is less well known is what happens when a body decomposes to a skeleton, is tarnished by scavengers, or is exposed to the elements for long periods of time — and this is exactly what the Body Farms intend to discover. There are five such facilities presently in operation within the United States. In any one facility, a number of bodies are placed in different environmental settings and left to decompose.

And how does it all work? How decomposition effects human remains is largely due to the environment the body is left in. We’ve talked before about how bodies can be well preserved for centuries and what happens immediately after death. Depending on the environmental conditions, your body could be picked clean by maggots and other decomposing agents within two weeks, or could remain preserved in an airless tomb almost indefinitely. However, in the majority of cases, within several months, decay of tissue within a body will occur to such an extent where it is impossible to visually identify a body, leaving only some or all of a skeleton as a clue.

This is where the forensic anthropologists come in, using the work of the body farms, to determine how decomposition has effected the corpse. The way in which the presence of a decomposing body effects the environment on a micro scale is incredibly fascinating. Experts have managed to chart the rise and fall of entire insect populations based on the addition of a body to the locality. They can also analyse how much of the material from the body has leeched out into the surrounding soil, and over what time period. Such information is obviously useful to future pathologists looking to establish how long a corpse has been there.

Before the body farmers (!) begin their work, they thoroughly document everything on the corpse. Remember this is important work, and a case study so proper documentation enables the results to be properly analysed and conclusions drawn. Now, should you wish, you can leave your body to be studied.

Here are the five facilities that do it, and what they specialise in. They are the five places to leave your body (at the body farm).

1. William H. Bass’s pioneering research facility


The first body farm (inspiring the Patricia Cornwell novel of the same name) was established in 1971 to assist police in examining bodies in criminal cases. Located at the University of Tenesseee, USA, it specialises in exposure. Bodies are left buried, exposed, underwater and even placed within objects (like a car)

2. An unusual mountain retreat


The decomposition facility at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, USA. This facility studies the decomposition of bodies within the mountains of Carolina. It is also used to train sniffer dogs to hunt for corpses.

3. Vultures in Texas.


The Body Farm at Texas Sate University is a state-of-the-art facility which examines the effects of a wide array of climate conditions on decomposition.  It also studies the effect of vulture scavenging on human decomposition. They are currently accepting donors for research purposes.

4. Supermax for cadavers.


The Houston State University Applied Forensic Science Facility trains students, academics, law enforcement and forensic specialists on the application of forensic science to the human body. Cadavers are placed within one acre of maximum-security fencing, surrounded by an additional eight acres of minimum security ground which is used for training search and recovery. The area is entirely remotely monitored to ensure the accurate assessments.

5. The body farm of the future.


The California University of Pennsylvania is the final facility, which seeks to open 45 miles away from the city of Pittsburgh. It will be used for training, but is not yet open.   These body farms are not without their controversies. Religious issues alone aside, some people find them morally objectionable. There also are environmental concerns: the Texas-based body farm raised concerns about attracting coyotes, a smell and even buzzards circling the area. Some take the view that more body farms are needed so the effects of exposing a corpse to an even wider array of conditions can be studied.

 

Your Turn: When it comes to pathology, we think: the more evidence, the better. Would you ever consider leaving your body at a farm? Let us know in the comments.

Comments

comments

42 Comments

  • Barbara Burns says:

    What exactly do you need to do to leave your body to a body farm to be studied for forensics ?

    • grayson says:

      for now im just checking on this but it sounds like something I might be interested in

    • Joseph T Hozey says:

      What do I need to do to leave my body to a body farm?

      • Earl C Phillips says:

        I would rather feed a buzzard than be cremated, at least I would get recycled. I don’t believe in any bible. I am a total student of science. I am 75 years old and in perfect health. But everything dies. So why not be of some use after death than just cremated or put in the ground. So put me in my Navy dress CPO uniform and lay me in the woods. Let the elements take their share.

    • R. Humphrey says:

      How do I leave my body to a body farm

    • Mary Stetler says:

      How do I apply to donate my body to a body farm?

  • I would like to leave my body to science and wish to learn more – could I be sent information about this?

    • Hello Barbara, Grayson and Diane,

      That is very noble of you. First, consider getting in touch with your family to understand any concerns they would have about remembering you and any ceremonies they would like after you are gone. Next, talk to your attorney to be sure all legal requirements are met. You will need to sign a contract with a body farm, and you should understand how it works. Finally, get in touch with one of these Body Farms that we have mentioned. You can find them through Google. Naturally, we do not have any information specific to this operation, nor do we necessarily promote any kind of services like this. Our job is simply to bring forensic information to you. Nor would any of these facilities solicit bodies from living persons. This has to be done by an effort you make. We are sure that they can answer all of your questions.

      We hope this is not an occurrence that will happen soon. We wish you a long and healthy life, but you can rest at ease if this is for you and you have made this choice, that you are providing a gift to science and the understanding of the human body after you go, so that should give you peace of mind.

      • William morris says:

        Hello my wife and I would like very much to donate are body’s to a body farm and help the future of forensic science and anything we could do to help camptur criminals ,please could you send me information about this

      • AMY CUTSON says:

        what happens to the “remains” once you have whatever info you need?

  • Howard lloyd says:

    I would like to donate my body after death.Where do I go to achieve this?

  • Mechelle says:

    I live in Pennsylvania. Anyone interested in utilizing my crappy, Fibromyalgia ridden body is welcome to it! It certainly hasn’t served me well at all!

  • Boo says:

    I would be interested in leaving my body to a Body Farm if there was/is one on Britain

    • Kate says:

      I’m in UK too and want to be left at a body farm. Cannot stand the thought of being under ground in a coffin or put in a furnace…and if there is any chance I’m alive and they accidently miss my heart beat I still have my chance to live lol. There are no body farms in UK as yet so will have to go to US
      : /

  • Judy says:

    For sure. Better than taking up space in a cemetery or polluting the air being cremated. Usefullness in death is appealing.

  • Catherine Douglass says:

    I wish to have any information. That you can supply me in reference to donating my body to a farm. I prefer this over my body just put in a poor person’s grave. And to keep my body aches being put in lockets by my oldest. I think the body farm is my best way to give back.

  • Linda G Staple says:

    yes I would like very much to donate my body to the farm. It is a very necessary science that needs more study. Right now I live in Florida.

  • Linda G Staple says:

    How can I apply.

  • I AM INTERESTED IN DONATING MY BODY TO A TEXAS BODYFARM. COULD SOMEONE PLEASE CONTACT ME?

  • Lisa snider says:

    How do i donate my body

    • Hi Lisa – contact any of these body farms and ask them what their preferred process for donations will be. If there is a geographic distance between where you end up and the Body Farm, for example, you may have to arrange transportation after your passing happens more than 100 miles away from the facility. Criteria will differ according to your circumstances. They can help you and stay in touch with you.

      Contact information for each place is easy to find by simply searching. It took me a few seconds to find the website for the University of Tennessee Body Farm, and there is a body donation link with all of their requirements. http://fac.utk.edu/donation.html

  • Wendy says:

    I’ve wanted to do this for a couple years now. I guess the ID channel made me think of it. Anyway, I got talking with my husband tonight to make sure he follows through. Then I googled and found this site. Thanks so much for all the information. I think until there is no evil in this world, we will always need body farms and other forensic research. So, in other words, forever needed.

  • Cynthia says:

    Please send me more info how I can donate my body to the farm. Science centers won’t take me.

  • Carol says:

    I’m in the uk and I would be interested , I did read about this in the newspaper, they said to transport to America £400 ? Is this correct . They did mention it would come to uk … But I can’t see that happening , I would like to think it would .

  • Sue says:

    Is there anywhere in the UK where I can donate my body? I’ve wanted to find out for a few years and know this is exactly what I want to do. Many thanks

    • If you are referring to a University doing research on cadavers, like the Body Farm, we are not aware of any in the UK at this moment. In the US, it is also possible to donate to a Medical School so that the student doctors are able to practice learning on cadavers. If that is your interest, donating to the medical profession, then check with medical schools. And thank you for your unselfish desires.

  • Donna says:

    I want to leave my body to a body farm.

  • Glenn Morrell says:

    I’m curious as if it’s possible for the family to get the bones back for burial or cremation?

  • Richard Harriott says:

    Would like someone to contact me re leaving my body to the body farm.
    Planning my estate and this is important to be completed soonest.
    Thank you.
    RH

    • daniellaafeltra says:

      Hi Richard, thank you very much for taking the time to leave a comment for us. May I suggest getting in touch with The University of Tennessee’s Anthropological Research Facility here: http://fac.utk.edu/body-donation/?

      They would be the best people to contact with regard to donating your body to a body farm. I wish you the very best!

  • Elizabeth says:

    I want to be taken to a body farm but would also like to donate any parts useable for someone in need. Can it be done? What would I need to do and what is the cost? I’m trying to get things in order for when the day comes to not leave so much pain behind. Somewhere here in Tx.

  • Geneva says:

    How about some resources for people who live in Canada?

  • Jeanette Chapman says:

    Can I leave my body farm to any in UK

  • Randy says:

    Can I leave my body after medical science is done with me?

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