foul play is not suspected, the Coroner has a legal obligation to investigate the circumstances surrounding
sudden or unexpected deaths, and the more information we have about how a human body decomposes
the more accurate we can be with estimations of Post Mortem Interval. If we know how a body
decomposes naturally, we are able to see if certain marks on the body are injuries or are a natural by
product of decomposition, for example skin may split during decomposition and this could be mistaken
for an injury sustained prior to death.
So why don’t we have a body farm in the UK? I’m not sure why, but I hope that this paper will help in the
campaign to get one built. There is currently a campaign for one to be set up, spearheaded by the
forensic anthropologist Dr Anna Williams, from Huddersfield University. My Fellowship was awarded to
enable me to visit the FAC in Knoxville and the AFTER facility in Sydney, in order to research how body
farms are set up and run on a daily basis. This research should hopefully help with the campaign to get a
body farm in the UK.
6.1 Forensic Anthropology Centre, University of Tennessee Knoxville
Dr Bill Bass opened the FAC in Knoxville in 1981, the first body farm in the world. The facility as it stands
now covers nearly 3 acres close to the University of Tennessee Medical Centre in Knoxville, and has
between 150 and 200 donor bodies involved in active research at any one time. The facility is owned and
run by the University of Tennessee, with the research being conducted by the Forensic Anthropology
Centre. Some of the research projects at the centre have been suggested by law enforcement personnel
as issues that came from real life cases - for example, if a corpse is hanging, how does this affect the
distribution of insects on the remains in comparison to a body on the ground?
Image of original sign outside facility
There is no federal or state legislation that deals directly with the body farms and the research they do.
However, the University has legal counsel who will give advice and guidance when required. Funding for
the FAC mainly comes from grants. The salaries of the permanent staff are paid by the Department of
Anthropology, and graduate research assistants are generally paid for using grant money and
departmental funding. Undergraduate students are also used to do a lot of the work, including cleaning
the facility, and collecting donated bodies.
There are approximately 4000 ‘pre-donors’ - people who have registered to leave their bodies to the FAC
for research purposes. Some of the pre-donors are even from the UK. When a donor dies the FAC is
notified and arrangements are made to collect the body. The FAC will normally only collect a body within
one hundred miles of Knoxville - any further than that transportation has to be arranged and paid for by
the donor’s family. The FAC will also sometimes accept donors who have not been preregistered, but
whether or not they are accepted will depend ongoing research. One of the first questions asked is the
cause of death - there are certain infectious diseases that mean the body will not be accepted.
The donor body is brought directly to the William M Bass Forensic Anthropology building. Here there is
intake where photographs are taken, height and weight are measured, and blood and other biological
samples are taken. The donor is given an ID number, and it is this number which follows the