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J Forensic Sci. 2017 Sep;62(5):1292-1296. doi: 10.1111/1556-4029.13409. Epub 2017 Jan 25.

Comparing the Scoring of Human Decomposition from Digital Images to Scoring Using On-site Observations.

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Anthropology, Southern Illinois University, 1000 Faner DrMail Code 4502, Carbondale, IL, 62901.
Criminal Justice, Sam Houston State University, Huntsville, TX.
Social and Behavioral Sciences, Mesa State University, 1100 North Ave, Grand Junction, CO, 81506.


When in forensic casework or empirical research in-person assessment of human decomposition is not possible, the sensible substitution is color photographic images. To date, no research has confirmed the utility of color photographic images as a proxy for in situ observation of the level of decomposition. Sixteen observers scored photographs of 13 human cadavers in varying decomposition stages (PMI 2-186 days) using the Total Body Score system (total n = 929 observations). The on-site TBS was compared with recorded observations from digital color images using a paired samples t-test. The average difference between on-site and photographic observations was -0.20 (t = -1.679, df = 928, p = 0.094). Individually, only two observers, both students with <1 year of experience, demonstrated TBS statistically significantly different than the on-site value, suggesting that with experience, observations of human decomposition based on digital images can be substituted for assessments based on observation of the corpse in situ, when necessary.


data verification; forensic anthropology; forensic science; photographs; taphonomy; visual assessment

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