Behind the University of Tennessee Medical Center is a lovely little woodlot on a hillside where people are seen lying in the sun or reclining in the shade as squirrels and other forest creatures play in the trees.
Out there is where Arpad Vass, a scientist at UT’s Anthropological Research Facility, sees dead people — every day. All those folks spread out there in the Tennessee heat are lying down because they’re all very much dead — they’re cadavers sprawled out intentionally as a way of studying modes of human decomposition. They’re the lifeless bodies of people who have very nobly and generously donated their bodies to science after their death, and forensic science owes them a huge debt of thanks.
Vass’s job is to evaluate how the human body decomposes under various conditions: buried in shallow graves, stuck in car trunks, wrapped in plastic bags, submerged in a man-made pond, just to name a few — all the different ways the...
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