This is not a story for the squeamish, so read on at your peril. The one certainty that each of us has in this life is that we are going to die. What exactly does take place within the human body once the spark of life is gone?
First stage of decomp - 0 to 3 days
The actual process of decay is fascinating, in a morbid kind of way.
Putrefaction stage at 4 to 10 days
The images used in this story are of a pig decomposing, but the process is exactly as it would be for a human body. For those of you with stronger stomachs, take a look at the first video you come to. You will need to verify your age before you can watch.
Putrefaction stage image 2
When your brain is finally starved of oxygen, and your eyes have turned glassy, then you are clinically dead. Within one minute, the previously free flowing blood is pooling in bruise-like patches around your body, and all your muscles relax, emptying both bowels and bladder.
Time-lapse human decomposition video
After three minutes, brain cells are dying off in millions, and all higher thought processes end. By the fifth minute, your eyeballs have clouded over and flattened due to lack of blood pressure, and by the ninth minute your brain stem finally shuts down forever.
Putrefaction stage - image 2
Between one and four hours, rigor mortis sets in, stiffening all muscle tissue and making the hair stand on end. By six hours the body is totally rigid, and pooled blood turns the skin black, like some gruesome all-over tattoo. After 8 hours the body begins to cool down.
Butyric fermentation - 20 to 50 days after death
Within 36 to 48 hours, the rigor mortis ends, and the body becomes flexible again, but microbes within it are already destroying the intestines, and the pancreas starts to digest itself. By the fifth day, large blisters are appearing on the decaying skin, and blood-flecked froth starts to spew from the nose and mouth. The body now has an eerie greenish color.
Butryic decomposition - image 2
Body cells are now breaking down, releasing the liquid within them, which pools under the skin and loosens it, causing what they call ‘Skin slough’. It is not unusual, during a post-mortem, for the skin of an entire hand to just slip off, and pathologists call this ‘gloving’. Bacteria are already hard at work, multiplying exponentially in a frenzy of feeding, as they eat their way through body tissues.
Flies will have laid their eggs in every body orifice, and within three days, tiny young maggots are crawling beneath the surface of the now near translucent skin, to feed on body fat. They can be seen quite clearly moving about, and the sight is strangely beautiful, in a revolting way. As the days pass, the gases released by the feeding hordes have no way of escaping the body, and the ‘bloat’ stage is reached.
Body Farm research centre - Tenessee
It isn’t uncommon, in male corpses, for the penis and testicles to swell to massive proportions at this stage, but by now the maggots are that much bigger, and in the stillness you can actually hear them munching away. Yuk. By day ten, gases have distended the stomach enormously, and the decaying tongue forces its way out of the mouth. The green body tone gives way to red as the blood decomposes.
During the next four weeks, hair, nails and teeth start to drop off, like ripe apples from a tree, and the body begins to liquefy as the tissues are eaten from within. As the months pass, the body fat turns into a greenish white goo called ‘grave-wax’, which the worms gradually eat away at until, about a year after being interred, the body skeleton has been picked totally clean of all flesh.
Dry decomposition from 50 to 365 days
If left to its own devices your body will, quite literally return to the earth, as you are broken down by nature into your component parts. Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. This is the way every one of us will end up, silent contributors to the future of our planet and all that live upon it.
The information contained in this article was taken from an article I wrote in 2003 entitled 'Body Business'. The images were courtesy of australianmuseum.net.au for which use I offer my sincere appreciation.