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Thursday, June 17, 2010

why some bodies do not decompose

Ever wondered about the phenomenon of incorruptibles - the bodies that do not decompose over time, without any embalming or preservation techniques?

These are touted as proof of Catholicism's trueness, or of Sufism in Islam.

Nothing of the kind. read on >>
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Adipocere (also known as corpse, grave or mortuary wax) is a wax-like organic substance formed by the anaerobic bacterial hydrolysis of fat in tissue, such as body fat in corpses. In its formation, putrefaction is replaced by a permanent firm cast of fatty tissues, internal organs and the face.

* 1 History
* 2 Appearance
* 3 Formation
* 4 Footnotes

[edit] History

Adipocere was first described by Sir Thomas Browne in his discourse Hydriotaphia, Urn Burial (1658):[1]

In a Hydropicall body ten years buried in a Church-yard, we met with a fat concretion, where the nitre of the Earth, and the salt and lixivious liquor of the body, had coagulated large lumps of fat, into the consistence of the hardest castle-soap: wherof part remaineth with us.

The chemical process of adipocere formation, saponification, came to be understood in the 17th century when microscopes became widely available.[1]

Augustus Granville is believed to have somewhat unwittingly made candles from the adipocere of a mummy and used them to light the public lecture he gave to report on the mummy's dissection.[2]
[edit] Appearance

Adipocere is a crumbly, waxy, water-insoluble material consisting mostly of saturated fatty acids. Depending on whether it was formed from white or brown body fat, adipocere is grayish white or tan in color.[1]

In corpses, the firm cast of adipocere allows some estimation of body shape and facial features, and injuries are often well-preserved.[1] An example of such a corpse is available at the Mütter Museum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
[edit] Formation

The transformation of fats into adipocere occurs best in the absence of oxygen in a cold and humid environment, such as in wet ground or mud at the bottom of a lake or a sealed casket, and it can occur with both embalmed and untreated bodies. Adipocere formation begins within a month of death, and in the absence of air it can persist for centuries.[3] An exposed, infested body or a body in a warm environment is unlikely to form deposits of adipocere.

Corpses of women, infants and overweight persons are particularly prone to adipocere transformation because they contain more body fat.[1] In forensic science, the utility of adipocere formation to estimate the postmortem interval is limited because the speed of the process is temperature-dependent. It is speeded up by warmth, but temperature extremes impede it.[1]
[edit] Footnotes

1. ^ a b c d e f Murad, Turhon A. (2008). "Adipocere". in Ayn Embar-seddon, Allan D. Pass (eds.). Forensic Science. Salem Press. pp. 11. ISBN 978-1587654237.
2. ^ Pain, Stephanie (01 January 2009). "What killed Dr Granville's mummy?". New Scientist (2687).
3. ^ "Decomposition: What is grave wax?". Retrieved 2009-08-18.