The Time Required for the Human Body to Decay Down to Just Bones


The amount of time required for a human body to decompose depends on a number of factors. Temperature, insect access and depth of burial have the greatest effect on decay rate.

Warming Effect

  • Warmer than average temperatures will hasten the decomposition of a body by allowing greater access by scavengers. Natural enzymes and bacteria in the body, including those found in digestive juices, continue to break down tissue after death in processes called autolysis (enzymatic breakdown) and putrefaction (bacterial breakdown). When a person dies with a fever, the stomach can rupture within a few hours of death, spreading enzymes and digestive juices throughout the body and precipitating decay.

Cooling Potential

  • Cooler temperatures slow autolysis and putrefaction. Flies and carnivorous animals will be slowed by cooler temperatures as well. Freezing temperatures inhibit the chemical breakdown of the body, in some cases preserving it.

Burial Time Frame

  • Burying a body protects it from scavengers and carnivores. Bodies can be reduced to skeletons in a few months to a year when buried at a depth of 1 to 2 feet, while a body buried 6 feet deep can take 10 to 12 years to skeletonize. A body buried at sea---given warmer temperatures---can skeletonize within two to four weeks.

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