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Title: The effects of lime on the decomposition of buried human remains : a field and laboratory based study for forensic and archaeological application
Author: Schotsmans, Eline Marie Joseph
Awarding Body: University of Bradford
Current Institution: University of Bradford
Date of Award: 2013
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The inclusion of lime in burials is observed in historical and archaeological records, in contemporary mass graves and forensic cases. Clearly there are controversies within the literature and there is a general misconception of the effects of lime on decomposition. Recent casework in Belgium and the UK involving the search for human remains buried with lime, have demonstrated the need for a more detailed understanding of the effect of different types of lime on cadaver decomposition and its micro-environment. Field and laboratory experiments using pigs as human body analogues were undertaken to obtain a better understanding of the taphonomic processes that govern lime burials. The changes observed in the experiments were related back to archaeological parallels in which white residues have been found. The combined results of these studies demonstrate that despite conflicting evidence in the literature, hydrated lime and quicklime both delay the initial stages of the decay process but do not arrest it completely. The end result is ultimately the same: skeletonisation. Furthermore this study stresses the importance of the specific microenvironment in taphonomic research and highlights the need for chemical analysis of white residues when encountered in a burial. Not all white powder is lime. White residue could be identified as calcium carbonate, building material, body decomposition products, minerals or degraded lead. This study has implications for the investigation of clandestine burials and for a better understanding of archaeological plaster burials. Knowledge of the effects of lime on decomposition processes also have bearing on practices involving the disposal of animal carcasses and potentially the management of mass graves and mass disasters by humanitarian organisation and DVI teams.
Supervisor: Wilson, Andrew S.; Janaway, Robert C. Sponsor: Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) ; University of Bradford
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Hydrated lime ; Quicklime ; Taphonomy ; Desiccation ; Soft tissue ; Soil ; Microbiology ; Histology ; Raman spectroscopy ; Rwanda ; Buried human remains ; Decomposition ; Lime burials