Human cadaver burial depth affects soil microbial and nutrient status

  • Mark Pawlett Cranfield University
  • Jane Rickson Cranfield University
  • Joanna Niziolomski Cranfield University
  • Sophie Churchill The Corpse Project
  • Michal Kešner Cranfield University
Keywords: cadaver decomposition, microbiology, soil depth, soil texture

Abstract

Shallow burial (c. <0.3m) of human cadavers provides an alternative to standard burial depth (c. 1.0m) as this can enhance the natural recycling of nutrients to the soil through improved interactions between the corpse and the soil. However, there is a paucity of knowledge describing the interactions between the human cadaver and soil microbiology. The effects of shallow (pork) compared to standard burial depth (in a sandy loam and clay soil) identified that plant available nitrogen was consistently greater where the pork was shallow buried. There was also a shift in the soil’s bacterial community, but only in the sandy loam soil. Burial depth did not affect soil organic matter, available phosphorus, total microbial biomass or activity, or fungal biomass. The response of the bacterial community composition in the clay soils is likely due to reduced pore space and hence reduced oxygen at depth.

Author Biography

Jane Rickson, Cranfield University

Professor

References

Benninger, L.A.; Carter, D.O.; Forbes, S.L. 2008 “The biochemical alteration of soil beneath a decomposing carcass.” Forensic Science International 180, no. 2: 70-75.

Carter, D.O.; Yellowlees, D.; Tibbett, M. 2007 “Cadaver decomposition in terrestrial ecosystems.” The Science of Nature 94, no. 1: 12-24.

Carter, D.O.; Yellowlees, D.; Tibbett, M. 2010 “Moisture can be the dominant environmental parameter governing cadaver decomposition in soil.” Forensic Science International 200, no. 1-3: 60-66.

Fiedler, S., et al 2012 “Graveyards - Special landfills.” Science of the Total Environment 419: 90-97.

Finley, Sheree J., M. Eric Benbow, and Gulnaz T. Javan. 2015 “Microbial communities associated with human decomposition and their potential use as postmortem clocks.” International Journal of Legal Medicine 129, no. 3: 623-632.

Finley, Sheree J., M. Eric Benbow, and Gulnaz T. Javan. 2014 “Microbial communities associated with human decomposition and their potential use as postmortem clocks.” International Journal of Legal Medicine: 623-632.

Frostegård, Å., A. Tunlid, and E. Bååth. 1991 “Microbial biomass measured as total lipid phosphate in soils of different organic content.” Journal of Microbiological Methods (Elsevier) 14, no. 3 (12): 151-163.

Hopkins, D.W., Wiltshire, P.E.J., and Turner, B.D. 2000 "Microbial characteristics of soils from graves: An investigation of soil microbiology and forensic science" Applied Soil Ecology 14, no.3, 283-288.

Pawlett, Mark, Karl Ritz, Robert a Dorey, Sophie Rocks, Jeremy Ramsden, and Jim a Harris. 2013 “The impact of zero-valent iron nanoparticles upon soil microbial communities is context dependent.” Environmental science and pollution research international 20, no. 2: 1041-9.

Ritz, K., J.a. Harris, M. Pawlett, and D. Stone. 2006 “Catabolic profiles as an indicator of soil microbial functional diversity.” Environment Agency Science Report.

Vance, E D, P C Brookes, and D S Jenkinson. 1987 “An extraction method for measuring soil microbial biomass C.” Soil Biology and Biochemistry 19, no. 6: 703-707.
Published
2019-05-16
How to Cite
Pawlett, Mark, Jane Rickson, Joanna Niziolomski, Sophie Churchill, and Michal Kešner. 2019. “Human Cadaver Burial Depth Affects Soil Microbial and Nutrient Status”. Archaeological and Environmental Forensic Science 1 (2), 119-25. https://doi.org/10.1558/aefs.33662.
Section
Articles