CHE-20063 - Forensic Taphonomy
Coordinator: Vivienne G Heaton Tel: +44 1782 7 33115
Lecture Time: See Timetable...
Level: Level 5
Credits: 15
Study Hours: 150
School Office: 01782 734921

Programme/Approved Electives for 2020/21


Available as a Free Standing Elective






Barred Combinations


Description for 2020/21

This module explores the postmortem modification of human remains, as individual┐s transition from recently deceased, through decomposition, to skeletal assemblages. Students will examine postmortem changes, both on land and in water. By understanding the factors which influence the rate of decomposition, they will be able to determine the postmortem interval (PMI). Students will also be introduced to a range of modifications relating to both decomposition and human remains recovery, including animal scavenging, disarticulation and scattering, weathering and dismemberment. Students will spend time learning about the importance of entomology in forensic casework: the insects associated with decomposing remains, how their behaviour and development can be used to estimate time of death and the circumstances surrounding it, and how such evidence is collected, preserved and analysed.

This module aims to teach and develop the skills needed to locate, recover and analyse decomposed human remains and the insects associated with them. It provides knowledge and understanding of the processes involved in decomposition, the evidence available and its interpretation in investigating legal cases. Students will focus on soft tissue modifications and learn how it can be used to determine time of death, as well as the variables which influence the process and complicate casework. The module will also highlight how environmental processes can alter the skeleton, and how this impacts on the work of the anthropologist. It also aims to teach students the importance of insect evidence at a crime scene, showing them how to recover, preserve and analyse such evidence in order to determine the postmortem interval (PMI) and establish the circumstances surrounding death.

Talis Aspire Reading List
Any reading lists will be provided by the start of the course.

Intended Learning Outcomes

Describe and explain the postmortem process of human decomposition and identify the variables which influence it: 1,2
Calculate time of death for human remains based on the progression of decomposition: 2
Identify and describe modifications which are the result of human vs. non-human agents or environmental and intrinsic factors: 1,2,3
Critically evaluate the current methods used to analyse decomposed remains and propose future research to further our knowledge: 1,3
Identify and critically assess appropriate search and recovery methods for scattered human remains: 3
Identify examples of species of insects most frequently found at crime scenes and explain the ecology of individual species of flies and beetles: 3
Differentiate the individual species responses and entomological community responses in the context of postmortem interval (PMI), circumstance of death, environmental conditions and the colonisation of living organisms (myiasis) and insect pests: 3

Study hours

Lectures - 22 hours
Labs/field exercises - 6 hours
Tutorials and discussion groups - 6 hours
Problem classes - 4 hours
Independent study - 112 hours

School Rules

Successful completion of CHE-10039 or equivalent

Description of Module Assessment

1: Assignment weighted 40%
Research Proposal
Students will write a 2000-2500 word research proposal describing an experiment or study in forensic taphonomy that they would like to undertake.

2: Class Test weighted 10%
Postmortem Interval (PMI) calculations
Students will complete an online test where they are provided with all the relevant information needed to calculate time of death for two case studies.

3: Case Study weighted 50%
Assessed Case Study
An open book assessment consisting of two case studies. The student is presented with a scenario for each case study and is required to answer the questions provided. The assessment will be available online and the student is expected to write 2500-3000 words in total.