Australian bequeathed his remains to the farm of the bodies where the unburied corpses are decomposed

58-year-old Australian photo reporter Frank Scott bequeathed his body to the first Australian "farm of bodies." When he dies, his remains will be placed on a special test site in a suburb of Sydney, where dozens of unburied corpses are decomposed under the open sky. "" figured out why such "farms" are needed and what is happening there.

Frank Scott's decision shocked his relatives and acquaintances. "With the exception of my wife and daughter, everyone I've talked about, said they did not hear anything more terrible in their lives," he admitted. "They all retreat and ask: are you kidding, Frank?"

Scott is not joking. This year, he became a member of the Australian Taphole Research Center at Sydney University of Technology. He wants his remains to serve for a science after his death. The decomposition of his unburied body will be observed by scientists - to study what happens to the human body after death.

"This is the best idea in my life," he said.

The Case in Tennessee

37 years ago in the American state of Tennessee discovered the disturbed burial of the Civil War. The police suspected that the remains found in the old tomb belong to the victim of the recent murder. Confirm the guess could only a specialist, so the investigator turned to the anthropologist William Bass of the University of Tennessee.

The scientist had to disappoint the investigator: everything said that the body lay in the grave for more than a century. After this incident, Bass reflected on how little we know about the process of decomposition of the human body. Experts never observed this under controlled conditions and used fragmentary information, the reliability of which left much to be desired.

The main stages of decomposition were described only in the XIX century. The conclusions of physicians were based on the study of single exhumed bodies and therefore did not differ in accuracy. Later, the main source of knowledge about cadaveric phenomena were observations of rotting pork carcasses. Thus, the information necessary for forensic experts to determine the time elapsed since the death was accumulated.

Bass believed that this was not enough, and personally engaged in solving the problem. He founded the first "farm of bodies" - the Anthropological Research Center in Knoxville. On land belonging to the University of Tennessee, fenced a plot of five hundred square meters, and in 1981 they brought the first corpse there. A 73-year-old man died of a heart condition, he was not buried, so scientists could see for the first time the decomposition of the human body from beginning to end.

Beginning and the end

When death occurs, the body cells cease to maintain the right combination of temperature, acidity and other factors. Due to the destruction of enzyme systems that took part in the cellular exchange, corpseal autolysis begins: the dissolution of cells in their own enzymes.

Then, microorganisms that inhabited the body during life are connected. Bacteria are rapidly multiplying, devour dead tissue and release hydrogen sulphide, methane and carbon dioxide. For a few days the body swells almost twice. The flies attracted by putrefaction lay thousands of eggs in the eyes, ears, nose and mouth of the corpse, as well as on the wound site - for example, in the sections that remained after the autopsy. A couple of days it is covered by a thick mass of swarming larvae.

"It's a whole ecosystem! - enthusiastically tells Daniel Wescott, head of the Texas Center for Forensic Anthropology. There are microbes, bacteria and fungi. The mass of various types of insects. Flies with maggots, beetles with their larvae. Some flies lay eggs on the body so that spruce firs eat, others are attracted by the spells themselves, because they are fed by their larvae. Here and a few waves of beetles - some for sorrel, others - for drying flesh; there are birds that fly for the insects attracted by corpse, plus vultures, who are interested in soft tissue. Then there are foxes and coyotes."

At some point, the skin bursts, and the liquid that accumulates in the decomposing organism flows to the ground. What will happen next depends on the conditions in which the remains were found. Under the sun, the body mummified, in the shade rotting will continue until only the bones remain. In six months, a maximum of a year will be all over.

Local specificity

The course of decomposition depends to a great extent on temperature and humidity. Each region has its own specifics. The processes that scientists observe on the "farm of bodies" in Tennessee, are markedly different from what can be seen, for example, in Alaska. Therefore, over time, such studies began in other places.

There are six "farms" in the United States. The largest - more than ten hectares - is open at the University of Texas (it is headed by Daniel Wescott). There they learn more accurately to estimate the time that has passed since the moment of death. Another Texas "farm of bodies" specializes in insects, which are attracted to rotting corpses.

At a research station in the state of Colorado, which was built at an altitude of 1,457 meters above sea level, studying the decomposition of bodies in the mountains. The Illinois "farm of bodies" is known for investigating the decomposition of bodies that were immured in concrete, and the scientific work on the remains of the lawnmower. And in Western Carolina, in this center, police dogs are trained to look for dead people.

The first outside the US "farm bodies" was opened in 2016 in Australia. On the barbed wire fence at the foot of the Blue Mountains in the suburbs of Sydney, 45 unburied corpses are being decomposed. It is there that Frank Scott, photo reporter, wants to send his remains.


For 36 years, the remains of 650 people have passed through the "farm of bodies" in Tennessee. Some lay on the scorching sun, others - in the shade of trees. The bodies were buried at various depths, thrown in the open air, left in the trunk of the car and placed in other situations familiar to forensic experts. This helps to more accurately assess the influence of various conditions on the course of the decomposition. Such data can be invaluable in identifying the remains and investigating crimes.

Wishing to take part in the experiment, more than enough. By 2010, the Anthropological Research Center at the University of Tennessee registered more than two thousand volunteers who wish to leave their body for study.

According to Daniel Wescott, many donors are related to law enforcement, medicine and education. "From their point of view, in this way they will continue their business in the future," he explains. "They will continue to disclose crimes, they will continue to teach."

There is another motivation. Sometimes donors do not want to be a burden to relatives after death. For them, such a donation is a free alternative to ordinary burial. When they die, all the costs will be borne by the scientists.

Scott's choice

Scott always believed that just burying the body in a pit is not enough. In 2016, he caught an article about the Australian Center for Taphonic Research, and he realized: this is exactly what he needs.

The 58-year-old Australian had a stormy life. At the age of 15 he enrolled in the Navy. Then he was transferred to the army, and he was sent to the UK under the exchange program. He was in Northern Ireland in the midst of an armed conflict in which thousands died. Then participated in the war in the Falklands.

In 1983, Scott retired from the army and returned to Australia, but the rest was short-lived. After the journalism courses he again went to the hot spots. "Only now, instead of a gun, I had a camera in my hands," he explains. As a photographer for the Reuters news agency, Scott covered the endless conflicts in the Middle East and the first war in Iraq.

It was a dangerous job. "They shot at me and undermined in almost every country in the world," he said. But the worst happened in a relatively peaceful Thailand. Scott came there in 2004 to shoot the elections, and found a devastating tsunami that killed a quarter of a million people. He survived, but suffered serious injuries: he was crushed by a boat, which the wave threw into a hotel room on the third floor. After that, half of his left lung was removed.

Since then, Scott has experienced 15 heart attacks, several shunting operations and esophageal cancer. Every time he was saved by doctors. "The doctors have so many times collected me in parts. I said to my wife: Rose, so I will thank them," he says. "At first she was a little worried, but we seriously discussed all this, and now she also thinks my idea is damn good."

Scott does not part with the plastic card that he was given after registering on the "farm of the bodies." "I confirm that I would like to provide my remains to Sydney University of Technology," says the inscription on the back. Below is the phone number, on which should call in case of his death.

"Of course, I hope that they will not show up for my donation next week," he jokes. But it's important to be prepared for everything.

Catherine Stone
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