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The 5 Stages of Human Decomposition



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The decomposition of the human body has been recognized to undergo five distinct stages until the only remaining component is its bones. These stages will have its own time periods and many factors including the circumstances of death, the moisture in the surrounding, the temperature in the surrounding environment, as well as the presence of various insects and bacteria affect the speed at which the decomposition take place.

First stage – the ‘fresh’ state

The first of these stages have been named as the ‘fresh’ state and during this period a process of autolysis will take place with minimal changes visible to the outside environment. The reason for its occurrence is the release of enzymes present within special organelles inside cells in to the cytoplasm of the cell. As a result, the cells start to digest or die which initiate the process of cellular breakdown. During this stage, the body changes its temperature to its surrounding environment, while the insects start to approach the body and lay eggs inside. The fresh stage is expected to last around 1 to 2 days depending on the factors affecting its progression.

The second stage – the ‘putrefaction’ state

The second stage known as the ‘putrefaction’ stage is mainly due to the activities of the bacteria and it is characterized by the production of gases which gives rise to the bloated appearance of the decomposing body. Thus, the abdomen and the face can show signs of marked bloating along with other parts of the body. At the same time, due to the formation of sulfhaemoglobin, the blood vessels will initially start to appear red or dark streaks and will gradually change to become greenish, as the decomposition progress. The skin breaches will now take place and putrefied fluids can flow out through these openings. A rise in the insect activity can also be seen during this stage.

The third stage – the state of ‘active decay’

Active decay or black putrefaction is the third stage of the human decomposition and this will be the stage in which most of the body mass will be lost mainly due to the activity of the maggots and other insects. The abdomen will burst open and will leak fluids to the surrounding soil. By this time, the decomposing body would have made a pool of body fluids through leakage and insect activity will continue until the end by which time the main remnants will be the bones. It is expected to last around 10 to 25 days again dependent upon the other factors affecting its processes.

The fourth stage – the state of ‘advance decay’

Advance decay is the fourth stage of the body decomposition and will be characterized by the decomposed body begins to dry and preserve itself. The odor emanating from the decomposed body will lessen along with the activity of the insects. It is also the stage in which the decomposed body will form a wax layer known as the adipocere.

Fifth stage – the state of ‘skeletonization’

The final stage is the ‘dry remains’ or the ‘skeletonization’ in which the only remaining elements of the decomposed body would be the dried up bones. Thus, all the moisture present in the body remnants will be lost and it is expected that this stage can take more than two years to complete in certain climates, while the dry and hot conditions can advance the process and complete the stage within even two weeks.

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