A comparison of human and pig decomposition rates and odour profiles in an Australian environment

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Australian Journal of Forensic Sciences, 2019, 51 (5), pp. 557 - 572
Issue Date:
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© 2018, © 2018 Australian Academy of Forensic Sciences. Cadaver-detection dogs are trained to locate victim remains; however, their training is challenging owing to limited access to human remains. Animal analogues, such as pigs, are typically used as alternative training aids. This project aimed to compare the visual decomposition and volatile organic compound (VOC) profile of human and pig remains in an Australian environment, to determine the suitability of pig remains as human odour analogues for cadaver-detection dog training. Four human cadavers and four pig carcasses were placed in an outdoor environment at the Australian Facility for Taphonomic Experimental Research (AFTER) across two seasons. Decomposition was monitored progressively in summer and winter. VOCs were collected onto sorbent tubes and analysed using comprehensive two-dimensional gas chromatography–time-of-flight mass spectrometry. Visual observations highlighted the differences in decomposition rates, with pig remains progressing through all stages of decomposition, and human remains undergoing differential decomposition and mummification. Chemical and statistical analysis highlighted variations in the composition and abundance of VOCs over time between the odour profiles. This study concluded that the visual decomposition and VOC profile of pig and human remains was dissimilar. However, in cooler conditions the results from each species became more comparable, especially during the early stages of decomposition.
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