The effect of soil texture on the degradation of textiles associated with buried bodies

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Journal Article
Forensic Science International, 2013, 231 (1-3), pp. 331 - 339
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There are many factors which affect the rate of decomposition in a grave site including; the depth of burial, climatic conditions, physical conditions of the soil (e.g. texture, pH, moisture), and method of burial (e.g. clothing, wrappings). Clothing is often studied as a factor that can slow the rate of soft tissue decomposition. In contrast, the effect of soft tissue decomposition on the rate of textile degradation is usually reported as anecdotal evidence rather than being studied under controlled conditions. The majority of studies in this area have focused on the degradation of textiles buried directly in soil. The purpose of this study was to investigate the effect of soil texture on the degradation and/or preservation of textile materials associated with buried bodies. The study involved the burial of clothed domestic pig carcasses and control clothing in contrasting soil textures (silty clay loam, fine sand and fine sandy loam) at three field sites in southern Ontario, Canada. Graves were exhumed after 2, 12 and 14 months burial to observe the degree of degradation for both natural and synthetic textiles. Recovered textile samples were chemically analyzed using infrared (IR) spectroscopy and gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) to investigate the lipid decomposition by-products retained in the textiles. The findings of this study demonstrate that natural textile in contact with a buried decomposing body will be preserved for longer periods of time when compared to the same textile buried directly in soil and not in contact with a body. The soil texture did not visually impact the degree of degradation or preservation. Furthermore, the natural-synthetic textile blend was resistant to degradation, regardless of soil texture, contact with the body or time since deposition. Chemical analysis of the textiles using GC-MS correctly identified a lipid degradation profile consistent with the degree of soft tissue decomposition. Such information may be important for estimating time since deposition in instances where only grave goods and associated materials are recovered from a burial site. © 2013 Elsevier Ireland Ltd.
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