Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Master of Arts (MA)

Degree Name

Anthropology (Forensic Anthropology Option)

Department or School/College


Committee Chair

Meradeth Snow

Commitee Members

Randall Skelton, Elizabeth Beckman


forensic, defleshing, skeletonize, sus scrofa


University of Montana

Subject Categories

Anthropology | Biological and Physical Anthropology | Criminology | Museum Studies | Other Anthropology | Social and Behavioral Sciences


The removal of soft tissue from skeletal remains is a process familiar to a wide array of scientific fields and the methods used to perform it are likewise numerous yet inconsistent. In forensic investigations and crime labs across the country, there lacks a standardization for this process. This lack of standardization pairs with a distinct lack of literature on the potential benefits and risks associated with each method as well as basic information on the proper amount of additives, temperatures, or time estimations. In a forensic context, human remains may be the only evidence available, which makes any damage or loss of material particularly detrimental, and this lack of knowledge on the effects of common methods not only negligent, but dangerous.

In this research, domesticated pig (Sus scrofa domesticus) limbs were obtained as a human proxy to study the effects of five distinct but commonly used flesh removal methods: dermestid beetles (Dermestes lardarius), distilled-water boil, bleach boil, ammonia simmer, and enzyme-based detergent simmer. Each pig limb was weighed and measured before being randomly selected for one of the five methods with each method being done in three separate trials. Each method was evaluated based on a set of specific criteria, focusing primarily on time efficiency, cost, damage, and the effects on DNA extraction from the remaining bone sample.

While the dermestid beetles had the longest time-expectancy, they caused the least amount of damage to the bone surface and DNA quality. The bleach, while severely hindering the ability to amplify DNA, was the quickest of the methods and cleaned them the most efficiently. While the ammonia was the most potent of the methods, it was efficient, low-cost, and left amplifiable DNA. No method performed the worst in every criterion evaluated, nor did any method perform the best. Each method proved to have different advantages and disadvantages, whether the disadvantages were higher cost, long time expectancy, or destruction of DNA. The results of this research highlight how differently each method performs and how easily bone material can be affected. Method selection is a decision that can severely impact later research and analysis, and demands to be done with more consideration and awareness of the potential risks and desired results.



© Copyright 2018 Emily Silverman