Year of Award


Document Type

Thesis - Campus Access Only

Degree Type

Master of Arts (MA)

Degree Name

Anthropology (Forensic Anthropology Option)

Department or School/College

Department of Anthropology

Committee Chair

Ashley McKeown

Commitee Members

Randall Skelton, Dave Dyer


decomposition, forensic taphonomy, postmortem interval


University of Montana


In a forensic context where human remains have been discovered, it is critical to establish how long an individual has been deceased. The postmortem interval represents the time that has passed since the death of the individual. Understanding how a body will decompose is crucial to estimating the postmortem interval. Extensive research investigating human decomposition patterns has been conducted at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville where human remains have been studied in a multitude of settings to better understand how the processes of decomposition work. It has been found that temperature is the most influential factor on the rate of decomposition. Systematic research in cold, dry climates has yet to be conducted. West central Montana represents a climatic region characterized by cold winters and hot, arid summers. A study using pig remains as proxies for human cadavers was conducted by Parsons in 2009 to assess how summer and fall temperatures impact decomposition. This current study represents a sister study to that of the Parsons (2009) study and shows that the speed in which a body becomes frozen (delayed versus rapid) during the freeze-thaw cycle of the Montana winter and spring will alter the expected decomposition pattern. Application of the accumulated degree-days method shows that this method is inaccurate in a climatic region characterized by low temperatures and low humidity.

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