Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Master of Arts (MA)

Degree Name

Anthropology (Forensic Anthropology Option)

Department or School/College

Department of Anthropology

Committee Chair

Ashley H. McKeown

Commitee Members

Randall Skelton, Dave Dyer


Cold Climate, Decomposition, Forensic Anthropology, Freeze/Thaw, Stasis, Sus scrofa, Taphonomy, Western Montana


University of Montana


The rate and sequence of human decomposition permits forensic anthropologists to estimate time since death for remains from the forensic context. Preliminary research conducted in western Montana indicates that decomposition does not follow the patterns found in other geographic locations. The purpose of this study is to better define western Montana’s unique environmental factors that affect the rate and pattern of decomposition by documenting changes in mature pigs (Sus scrofa) employed as human proxies. The pigs were deposited during the cold months of October and December and analyzed by comparing the rate and sequence of decomposition with climatological and environmental variables. The popular method of calculating accumulated degree days (ADD) to estimate time since death was tested and found to consistently underestimate the actual day of death, indicating that without alteration, this method should not be relied on for remains that have decomposed in western Montana. The results from this study confirms that Montana’s cold winter slows and eventually halts decomposition, which in turn affects how remains decompose after the spring thaw. Ultimately both specimens reached complete mummification, never achieving skeletonization by the end of the study. The overall purpose of this study is to contribute to building a baseline data set for documenting decomposition in western Montana’s highly variable and unpredictable weather.



© Copyright 2013 Jessica R. Spencer