|Stages of death|
Skeletonization refers to one of the final stages of decomposition, during which time the last vestiges of the soft tissues of a corpse or carcass have decayed or dried to the point that the bones of the skeleton are exposed. By the end of the skeletonization process, all soft tissue will have been eliminated, leaving only disarticulated bones. In a temperate climate, it usually requires three weeks to several years for a body to completely decompose into a skeleton, depending on factors such as temperature, presence of insects, and submergence in a substrate such as water. In tropical climates, skeletonization can occur in weeks, while in tundra areas, skeletonization may take years, or may never occur if subzero temperatures persist. Natural embalming processes in peat bogs or salt deserts can delay the process indefinitely, sometimes resulting in natural mummification.
The rate of skeletonization and the present condition of the corpse can be used to determine the time of death.
After skeletonization has occurred, if scavenging animals do not destroy the bones, acids in many fertile soils take about twenty years to completely dissolve the skeleton of mid- to large-size mammals, such as humans, leaving no trace of the organism. In neutral-pH soil or sand, the skeleton can persist for hundreds of years before it finally disintegrates. Alternately, bones occasionally undergo fossilization, converting into more durable minerals that can persist indefinitely.
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