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Concept: Embalming


During the Middle Ages, the partition of the cadaver of the elite members was a current practice, with highly technical treatment given to symbolic organs such as the heart. Considered mostly from a theoretical point of view, this notion of dilaceratio corporis has never been biologically explored. To assess the exact kind of embalming reserved to the heart, we performed a full biomedical analysis of the mummified heart of the English King Richard I (1199 A.D.). Here we show among other aspects, that the organ has been embalmed using substances inspired by Biblical texts and practical necessities of desiccation. We found that the heart was deposed in linen, associated with myrtle, daisy, mint, frankincense, creosote, mercury and, possibly, lime. Furthermore, the goal of using such preservation materials was to allow long-term conservation of the tissues, and good-smelling similar to the one of the Christ (comparable to the odor of sanctity).

Concepts: Middle Ages, Organ, Embalming, Cyprus, Richard I of England, Henry II of England, John of England, Henry the Young King


Vertebrate corpse decomposition provides an important stage in nutrient cycling in most terrestrial habitats, yet microbially-mediated processes are poorly understood. Here we combine deep microbial community characterization, community-level metabolic reconstruction, and soil biogeochemical assessment to understand principles governing microbial community assembly during decomposition of mouse and human corpses on different soil substrates. We find a suite of bacterial and fungal groups contributing to nitrogen cycling and a reproducible network of decomposers that emerge on predictable timescales. The results show this decomposer community is derived primarily from bulk soil, but key decomposers are ubiquitous in low abundance. Soil type was not a dominant factor driving community development and the process of decomposition is sufficiently reproducible that it offers unique opportunities for forensic investigations.

Concepts: Oxygen, Bacteria, Metabolism, Enzyme, Nitrogen, Denitrification, Embalming, Nitrogen cycle


OBJECTIVES: The principal aim of our study was to establish concordance between post-mortem CT (PMCT) and forensic standard autopsy (SA) in detecting lesions according to different anatomical regions. A secondary aim was to determine the efficacy of PMCT in showing lethal lesions. METHODS: PMCTs were compared with autopsies in 236 cadavers in different contexts of death. PMCT findings were assessed by two independent radiologists. RESULTS: Concordance between PMCT and autopsy was almost perfect in showing skull, basal skull and hyoid bone fractures as well as in detecting facial, vertebral or pelvic fractures. Both examinations were discordant in demonstrating some intracranial injuries, vascular or organ wounds (more findings showed by autopsy), as well in showing free air in anatomical cavities (more findings detected by PMCT). Moreover, PMCT was effective in determining lethal lesions in the context of craniofacial trauma or after a gunshot wound. Concordance between the findings of the two radiologists was almost perfect for each type of lesion. CONCLUSION: PMCT could be considered as effective as SA in determining the cause of death in certain traumatic events. It was also effective in showing lethal lesions and could be a useful tool in reducing the number of SA. KEY POINTS : • Post-mortem CT is increasingly performed as an alternative/adjunct to formal autopsy. • More modern CT systems provide greater anatomical scope. • PMCT can usually determine the cause of most deaths following trauma. • Prospective studies are still required to establish an algorithm for forensic CT.

Concepts: Bone, Death, Anatomical pathology, Injuries, Wound, Virtopsy, Autopsy, Embalming


Most forensic research that is used to better understand how to estimate the postmortem interval (PMI) entails the study of the physiochemical characteristics of decomposition and the effects that environmental factors have on the decomposition process. Forensic entomology exploits the life cycles of arthropods like Diptera (blow flies or flesh flies) and Coleoptera (beetles) deposited on the decaying carcass to determine PMI. Forensic taphonomy, from the Greek word taphos meaning burial, studies the creation of the fossils of decomposed cadavers to ascertain information as to the nature and time of death. Compared to other areas of taphonomy, there have been relatively few forensic science studies that have investigated the impact of human decomposition on the microbial changes occurring on or in a corpse or in the soil communities underneath a body. Such research may facilitate the critical determination of PMI. Therefore, the scope of this review is to provide a concise summary of the current progress in the newly emerging field of microbial diversity and the next-generation metagenomic sequencing approaches for assessing these communities in humans and in the soil beneath decomposing human.

Concepts: Death, Insect, Forensic science, Embalming, Decomposition, Death metal, Taphonomy, Histeridae


Detection and quantification of drugs from various biological matrices are of immense importance in forensic toxicological analysis. Despite the various reported methods, development of a new method for the detection and quantification of drugs is still an active area of research. However, every method and biological matrix has its own limitation, which further encourage forensic toxicologists to develop new methods and to explore new matrices for the analysis of drugs. In this study, an electrospray ionization-liquid chromatograph-tandem mass spectrometry (ESI-LC-MS/MS) method is developed and validated for simultaneous identification and quantification of 24 drugs of forensic relevance in various body fluids, namely, whole blood, plasma and vitreous humour. The newly developed method has been validated for intra-day and inter-day accuracy, precision, selectivity and sensitivity. Absolute recovery shows a mean of 84.5, 86.2, and 103% in the vitreous humour, whole blood and plasma respectively, which is suitable for the screening procedure. Further, the absolute matrix effect (AME) shows a mean of 105, 96.5, and 109% in the vitreous humour, whole blood and plasma, respectively. In addition, to examine the practical utility of this method, it has been applied for screening of drugs in post-mortem samples of the vitreous humour, whole blood and plasma collected at autopsy from ten cadavers. Experimental results show that the newly developed method is well applicable for screening of analytes in all the three matrices. Copyright © 2015 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Concepts: Blood, New York City, Blood donation, Embalming, Vitreous humour, Forensic toxicology, Human Development Index, Body fluids


Over many centuries, the ancient Egyptians developed a method of preserving bodies so they would remain lifelike. Mummification of bodies was originally a natural process in Egypt, which evolved to a sophisticated embalming system to preserve the individual for the afterlife. Afterwards, mummification continued to be practiced in Egypt for some three thousand years, lasting until the end of the Christian era In the Coptic necropolis of Qarara (Middle Egypt) a total of 17 mummified individuals were studied during the 2012 campaign. One of them was a 6 to 8 old-year male child, which damaged skull allowed us to see the meningeal structures covering the entire cranial vault, in absence of brain remains. This finding in a child mummy is very exceptional, as reflected in the specialized literature.

Concepts: Ancient Egypt, Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, Egypt, Egyptians, Embalming, Mummy, Coptic language, British Museum


The mummies of Kha and his wife Merit were found intact in an undisturbed tomb in western Thebes near the ancient workers' village of Deir el-Medina. Previous MDCT (this abbreviation needs spelling out) investigations showed that the bodies of Kha and Merit did not undergo classical royal 18th Dynasty artificial mummification, which included removal of the internal organs. It was, therefore, concluded that the retention of the viscera in the body, combined with an absence of canopic jars in the burial chamber, meant the couple underwent a short and shoddy funerary procedure, despite their relative wealth at death. Nevertheless, all internal organs - brain, ocular bulbs/ocular nerves, thoracic and abdominal organs - showed a very good state of preservation, which contradicts the previous interpretation above. In order to better understand the type of mummification used to embalm these bodies, both wrapped mummies were reinvestigated using new generation X-ray imaging and chemical microanalyses Here we provide evidence that both individuals underwent a relatively high quality of mummification, fundamentally contradicting previous understanding. Elucidated “recipes”, whose components had anti-bacterial and anti-insecticidal properties, were used to treat their bodies. The time and effort undoubtedly employed to embalm both Kha and Merit and the use of imported costly resins, notably Pistacia, do not support the previously held view that the two individuals were poorly mummified. Despite a lack of evisceration, the approach clearly allowed their in situ preservation as well as affording a fairly successful mummification.

Concepts: X-ray, Heart, Ancient Egypt, Organs, Embalming, Wealth, Burial, Mummy


The funeral preparations for ancient Egyptian dead were extensive. Tomb walls were often elaborately painted and inscribed with scenes and objects deemed desirable for the afterlife. Votive objects, furniture, clothing, jewelry, and importantly, food including bread, cereals, fruit, jars of wine, beer, oil, meat, and poultry were included in the burial goods. An intriguing feature of the meat and poultry produced for the deceased from the highest levels of Egyptian society was that they were mummified to ensure their preservation. However, little is known about the way they were prepared, such as whether balms were used, and if they were used, how they compared with those applied to human and animal mummies? We present herein the results of lipid biomarker and stable carbon isotope investigations of tissues, bandaging, and organic balms associated with a variety of meat mummies that reveal that treatments ranged from simple desiccation and wrapping in bandages to, in the case of the tomb of Yuya and Tjuia (18th Dynasty, 1386-1349 BC), a balm associated with a beef rib mummy containing a high abundance of Pistacia resin and, thus, more sophisticated than the balms found on many contemporaneous human mummies.

Concepts: Death, Carbon, Ancient Egypt, Embalming, Mummy, British Museum


Death is a universal phenomenon; however, is there “life after death?” This topic has been investigated for centuries but still there are gray areas that have yet to be elucidated. Forensic microbiologists are developing new applications to investigate the dynamic and coordinated changes in microbial activity that occur when a human host dies. There is currently a paucity of explorations of the thanatomicrobiome (thanatos-, Greek for death) and epinecrotic communities (microbial communities residing in and/or moving on the surface of decomposing remains). Ongoing studies can help clarify the structure and function of these postmortem microbiomes. Human microbiome studies have revealed that 75-90% of cells in the body prior to death are microbial. Upon death, putrefaction occurs and is a complicated process encompassing chemical degradation and autolysis of cells. Decomposition also involves the release of contents of the intestines due to enzymes under the effects of abiotic and biotic factors. These factors likely have predictable effects on postmortem microbial communities and can be leveraged for forensic studies. This mini review provides a critical examination of emerging research relating to thanatomicrobiome and epinecrotic communities, how each is studied, and possible strategies of stochastic processes.

Concepts: Bacteria, Death, Microbiology, Embalming, Chemical decomposition, Decomposition, Biotic component, Putrefaction


The teaching of anatomy has consistently been the subject of societal controversy, especially in the context of employing cadaveric materials in professional medical and allied health professional training. The reduction in dissection-based teaching in medical and allied health professional training programs has been in part due to the financial considerations involved in maintaining bequest programs, accessing human cadavers and concerns with health and safety considerations for students and staff exposed to formalin-containing embalming fluids. This report details how additive manufacturing or three-dimensional (3D) printing allows the creation of reproductions of prosected human cadaver and other anatomical specimens that obviates many of the above issues. These 3D prints are high resolution, accurate color reproductions of prosections based on data acquired by surface scanning or CT imaging. The application of 3D printing to produce models of negative spaces, contrast CT radiographic data using segmentation software is illustrated. The accuracy of printed specimens is compared with original specimens. This alternative approach to producing anatomically accurate reproductions offers many advantages over plastination as it allows rapid production of multiple copies of any dissected specimen, at any size scale and should be suitable for any teaching facility in any country, thereby avoiding some of the cultural and ethical issues associated with cadaver specimens either in an embalmed or plastinated form. Anat Sci Educ. © 2014 American Association of Anatomists.

Concepts: Health care, Medicine, Biology, Anatomy, Human anatomy, Embalming, Cadaver, Dissection