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Iowa Prof. Seeks Funding for 'Body Farm'

CEDAR FALLS, Iowa Nov 28, 2005 Iowa's rich topsoil and climate have nourished some of the nation's most plentiful corn and soybean crops. Tyler O'Brien wants to learn more about their influence on rotting corpses.

A biological anthropology professor at the University of Northern Iowa, O'Brien envisions turning some prime Iowa pasture into a body farm, where human bodies buried, stuffed in car trunks or exposed to the elements can provide scholars and criminalists with new benchmark data on human decay.

"This idea has strong scientific value," O'Brien said. "To answer the question of how long a body has been dead, how long a person has been missing, is critical to criminal investigations."

O'Brien is seeking a grant of $400,000 to $500,000 from the National Institute of Justice and other organizations to obtain the land and set up the project.

If approved, the body farm would be just the second in the nation and closely modeled after the work pioneered by O'Brien's mentor, William Bass III, at the University of Tennessee's Forensic Anthropology Center.

Inside a secure, three-acre parcel near the Tennessee campus, Bass and his team have spent more than 30 years painstakingly documenting the decay of bodies buried in coffins and shallow dirt graves, partially submerged in a pond, or exposed to bugs, rodents and hot, muggy summers.

Bass' project and research have been used to teach hundreds of criminalists and served as a centerpiece in a variety of books, including crime writer Patricia Cornwell's 1994 best seller "The Body Farm" and Bass' own memoir, "Death's Acre."

"Before the body farm at Tennessee, there was not much known about the decomposition process," said Mary Manhein, a professor of forensic anthropology at Louisiana State University and a fellow at the American Academy of Forensic Sciences. "I have always felt we need more than one place for a model to better understand the whole process."

Bass believes there is a need for a second location because it is critical to study decay in different climates. "This is research that is extremely vital to society, science and law enforcement," he said.


i dont get how this is vital to the 'law enforcment', but it seems like a nasty job
It's how CSIs learn their trade. By studying dead bodies to learn about the process of decay and so on.
I'm all for it. Studies like this, while surreal and grotesque, help criminologists (and other scientists) refine their protocols. I'd just hate to drive downwind of that farm...
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