Australian researcher Alyson Wilson recently made the unsettling discovery that human corpses continue to move for more than a year after death, Newsweek reports. She came across the finding while studying a dead body for 17 months and suggests that the reason lies in the drying of ligaments during the mummification process.
“What we found was that the arms were significantly moving, so that arms that started off down beside the body ended up out to the side of the body,” she said.
Per Vice News, Wilson reportedly expected some movement via decomposition but not for such an extended period of time. Although the findings have yet to be published in a peer-reviewed journal, the team believes that the data will be helpful for police and forensic authorities.
Wilson used a time-lapse camera to study the body at the Australian Facility for Taphonomic Experimental Research (AFTER) — also known as the “human body farm.” The farm is located outside of Sydney, Australia, and is where Wilson filmed the donor corpse for 30-minute intervals over the course of 17 months.
According to Wilson, AFTER is the only facility of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere. Before its creation, body composition research took place in the Northern Hemisphere, which has a much different climate. Using the new data, Wilson claims that police may be able to more accurately estimate time of death. In addition, this information may be able to help investigators uncover a body’s cause of death.
“They’ll map a crime scene, they’ll map the victim’s body position, they’ll map any physical evidence which is found and [then] they can understand the cause of death,” Wilson said.
— Judy Melinek M.D. (@drjudymelinek) August 22, 2015
Xanthé Mallett, a supervisor for Wilson’s research from the University of Newcastle, Australia, claims that Wilson’s study is the first of its kind.
“I think people will be surprised at just how much movement there was, because I was amazed when I saw it, especially how much the arms were moving. It was astounding.”
Although some may consider the finding to be creepy, CTV News reports that Wilson has been “fascinated” by death since she was young. In particular, she wanted to know how the “body breaks down after death.”
Wilson was raised on a farm and she frequently witnessed the process of livestock dying, which was the likely spark for her interest. After the researcher noticed post-death body movement and that nobody else in the world was quantifying it, she realized this was something she needed to study.