Human bodies continue to move for more than a year after death, an Australian scientist has found after studying a corpse for 17 months.
Besides being startling — and a bit creepy — the findings could have important implications on the way police process crime scenes, the Agence France-Presse reports.
Alyson Wilson studied and photographed the same corpse, one of 70 stored at a "body farm" outside Sydney, over a period of 17 months.
She and her colleagues set out with the goal of improving a common system for estimating time of death, according to AFP, but were surprised to discover how significantly the body was shown to have moved, when photographed with time-lapse cameras.
At one point, Wilson observed that the corpse's arms, which began held close to the body, ended up flung to the side.
"One arm went out and then came back in to nearly touching the side of the body again," Wilson told ABC Capricornia.
But why? Wilson told both AFP and ABC she thinks the movement could be a result of the body's ligaments drying out over time, causing them to shrink and contract.
Her findings have the potential to help police and forensic investigators more accurately estimate a body's time of death, ABC reports. Understanding how bodies move post mortem could also help prevent misinterpretations of crime scenes, according to AFP, since the victim's body position goes into consideration when mapping a crime scene.
Crime scene investigators operate on the assumption that the position a body is found in is the position it died in, Dr. Xanthe Mallet of the University of Newcastle in Australia told ABC. That makes Wilson's findings novel, and potentially game-changing.
"I think people will be surprised at just how much movement there was," Mallet told ABC, "because I was amazed when I saw it, especially how much the arms were moving. It was astounding."
Notably, these latest findings have not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal, though Wilson's previous work appeared in the journal Forensic Science International: Synergy.
Wilson's research was conducted at AFTER — the Australian Facility for Taphonomic Experimental Research — which is the first facility of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere, according to AFP. Such facilities, sometimes called "body farms," allow scientists to investigate human decomposition under different conditions. AFTER was set up to help forensic anthropologists replicate crime scene scenarios, according to ABC.