Sunday, 2 April 2017

Skeletons, Stories and Social Bodies

Last weekend, I was lucky enough to attend the Skeletons, Stories and Social Bodies conference held at the University of Southampton. It was a little different to the conferences I normally attend, as instead of being solely focussed on forensic science, it had an intriguing mix of funerary archaeology, osteology, social commentary, debates about the notion of death and much more. It was a really refreshing, eclectic mix of attitudes toward death and dying. Also, it was very well organised, by Sarah Schwarz.

I gave a (rushed) talk on 'The Case for a 'Body Farm' in the UK', detailing the history of Human Taphonomy Facilities across the world, and showing what they have taught us about human decomposition in different environments. I also put forward arguments for and against the opening of a Human Taphonomy Facility (HTF) in the UK. I asked all the people attending the conference to go to @HTF4UK and fill in our survey asking about their opinion on whether there should be an HTF in the UK. If you have a spare ten minutes, please fill in our survey here. We would really appreciate your opinion. If you're not sure what HTFs are and what goes on in one, have a look here.

On the Sunday, I gave a workshop on 'The Scent of Death', where I introduced the delegates to the some of the different volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that we have identified from our work looking at the gaseous products of decomposition. We have identified different VOCs and used them to test Victim Remains Detection (VRD) dogs in the UK to see if they indicated on any of the individual chemicals (results to be published soon). The delegates got to smell some of the (non-toxic) VOCs, match them with different stages of decomposition, and describe them in their own words - this turned out to be very amusing! Some of the smells were described as "strong cheese, but that's OK, I like strong cheese", "the smell of bloodhounds", "vintage shops", "old people's homes", and "baby sick". Not everybody enjoyed it. One person said it was the worst smell she had ever encountered. For me, it's just part of my job!

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