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What is forensic taphonomy?

The word "taphonomy" comes from the Greek taphos (burial) and nomos (laws). It is the study of the transition of organic material from the biosphere as a living organism into the geological record. Paleontologists and archaeologists are interested in taphonomy as it involves how the record they study is created. Forensic scientists have an interest in taphonomy for the same reason, but also because knowledge of what happens to human remains after death can help form a post-mortem estimate and reconstruct what happened at and around the time of death, and between death and the discovery of the body.

What courses would I take to work at the facility?

CMU will have a forensic anthropology minor that will focus on work at the facility. Upper-level classes for the minor will be held at the facility; lower level courses will help prepare students for this work. In addition, courses in entomology, criminology and other disciplines may make occasional use of the facility.

What majors would benefit from a forensic anthropology minor?

Biology majors with a forensic anthropology minor would benefit a student who wishes to go on in forensic anthropology, or a student planning on medical school and considering becoming a forensic pathologist. Students planning on focusing in entomology would benefit from the experience of being able to observe, collect and identify insects focused on the remains.

Criminal justice majors with a forensic anthropology minor would benefit a student working toward a career in death investigation, such as a coroner or coroner's deputy. A student looking toward a career in law, particularly in criminal prosecution or defense, could also benefit from a minor forensic anthropology.

Any student considering doing scientific research would benefit from working with the FIRS. The experience with scientific observation, critiquing research designs, and attempting to isolate complicated variables will carry over into many fields.

What happens after my body is donated?

We assign the body an identifying number and place it in our outdoor laboratory. It is allowed to decay naturally. Once the body is skeletonized, we recover the remains and clean them further. The cleaned bones are accessioned into the skeletal collection. At this point the remains are inventoried, measured and other data are collected. The skeletons in the collection will be used for education and research.

Would there be any reason you wouldn't accept my body as a donation?

We do not accept bodies with infectious diseases such as HIV, hepatitis, tuberculosis or antibiotic resistant infections such as Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). We will accept the cremated remains of individuals with these disease. We ask that the family or funeral NOT have the cremated remains pulverized.

If I want to donate my body, can my family prevent the donation after my death?

Regardless of your arrangements, your family or next-of-kin has the final say. We will not fight your family for your body. It is key for you to talk to your family and let them know this donation is important to you.

Do I get paid for donating my body?

There is no payment to the donor or their family.

Can I visit a family member who donated their body to your facility?

Once skeletal remains are accessioned into the skeletal collection, you may visit the remains of a family member. As we are a research station, visiting the outdoor facility is not permitted.

Where can I get the forms to donate my body?

Please visit our donation page or contact:
FIRS Director Melissa Connor, PhD
Colorado Mesa University
1100 North Avenue
Grand Junction, Co 81501
[email protected]

Adapted from the University of Tennessee Forensic Anthropology Research Center Body Donation FAQ