Freshman Scholars Program 2013

Buried Body Remains and Decomposition Rates

Instructor:  David Nicholson, Ph.D.


Project Description:

Up to two students interested in criminal justice and/or forensic investigations.

The principle purpose of any death investigation, whether it is a homicide, suicide, natural or accidental, is to recreate the event. Processing the death scene is an important part of the investigation. The objectives are to assist in the:  identification of the victim, determine cause and manner of death, determine the time of death, and collection of all available evidence that might link a suspect to the death scene.

A week or two prior to the program start date, a pig carcass will have been buried by the instructor. At the beginning, the instructor will lecture on the methods to be deployed throughout the research project (i.e. determining PMI through decomposition, excavation of buried remains, evidentiary process collection). Students and instructor will then begin the process of studying the rate of decomposition, based on weather, insect activity, and location. At the end of the study, students will be responsible for correctly excavating the carcass without destroying possible evidence that could lead to the determination of cause and manner of death.


David Nicholson, Ph.D.

Dr. Nicholson had a fifteen-year career in law enforcement. He spent time as a Police Officer with both the Duke University Public Safety Department and Durham County Sheriff's Office. Since 1996, he has taught in the field of Forensic Investigation throughout the east coast and mid-western states. From 1998-2003, Dr. Nicholson worked closely with the Naval Criminal Intelligence Services in instructing new investigators in the area of surface skeletal and buried body remains recovery. He has taught several week-long intensive workshops on Forensic Investigation throughout North Carolina and South Carolina.

If you have specific questions about this project, please contact Dr. Nicholson directly at DNicholson@ferrum.edu.

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