Soft Tissue Decomposition of Submerged, Dismembered Pig Limbs Enclosed in Plastic Bags*


  • *

    Research was completed as part of the “FSC481Y5Y: Internship in Forensic Science” course at the University of Toronto Mississauga in the 2007–2008 academic year. Funding shared by the Toronto Police Service Marine Unit and Caitlin M. Pakosh.

Additional information and reprint requests:
Tracy L. Rogers, Ph.D.
Department of Anthropology
University of Toronto Mississauga
3359 Mississauga Rd. North
North Building, Room 225
Mississauga, Ontario
Canada L5L 1C6


Abstract:  This study examines underwater soft tissue decomposition of dismembered pig limbs deposited in polyethylene plastic bags. The research evaluates the level of influence that disposal method has on underwater decomposition processes and details observations specific to this scenario. To our knowledge, no other study has yet investigated decomposing, dismembered, and enclosed remains in water environments. The total sample size consisted of 120 dismembered pig limbs, divided into a subsample of 30 pig limbs per recovery period (34 and 71 days) for each treatment. The two treatments simulated non-enclosed and plastic enclosed disposal methods in a water context. The remains were completely submerged in Lake Ontario for 34 and 71 days. In both recovery periods, the non-enclosed samples lost soft tissue to a significantly greater extent than their plastic enclosed counterparts. Disposal of remains in plastic bags therefore results in preservation, most likely caused by bacterial inhibition and reduced oxygen levels.