Clara Alfsdotter will carry out research on human decomposition

During spring 2019, Clara Alfsdotter, archaeologist at Bohuslän’s museum and doctoral student at the graduate school GRASCA at Linnaeus University, will carry out research at Forensic Anthropology Center at Texas State University (FACTS) in the US. At FACTS, questions concerning human decomposition and identification of deceased are studied, all thanks to people’s voluntary donations of their bodies after death. Clara will study how the dead body, and by extension the skeleton, is affected by different environments. The ambition is to establish new methods that increase our knowledge of how bodies have been deposited.

Photo: Daniel Lindskog

Clara Alfsdotter is an osteologist – an expert on bones. Her research focuses on, among other things, how we can understand how a body has been deposited and possibly handled based on the position of the skeleton. This can, in its turn, provide answers concerning whether the body was buried fresh or after a longer period of decomposition, how the body has been placed, or whether the remains have been handled after the decomposition of body tissue kicked in.

“At FACTS, I will carry out my own case study on human decomposition. I will place three donations (bodies) in different types of deposits – two coffins and one above ground, protected from the sun and wind – in order to gain an understanding of how the bodies behave in different environments. By extension, this will provide new knowledge about the handling of different types of findings of human remains. Hopefully my research will be useful within both archaeology and forensic science”, says Alfsdotter.

The methods for this type of study are largely based on repeated observations of skeleton burials. Clara wants to study and improve the methods by studying the decomposition from day one. The fact that the research is carried out in the US instead of in Sweden has its natural causes.

“Unfortunately, it is not possible to study human decomposition both above and below ground in Europe. A new forensic center has opened in the Netherlands though, but they only have permission to work with bodies placed below ground. This opportunity is invaluable for my research since I can test archaeological hypotheses by conducting actual experiments”, Clara concludes.

Facts about FACTS
The research can be carried out thanks to voluntary donations, where the deceased or their closest relatives have chosen to donate the dead body to forensic research at FACTS. The donations are made in accordance with the US Uniform Anatomical Gift Act. In order to be granted the opportunity to carry out research at the center, an extensive research plan must be approved and you must also have experience of similar work, and good references. In addition to university programmes within forensic anthropology, Texas State University offers courses for police and medical examiners. FACTS receives about 60 full-body donations every year.

Clara Alfsdotter, +4673-554 21 67,

Simon Kristoffersson, communications officer research, +4673-051 45 09,