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What does it mean to be dead?

This talk was part of the the "Morgue the Merrier" event at the Laurel Hill Cemetery, April 27, 2013, as part of the Philadelphia Science Festival.

Kimberlee Sue Moran

on 12 February 2018

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Transcript of What does it mean to be dead?

The Anthropology of Death
Decomposition is not constant
Bioactivity (bugs and scavenger)
Buried or left on surface
Contents of stomach
Age and health of corpse
Can be stopped by mummification (natural & man-made)
Rate of decomposition and changes in a corpse
used to determine time of death
affected by many variables
Minutes after death – eyes become dull
2-6hrs – rigor mortis; begins in jaw and proceeds downwards
3-4hrs – blood settles to lowest part (hypostasis)
18-20hrs – body the same temperature as the outside air
24hrs – decomposition begins; discoloration of lower abdomen (pronounced in 36hrs)
3 day – entire body shows signs of decay
6-8 weeks – adipocere
If buried – all tissue gone in 1-3yrs
Postmortem Interval
Hydrolysis - water splits compounds
Changes in pH - more alkaline
Rigor mortis - stiffening
Haemolysis - post-mortem staining
Chemical changes
Algor mortis - cooling
Dehydration – loss of moisture to atmosphere
Hypostasis - gravitation of fluids
Lividity - discoloration
Blood thickening
Physical Changes
Autolysis - breakdown by the body’s own enzymes
starts with lysosomes
also digestive enzymes
Human Decomposition
“Death is caused by irreversible cardiac arrest or brain stem death”
What is death?
Death is a beginning
Body is one of many
Death is a second chance
Far East
Also many variations
Body washed and wrapped in shroud
Belongings go to family
Visits to grave
Body must be buried 24hrs after death!
Body a sacred temple
Heaven and Hell
Resurrection of the body
Lots of variation between different denominations
Soul leaves the body
Journey to Hades
Body is cremated
Ancient Greece
Believed spirit was on a journey
Elaborate tombs
Equipped dead for “life”
Mummified remains
Ancient Egypt
Death rituals & practices -
Examples from different cultures & religions
A natural process
The breakdown of complex molecules into simpler compounds
What is decomposition?
Many different beliefs
Cremation, interment in caves, bodies in trees
Lakota - afterlife holds mystery, but is not feared
Choctaw - food and drink, a change of clothing, and favorite utensils and ornaments placed beside the corpse
Apache - belongings and house also destroyed
Native Americans
The human preoccupation with death
Fear of death (why?)
Paper and crayons will be distributed by our helpers.

Draw an image that represents "death" to you.

Put your first name on it, the date, and your age.

Raise your hand when you're done and your paper will be collected. (or e-mail it to k.moran@forensicoutreach.com)
Fear of the "unknown"
Lack of control
Edvard Munch, Death in the Sickroom, 1893
Giotto, Death of St. Francis
The Funeral of Suleyman the Magnificent
The Science of Death
Nature's version of recycling
Putrefaction - breakdown by bacteria that lives inside the body
anaerobic bacteria
aerobic bacteria
Rigor mortis
Too stiff to move
Two types -
Somatic death - person no longer functions as a unit of society
Cellular death - cessation of respiration and metabolism followed by decay
Have a Cookie!!
Should I be worried??
No brain
No electrical impulses to move limbs
Decompose = Liquify
Body turns to goop
But there is a way to be the "living dead"
What does it mean to be dead?
Full transcript