Biostratinomy is the study of the processes that take place after an organism dies but before its final burial. It is considered to be a subsection of the science of taphonomy, along with necrology (the study of the death of an organism) and diagenesis (the changes that take place after final burial). These processes are largely destructive, and include physical, chemical and biological effects:
For the vast majority of organisms, biostratinomic destruction is total. However, if at least a few remnants of an organism make it to final burial, a fossil may eventually be formed unless destruction is completed by diagenesis. As the processes of biostratinomy are often dominated by sedimentological factors, analysis of the biostratinomy of a fossil can reveal important features about the physical environment it once lived in. The boundaries between the three disciplines within taphonomy are partly arbitrary. In particular, the role of microbes in sealing and preserving organisms, for example in a process called autolithification, is now recognised to be a very important and early event in the preservation of many exceptional fossils, often taking place before burial. Such mineralogical changes might equally be considered to be biostratinomic as diagenetic.
A school of investigation called Aktuopaläontologie, subsisting largely in Germany, attempts to investigate biostratinomic effects by experimentation and observation on extant organisms. William Schäfer's book "Ecology and palaeoecology of marine environments" is a classic product of this sort of investigation. More recently, D.E.G. Briggs and colleagues have made detailed studies of decay with the prime aim of understanding the profound halt to these processes that is required by exceptional preservation in lagerstätten.
Schäfer, W., 1972. Ecology and palaeoecology of marine environments. C. Y. Craig, Ed. The University of Chicago Press, 568 pp.Adolf Seilacher
Adolf "Dolf" Seilacher (February 24, 1925 – April 26, 2014) was a German palaeontologist who worked in evolutionary and ecological palaeobiology for over 60 years. He is best known for his contributions to the study of trace fossils; constructional morphology and structuralism; biostratinomy, Lagerstätten and the Ediacaran biota.Algor mortis
Algor mortis (Latin: algor—coldness; mortis—of death), the second stage of death, is the change in body temperature post mortem, until the ambient temperature is matched. This is generally a steady decline, although if the ambient temperature is above the body temperature (such as in a hot desert), the change in temperature will be positive, as the (relatively) cooler body acclimates to the warmer environment. External factors can have a significant influence.
The term was first used by Dowler in 1849. The first published measurements of the intervals of temperature after death were done by Dr John Davey in 1839.Chemical process of decomposition
Decomposition in animals is a process that begins immediately after death and involves the destruction of soft tissue, leaving behind skeletonized remains. The chemical process of decomposition is complex and involves the breakdown of soft tissue, as the body passes through the sequential stages of decomposition. Autolysis and putrefaction also play major roles in the disintegration of cells and tissues.The human body is composed of approximately: 64% water, 20% protein, 10% fat, 1% carbohydrate, 5% minerals. The decomposition of soft tissue is characterized by the breakdown of these macromolecules, and thus a large proportion of the decomposition products should reflect the amount of protein and fat content initially present in the body. As such, the chemical process of decomposition involves the breakdown of proteins, carbohydrates, lipids, nucleic acids, and bone.Dead on arrival
Dead on arrival (DOA), also dead in the field and brought in dead (BID), indicates that a patient was found to be already clinically dead upon the arrival of professional medical assistance, often in the form of first responders such as emergency medical technicians, paramedics, or police.
In some jurisdictions, first responders must consult verbally with a physician before officially pronouncing a patient deceased, but once cardiopulmonary resuscitation is initiated, it must be continued until a physician can pronounce the patient dead.Death messenger
Death messengers, in former times, were those who were dispatched to spread the news that an inhabitant of their city or village had died. They were to wear unadorned black and go door to door with the message, "You are asked to attend the funeral of the departed __________ at (time, date, and place)." This was all they were allowed to say, and were to move on to the next house immediately after uttering the announcement. This tradition persisted in some areas to as late as the mid-19th century.Death pose
Dinosaur and bird fossils are frequently found in a characteristic posture consisting of head thrown back, tail extended, and mouth wide open. The cause of this posture—sometimes called a "death pose"—has been a matter of scientific debate. Traditional explanations ranged from strong ligaments in the animal's neck desiccating and contracting to draw the body into the pose, to water currents randomly arranging the remains in the position.Faux and Padian suggested in 2007 that the live animal was suffering opisthotonus during its death throes, and that the pose is not the result of any post-mortem process at all. They also reject the idea of water as responsible for randomly arranging the bodies in a "death pose", as different parts of the body and the limbs can be in different directions, which they found unlikely to be the result of moving water. They also found that the claim that drying out of ligaments would make the position does not seem believable either.
Alicia Cutler and colleagues from Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, think it is related to water. In 2012, paleontologists Achim G. Reisdorf and Michael Wuttke published a study regarding death poses. According to the conclusions of this study, the so-called "opisthotonic posture" is not the result of a cerebral illness creating muscle spasms, and also not of a rapid burial. Rather, peri-mortem submersion resulted in buoyancy that enabled the Ligamentum elasticum to pull the head and tail back.Death rattle
Terminal respiratory secretions (or simply terminal secretions), known colloquially as a death rattle, are sounds often produced by someone who is near death as a result of fluids such as saliva and bronchial secretions accumulating in the throat and upper chest. Those who are dying may lose their ability to swallow and may have increased production of bronchial secretions, resulting in such an accumulation. Usually, two or three days earlier, the symptoms of approaching death can be observed as saliva accumulates in the throat, making it very difficult to take even a spoonful of water. Related symptoms can include shortness of breath and rapid chest movement. While death rattle is a strong indication that someone is near death, it can also be produced by other problems that cause interference with the swallowing reflex, such as brain injuries.It is sometimes misinterpreted as the sound of the person choking to death, or alternatively, that they are gargling.Decomposition
Decomposition is the process by which organic substances are broken down into simpler organic matter. The process is a part of the nutrient cycle and is essential for recycling the finite matter that occupies physical space in the biosphere. Bodies of living organisms begin to decompose shortly after death. Animals, such as worms, also help decompose the organic materials. Organisms that do this are known as decomposers. Although no two organisms decompose in the same way, they all undergo the same sequential stages of decomposition. The science which studies decomposition is generally referred to as taphonomy from the Greek word taphos, meaning tomb.
One can differentiate abiotic from biotic substance (biodegradation). The former means "degradation of a substance by chemical or physical processes, e.g., hydrolysis. The latter means "the metabolic breakdown of materials into simpler components by living organisms", typically by microorganisms.Dignified death
Dignified death is a somewhat elusive concept often related to suicide. One factor that has been cited as a core component of dignified death is maintaining a sense of control. Another view is that a truly dignified death is an extension of a dignified life. There is some concern that assisted suicide does not guarantee a dignified death, since some patients may experience complications such as nausea and vomiting. There is some concern that age discrimination denies the elderly a dignified death.Dysthanasia
In medicine, dysthanasia means "bad death" and is considered a common fault of modern medicine.Dysthanasia occurs when a person who is dying has their biological life extended through technological means without regard to the person's quality of life. Technologies such as an implantable cardioverter defibrillator, artificial ventilation, ventricular assist devices, and extracorporeal membrane oxygenation can extend the dying process.
Dysthanasia is a term generally used when a person is seen to be kept alive artificially in a condition where, otherwise, they cannot survive; sometimes for some sort of ulterior motive. The term was used frequently in the investigation into the death of Formula One driver Ayrton Senna in 1994.Lazarus sign
The Lazarus sign or Lazarus reflex is a reflex movement in brain-dead or brainstem failure patients, which causes them to briefly raise their arms and drop them crossed on their chests (in a position similar to some Egyptian mummies). The phenomenon is named after the Biblical figure Lazarus of Bethany, whom Jesus raised from the dead in the Gospel of John.Megadeath
Megadeath (or megacorpse) is one million human deaths, usually caused by a nuclear explosion. The term was used by scientists and thinkers who strategized likely outcomes of all-out nuclear warfare.Microbiology of decomposition
Microbiology of decomposition is the study of all microorganisms (mainly bacteria and fungi) involved in decomposition, the chemical and physical processes during which organic matter is broken down and reduced to its original elements.
Decomposition microbiology can be divided between two fields of interest:
decomposition of plant materials;
decomposition of cadavers and carcasses.The decomposition of plant materials is commonly studied in order to understand the cycling of carbon within a given environment and to understand the subsequent impacts on soil quality. Plant material decomposition is also often referred to as composting. The decomposition of cadavers and carcasses has become an important field of study within forensic taphonomy.Necronym
A necronym (from the Greek words νεκρός, nekros, "dead" and ὄνομα ónoma, "name") is a reference to, or name of, a person who has died. Many cultures have taboos and traditions associated with referring to such a person. These vary from the extreme of never again speaking the person's real name, often using some circumlocution instead, to the opposite extreme of commemorating it incessantly by naming other things or people after the deceased.
For instance, in some cultures it is common for a newborn child to receive the name (a necronym) of a relative who has recently died, while in others to reuse such a name would be considered extremely inappropriate or even forbidden. While this varies from culture to culture, the use of necronyms is quite common.Obituary
An obituary (obit for short) is a news article that reports the recent death of a person, typically along with an account of the person's life and information about the upcoming funeral. In large cities and larger newspapers, obituaries are written only for people considered significant. In local newspapers, an obituary may be published for any local resident upon death. A necrology is a register or list of records of the deaths of people related to a particular organization, group or field, which may only contain the sparsest details, or small obituaries. Historical necrologies can be important sources of information.
Two types of paid advertisements are related to obituaries. One, known as a death notice, omits most biographical details and may be a legally required public notice under some circumstances. The other type, a paid memorial advertisement, is usually written by family members or friends, perhaps with assistance from a funeral home. Both types of paid advertisements are usually run as classified advertisements.Pallor mortis
Pallor mortis (Latin: pallor "paleness", mortis "of death"), the first stage of death, is an after-death paleness that occurs in those with light/white skin.Post-mortem interval
Post-mortem interval (PMI) is the time that has elapsed since a person has died. If the time in question is not known, a number of medical/scientific techniques are used to determine it. This also can refer to the stage of decomposition of the body.Rigor mortis
Rigor mortis (Latin: rigor "stiffness", mortis "of death"), or postmortem rigidity, is the third stage of death. It is one of the recognizable signs of death, characterized by stiffening of the limbs of the corpse caused by chemical changes in the muscles postmortem. In humans, rigor mortis can occur as soon as four hours after death.Skeletonization
Skeletonization refers to the final stage of decomposition, during which the last vestiges of the soft tissues of a corpse or carcass have decayed or dried to the point that the skeleton is exposed. By the end of the skeletonization process, all soft tissue will have been eliminated, leaving only disarticulated bones. In a temperate climate, it usually requires three weeks to several years for a body to completely decompose into a skeleton, depending on factors such as temperature, humidity, presence of insects, and submergence in a substrate such as water. In tropical climates, skeletonization can occur in weeks, while in tundra areas, skeletonization may take years or may never occur, if subzero temperatures persist. Natural embalming processes in peat bogs or salt deserts can delay the process indefinitely, sometimes resulting in natural mummification.The rate of skeletonization and the present condition of a corpse or carcass can be used to determine the time of death.After skeletonization, if scavenging animals do not destroy or remove the bones, acids in many fertile soils take about 20 years to completely dissolve the skeleton of mid- to large-size mammals, such as humans, leaving no trace of the organism. In neutral-pH soil or sand, the skeleton can persist for hundreds of years before it finally disintegrates. Alternately, especially in very fine, dry, salty, anoxic, or mildly alkaline soils, bones may undergo fossilization, converting into minerals that may persist indefinitely.