Maceration (bone)

Maceration is a bone preparation technique whereby a clean skeleton is obtained from a vertebrate carcass by leaving it to decompose inside a closed container at near-constant temperature. This may be done as part of a forensic investigation, as a recovered body is too badly decomposed for a meaningful autopsy, but with enough flesh or skin remaining as to obscure macroscopically visible evidence, such as cut-marks. In most cases, maceration is done on the carcass of an animal for educational purposes.

Great Dane and Chihuahua Skeletons
Macerated skeletons of a Great Dane and a Chihuahua, on display at The Museum of Osteology, in Oklahoma City.


Maceration is a form of controlled putrefaction, a stage of decomposition in which the proteins of the body's cells are broken down and consumed by bacteria in anaerobic conditions. The temperature is usually maintained at a constant optimal temperature in an incubator. Maceration generates very strong and distasteful odors, and is therefore usually done in a closed container in a ventilated area.

Maceration is an alternative to the Dermestes method in which skin beetles are used to clean the flesh off of the corpse, a method which is used with corpses of small mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians, because these animals' bones tend to fall apart in many tiny parts. Maceration is an unsuitable method to clean the bones of a fish, as they have a poorly articulated, pliable skeleton.


Suíno alta
Skeleton of swine prepared by bone maceration

In the process of maceration, the carcass is first skinned and defleshed by hand as much as is practical, and all internal organs are removed. In this process, extra care is taken when removing the eyeballs, ears and jugular muscles, because some bones are shallow and brittle, such as the thickened external acoustic opening of many mammals. The tongue is usually left in place, because of its attachment to hyoid bones. Severed parts of the carcass are sometimes kept in nylon panty hose. Water is then put in a container and maintained a constant temperature, usually 35 °C though not warmer than 50 °C. Washing powder with enzymes (like Biotex) may be added, as it will soften the tissue. A mild detergent or emulsifier is sometimes used to remove fatty acids from the bone. When the carcass is put in the container, putrefying bacteria begin (or continue) to consume the soft tissue cells of the carcass, and will continue to do so as long as the temperature remains constant. After a few days, the water is replenished to maintain the bacteria, and some additional flesh may be cut away. Most medium-sized animals (like dogs) are macerated within about ten days.

Lipids and fatty acids in the bone and in the fat tissues tend to stain the bone brown. Oxidising bleaches may be used to whiten the bone, but if too much is used the perchlorate or hypochlorite damages the bone tissue, leaving it chalky and brittle. Hydrogen peroxide at quite low concentrations, say 1% to 3% replenished every few days, is less inclined to damage the tissue, though it may take a week or two to achieve complete whiteness.


When the process of maceration is complete, the bones are removed from the solution and left to dry. If the skeleton is human and the subject of an investigation, the forensic anthropologist will then conduct an inventory and analysis of the remains. If the individual is to be identified, occupational and age-related osteological markers will be noted, and measurements of the bones will provide evidence suggesting the individual's height and race. If the skull is intact, forensic facial reconstruction is another option that may help in identifying the individual. If a crime has been established, an examination of the bones without overlying soft tissue may provide evidence on what weapon (if any) was used or on the nature of the injuries sustained.

In most cases, an animal is macerated for educational purposes. Once dry, the bones are collected, inventoried, and sometimes labelled or separated into labelled bags, all of which may then be placed in a container for storage. Alternately, steel wire is used to arrange the bones to appear as an articulated skeleton, and posed as the animal may have stood in life.

See also

List of Ripley's Believe It or Not! (1982 TV series) episodes

The following is an episode list for Ripley's Believe It or Not!, an American documentary television series which was hosted by Jack Palance and aired on ABC from 1982 to 1986. Based on the travels and discoveries of oddity-hunter Ripley, this show looked at the people, places and events that made up the stranger side of human history. Subjects have included Nikola Tesla, The Bermuda Triangle, The Elephant Man, and Mad King Ludwig. The series featured Palance or a co-host showcasing strange events, places of odd significance, trivia, and a commercial bumper (broadcasting) of original art from Ripley's comics. Henry Mancini and His Orchestra provided the theme song.

The series was predated as a pilot documentary film also hosted by Palance on May 3, 1981 directed by Ronald Lyon.

Co-hosts included actress Catherine Shirriff in season 1, Palance's daughter Holly Palance

in seasons 2 & 3 and singer Marie Osmond, in season 4.


Maceration may refer to:

Maceration (food), in food preparation

Maceration (wine), a step in wine-making

Carbonic maceration, a wine-making technique

Maceration (sewage), in sewage treatment

Maceration (bone), a method of preparing bones

Acid maceration, the use of an acid to extract micro-fossils from rock

Maceration, in chemistry, the preparation of an extract by solvent extraction

Maceration, in biology, the mechanical breakdown of ingested food into chyme

Skin maceration, in dermatology, the softening and whitening of skin that is kept constantly wet

Maceration, in poultry farming, a method of chick culling


Putrefaction is the fifth stage of death, following pallor mortis, algor mortis, rigor mortis, and livor mortis. This process references the breaking down of a body of a human or animal post-mortem (meaning after death). In broad terms, it can be viewed as the decomposition of proteins, and the eventual breakdown of the cohesiveness between tissues, and the liquefaction of most organs. This is caused by the decomposition of organic matter by bacterial or fungal digestion, which causes the release of gases that infiltrate the body's tissues, and leads to the deterioration of the tissues and organs.

The approximate time it takes putrefaction to occur is dependent on various factors. Internal factors that affect the rate of putrefaction include the age at which death has occurred, the overall structure and condition of the body, the cause of death, and external injuries arising before or after death. External factors include environmental temperature, moisture and air exposure, clothing, burial factors, and light exposure.

The first signs of putrefaction are signified by a greenish discoloration on the outside of the skin on the abdominal wall corresponding to where the large intestine begins, as well as under the surface of the liver.

Certain substances, such as carbolic acid, arsenic, strychnine, and zinc chloride, can be used to delay the process of putrefaction in various ways based on their chemical make up.

Body farms are facilities which study the process of human decomposition as well as how environmental factors affect the rate of putrefaction.

In medicine
After death

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