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 thermodynamic terms, all organic tissues are composed of chemical energy, which, when not maintained by the constant biochemical maintenance of the living organism, begin to chemically break down due to the reaction with water into amino acids, known as hydrolysis. The breakdown of the proteins of a decomposing body is a spontaneous process. Protein hydrolysis is accelerated as the anaerobic bacteria of the digestive tract consume, digest, and excrete the cellular proteins of the body.

Rogers body
Putrefaction in human hands after several days of one of the Oba Chandler victims underwater in Florida, United States

The bacterial digestion of the cellular proteins weakens the tissues of the body. As the proteins are continuously broken down to smaller components, the bacteria excrete gases and organic compounds, such as the functional-group amines putrescine (from ornithine) and cadaverine (from lysine), which carry the noxious odor of rotten flesh. Initially, the gases of putrefaction are constrained within the body cavities, but eventually diffuse through the adjacent tissues, and then into the circulatory system. Once in the blood vessels, the putrid gases infiltrate and diffuse to other parts of the body and the limbs.

The visual result of gaseous tissue-infiltration is notable bloating of the torso and limbs. The increased, internal pressure of the continually rising volume of gas further stresses, weakens, and separates the tissues constraining the gas. In the course of putrefaction, the skin tissues of the body eventually rupture and release the bacterial gas. As the anaerobic bacteria continue consuming, digesting, and excreting the tissue proteins, the body's decomposition progresses to the stage of skeletonization. This continued consumption also results in the production of ethanol by the bacteria, which can make it difficult to determine the blood alcohol content (BAC) in autopsies, particularly in bodies recovered from water.[1]

Generally, the term decomposition encompasses the biochemical processes that occur from the physical death of the person (or animal) until the skeletonization of the body. Putrefaction is one of seven stages of decomposition; as such, the term putrescible identifies all organic matter (animal and human) that is biochemically subject to putrefaction. In the matter of death by poisoning, the putrefaction of the body is chemically delayed by poisons such as antimony, arsenic, carbolic acid (phenol), nux vomica (plant), strychnine (pesticide), and zinc chloride.

Approximate timeline

  • 1–2 days: Pallor mortis, algor mortis, rigor mortis, and livor mortis are the first steps in the process of decomposition before the process of putrefaction.
  • 2–3 days: Discoloration appears on the skin of the abdomen. The abdomen begins to swell due to gas formation.
  • 3–4 days: The discoloration spreads and discolored veins become visible.
  • 5–6 days: The abdomen swells noticeably and the skin blisters.
  • 10–20 days: Black putrefaction occurs, which is when noxious odors are released from the body and the parts of the body undergo a black discoloration.
  • 2 weeks: The abdomen is bloated; internal gas pressure nears maximum capacity.
  • 3 weeks: Tissues have softened. Organs and cavities are bursting. The nails fall off.
  • 4 weeks: Soft tissues such as the internal organs begin to liquefy and the face becomes unrecognizable. Leads to skeletonization where the skin, muscles, tendons and ligaments degrade exposing the skeleton.

Timeline for the decomposition of organs in the body:[2]

  1. Larynx and trachea
  2. Infant brain
  3. Stomach
  4. Intestines
  5. Spleen
  6. Omentum and mesentery
  7. Liver
  8. Adult brain
  9. Heart
  10. Lungs
  11. Kidneys
  12. Bladder
  13. Esophagus
  14. Pancreas
  15. Diaphragm
  16. Blood vessels
  17. Uterus

The rate of putrefaction is greatest in air, followed by water, soil, and earth. The exact rate of putrefaction is dependent upon many factors such as weather, exposure and location. Thus, refrigeration at a morgue or funeral home can retard the process, allowing for burial in three days or so following death without embalming. The rate increases dramatically in tropical climates. The first external sign of putrefaction in a body lying in air is usually a greenish discoloration of the skin over the region of the caecum, which appears in 12–24 hours. The first internal sign is usually a greenish discoloration on the undersurface of liver.

Factors affecting putrefaction

Various factors affect the rate of putrefaction.[3][4][5]

Exogenous (external)

Environmental temperature: Decomposition is speed by high atmospheric or environmental temperature, with putrefaction speed optimized between 21 °C (70 °F) and 38 °C (100 °F), further speed along by high levels of humidity. This optimal temperature assists in the chemical breakdown of the tissue and promoting microorganism growth. Decomposition nearly stops below 0 °C (32 °F) or above 48 °C (118 °F).

Moisture and air exposure: Putrefaction is ordinarily slowed by the body being submerged in water, due to diminished exposure to air. Air exposure and moisture both can contribute to the introduction and growth of microorganisms, speeding degradation. In a hot and dry environment the body can undergo a process called mummification where the body is completely dehydrated and bacterial decay is inhibited.

Clothing: Loose-fitting clothing can speed up the rate of putrefaction, as it helps to retain body heat. Tight-fitting clothing can delay the process by cutting off blood supply to tissues and eliminating nutrients for bacteria to feed on.

Manner of burial: Speedy burial can slow putrefaction. Bodies within deep graves tend to decompose more slowly due to the diminished influences of changes in temperature. The composition of graves can also be a significant contributing factor, with dense, clay-like soil tending to speed putrefaction while dry and sandy soil slows it.

Light exposure: Light can also contribute indirectly, as flies and insects prefer to lay eggs in areas of the body not exposed to light, such as the crevices formed by the eyelids and nostrils.[3]

Endogenous (internal)

Age at time of death: Stillborn fetuses and infants putrefy slowly due to their sterility. Otherwise, however, generally, younger people putrefy more quickly than older people.

Condition of the body: A body with a greater fat percentage and less lean body mass will have a faster rate of putrefaction, as fat retains more heat and it carries a larger amount of fluid in the tissues.[5]

Cause of death: The cause of death has a direct relationship to putrefaction speed, with bodies that died from acute violence or accident generally putrefying slower than those that died from infectious diseases. Certain poisons, such as potassium cyanide or strychnine, may also delay putrefaction, while chronic alcoholism will speed it.

External injuries: Antemortem or postmortem injuries can speed putrefaction as injured areas can be more susceptible to invasion by bacteria.

Delayed putrefaction

Certain poisonous substances to the body can delay the process of putrefaction. They include:


Embalming is the process of preserving human remains by delaying decomposition. This is acquired through the use of embalming fluid, which is a mixture of formaldehyde, methanol, and various other solvents. The most common reasons to briefly preserve the body are for viewing purposes at a funeral and for medical or religious practices.


Body farms subject donated cadavers to various environmental conditions to study the process of human decomposition.[7] These include The University of Tennessee's Forensic Anthropologic Facility, Western Carolina Universities Osteology Research Station (FOREST), Texas State University's Forensic Anthropology Research Facility (FARF), Sam Houston State University's Southeast Texas Applied Forensic Science Facility (STAFS), Southern Illinois University's Complex for Forensic Anthropology Research, and Colorado Mesa University's Forensic Investigation Research Station. The Australian Facility for Taphonomic Experimental Research, near Sydney, is the first body farm located outside of the United States [8] In The United Kingdom there are several facilities which, instead of using human remains or cadavers, use dead pigs to study the decomposition process. Pigs are less likely to have infectious diseases than human cadavers, and are more readily available without any concern for ethical issues, but a human body farm is still highly sought after for further research.[9] Each body farm is unique in its environmental make-up, giving researchers a broader knowledge, and allowing research into how different environmental factors can affect the rate of decomposition significantly such as humidity, sun exposure, rain or snow, altitude level and more.

Other uses

Musaeum Hermeticum 1678 VIII. Clavis 0066
Putrefaction, the eighth alchemical key of Basil Valentine, 1678, Chemical Heritage Foundation

In alchemy, putrefaction is the same as fermentation, whereby a substance is allowed to rot or decompose undisturbed. In some cases, the commencement of the process is facilitated with a small sample of the desired material to act as a "seed", a technique akin to the use of a seed crystal in crystallization.

See also


  1. ^ Fredrik C. Kugelberg, Alan Wayne Jones (2007). "Interpreting results of ethanol analysis in postmortem specimens: A review of the literature". Forensic Science International. 165 (1): 10–27. doi:10.1016/j.forsciint.2006.05.004.
  2. ^ Luff, Arthur. Text-book of forensic medicine, and toxicology (Volume 1 ed.). Longmans, Green and Company, 1895. pp. 57–62. Retrieved April 27, 2016.
  3. ^ a b Vij (January 1, 2008). Textbook of Forensic Medicine And Toxicology: Principles And Practice. Elsevier India. pp. 142–4. ISBN 978-81-312-1129-8.
  4. ^ Gautam Biswas (2012). Review of Forensic Medicine and Toxicology. JP Medical Ltd. ISBN 978-93-5025-896-5.
  5. ^ a b Rao, Dinesh (2013). "Putrefaction". Dr. Dinesh Rao's Forensic Pathology. forensicpathologyonline.com. Retrieved March 29, 2016.
  6. ^ a b Sharma (January 1, 2007). Concise Textbook of Forensic Medicine & Toxicology. Elsevier India. p. 49. ISBN 978-81-312-1145-8.
  7. ^ Killgrove, Kristina. "These six 'Body Farms' Help Forensic Anthropologists Learn To Solve Crimes". Forbes. Retrieved April 29, 2016.
  8. ^ "Inside the secret Australian body farm helping real-life CSIs". ABC News. October 18, 2016. Retrieved June 9, 2018.
  9. ^ Williams, Anna. "Coming to a field near you? The 'body farms' where human remains decompose in the name of science". International Business Times. Retrieved April 27, 2016.

External links


Adipocere (), also known as corpse wax, grave wax or mortuary wax, is a wax-like organic substance formed by the anaerobic bacterial hydrolysis of fat in tissue, such as body fat in corpses. In its formation, putrefaction is replaced by a permanent firm cast of fatty tissues, internal organs, and the face.


Antiseptics (from Greek ἀντί anti, "against" and σηπτικός sēptikos, "putrefactive") are antimicrobial substances that are applied to living tissue/skin to reduce the possibility of infection, sepsis, or putrefaction. Antiseptics are generally distinguished from antibiotics by the latter's ability to safely destroy bacteria within the body, and from disinfectants, which destroy microorganisms found on non-living objects.Some antiseptics are true germicides, capable of destroying microbes (bacteriocidal), while others are bacteriostatic and only prevent or inhibit their growth.Antibacterials include antiseptics that have the proven ability to act against bacteria. Microbicides which destroy virus particles are called viricides or antivirals. Antifungals, also known as an antimycotics, are pharmaceutical fungicides used to treat and prevent mycosis (fungal infection).


Asepsis is the state of being free from disease-causing micro-organisms (such as pathogenic bacteria, viruses, pathogenic fungi, and parasites). The term often refers to those practices used to promote or induce asepsis in an operative field of surgery or medicine to prevent infection.

The goal of asepsis is to eliminate infection, not to achieve sterility. Ideally, a surgical field is sterile, meaning it is free of all biological contaminants (e.g. fungi, bacteria, viruses), not just those that can cause disease, putrefaction, or fermentation. At present, there is no method to safely eliminate all of a patient's contaminants without causing significant tissue damage.


Cadaverine is a foul-smelling diamine compound produced by the putrefaction of animal tissue. Cadaverine is a toxic diamine with the formula NH2(CH2)5NH2, which is similar to putrescine. Cadaverine is also known by the names 1,5-pentanediamine and pentamethylenediamine.


Decomposition is the process by which organic substances are broken down into a more simple 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.

Epitaph (Necrophagist album)

Epitaph is the second and final studio album by German death metal band Necrophagist released by Relapse Records on August 3, 2004. Unlike on Onset of Putrefaction, guitarist and vocalist Muhammed Suiçmez recorded the album alongside a full band instead of recording it by himself. Guitarist Christian Münzner, who later departed the band and joined Obscura, wrote half of the leads as well as several basslines on the album.


Escabeche is the name for a number of dishes in Mediterranean and Latin American cuisines which can refer to a dish of fish or meat (escabeche of chicken, rabbit or pork is common in Spain) marinated and cooked in an acidic mixture (vinegar) and sometimes colored with pimenton (Spanish paprika) or saffron. In Central or South America the recipes differ from country to country, sometimes including the prior frying of the ingredient to later marinate. It is a common conservation technique, requiring a pH of 4 or lower to effectively stop putrefaction of the product.

The dish is common in Spain and has evolved with local modifications in the Spanish-speaking world. It is well represented in Portugal and France. The dish is popular in the Philippines and Guam (both former Spanish colonies) where it is the closest to the original Spanish version: adapting the type of fish the ones locally available but respecting the original technique.

In international versions, escabeche is usually poached or fried, then served cold after marinating in a refrigerator overnight or longer. The acid in the marinade is usually vinegar but can include citrus juice. Different types of vinegar may be recommended such as white vinegar or apple cider vinegar. Escabeche is a popular presentation of canned or potted preserved fish, such as mackerel, tuna, bonito or sardines. In the New World, versions of the basic marinade are often used with foods other than fish and meats, for example cassava or green bananas with chicken gizzards (Puerto Rico), jalapeño peppers (Mexico), etc. The origin of the word escabeche is Persian; it was brought to Spain by the Arabs during the Umayyad conquest of Hispania. The word derives from al-sikbaj, the name of a popular meat dish cooked in a sweet-and-sour sauce, usually vinegar and honey or date molasses. The dish originated in Mediterranean countries like Turkey, Lebanon and Spain, but the practice of this style of preparation has spread as far east as the Philippines and all throughout the western nations of Latin America. It is believed that Spain and Portugal were introduced to the al-sikbaj dish during the Moorish conquests between 790 and 1300 AD.The dish is known as escoveitch or escoveech fish in Jamaica and is marinated in a sauce of vinegar, onions, carrots and scotch bonnet peppers overnight. It is a traditional breakfast dish. It is known as escabecio, scapece or savoro in Italy, savoro in Greece (especially Ionian islands) and scabetche in North Africa.

Geneviève Thiroux d'Arconville

Marie Geneviève Charlotte Thiroux d'Arconville (née Darlus, also known as la présidente Thiroux d’Arconville and Geneviève Thiroux d'Arconville) (17 October 1720 – 23 December 1805), was a French novelist, translator and chemist who is known for her study on putrefaction. She discussed her study on putrefaction in her Essay on the History of Putrefaction in 1766.


Hatebeak is a death metal band, formed by Blake Harrison and Mark Sloan, featuring Waldo, a grey parrot (b. 1991). Hatebeak is reported to be the first band to have an avian vocalist. They never tour so as to not torture the bird. Hatebeak is signed to Reptilian Records. They released the album Number of the Beak on June 26, 2015, through Reptilian Records.The band's sound has been described as "a jackhammer being ground in a compactor". Aquarius Records magazine called Hatebeak "furious and blasting death metal". Hatebeak made its second record with Caninus, a band whose lead singers were two dogs. Hatebeak's goal is to "raise the bar for extreme music".

Last Days of Humanity

Last Days of Humanity is a Dutch goregrind band that was active from 1989 until 2006, and reformed in 2010. Its music is known for its nonstop sound and relentless blast beats, with regards to drummer Marc Palmen.

The band has been recognized as one of the most notable grind acts in the Dutch scene.


For the character in Xenosaga, see Gaignun Kukai. Nigredo is also an album by Diary of Dreams.In alchemy, nigredo, or blackness, means putrefaction or decomposition. Many alchemists believed that as a first step in the pathway to the philosopher's stone, all alchemical ingredients had to be cleansed and cooked extensively to a uniform black matter.In analytical psychology, the term became a metaphor 'for the dark night of the soul, when an individual confronts the shadow within'.

Onset of Putrefaction

Onset of Putrefaction is the debut album by German technical death metal band Necrophagist. It was recorded almost solely by the band's founder, guitarist and vocalist Muhammed Suiçmez. He recorded all the vocal tracks and programmed the drum tracks with the help of a computer. The bass and guitar tracks were mostly recorded by him, with a few being recorded by former Necrophagist members - Jochen Bittmann recorded a few bass tracks, and Bjoern Vollmer recorded a few parts of Extreme Unction's guitar solo.

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.

Pre-Electric Wizard 1989–1994

Pre-Electric Wizard 1989–1994 is a compilation of songs featuring Electric Wizard frontman Jus Oborn with his previous band, which changed its name twice.

Songs 1-4 are by Eternal, from the demo Lucifer's Children (1993).

Songs 5-7 are by Thy Grief Eternal, from the demo On Blackened Wings (1992).

Songs 8-11 are by Lord of Putrefaction, from the split LP with Mortal Remains on Dave Gedge's Nuclear Gore Records (1991).The Eternal material was also released as Lucifer's Children by Rise Above on 10" vinyl. The Thy Grief Eternal material was also released on 10" vinyl by Rise Above under the title On Blackened Wings. The Lord of Putrefaction split LP is now out of print.

The first seven songs (along with two unknown jams) were given out on a CD by The Music Cartel during the late 1990s to promote Electric Wizard.

Reek of Putrefaction

Reek of Putrefaction is the debut album by British extreme metal band Carcass. It was released by Earache Records in July 1988.

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.


Sapropel (a contraction of ancient Greek words sapros and pelos, meaning putrefaction and mud, respectively) is a term used in marine geology to describe dark-coloured sediments that are rich in organic matter. Organic carbon concentrations in sapropels commonly exceed 2% in weight.

Symphonies of Sickness

Symphonies of Sickness is the second album by British extreme metal band Carcass. It was released through Earache Records on 4 December 1989.

Unidentified decedent

Unidentified decedent or unidentified person (also abbreviated as UID or UP) is a term in American English used to describe a corpse of a person whose identity cannot be established by police and medical examiners. In many cases, it is several years before the identities of some UIDs are found, while in some cases, they are never identified. A UID may remain unidentified due to lack of evidence as well as absence of personal identification such as a driver's license. Where the remains have deteriorated or been mutilated to the point that the body is not easily recognized, a UID's face may be reconstructed to show what they had looked like before death. UIDs are often referred to by the placeholder names "John Doe" or "Jane Doe".

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