8 Fascinating Facts About Body Farms

Nirut Punshiri/iStock via Getty Images
Nirut Punshiri/iStock via Getty Images

Have you ever wanted to provide valuable assistance into a criminal investigation but don’t have the time, resources, or technical ability? Not to worry. You can still help by donating your corpse to a body farm.

Less than a dozen body farms, including prominent locations in Tennessee and Texas, are scattered around the world. These forensic facilities provide valuable insight into body decomposition by carefully monitoring the dead as they deteriorate under a variety of environments—from cold winters that can slow the withering process to searing climates that can speed it up. Such studies fall under the purview of forensic taphonomy, or the study of what the body experiences between death and discovery. It may sound morbid, but the science can help law enforcement better pinpoint the time and method of death in cases involving foul play. For more on these scientific graveyards, keep reading.

1. The first body farm opened as a result of a Civil War mystery—and maggots.

Forensic anthropologist William Bass was working for the University of Tennessee and the state's medical examiner's office in the 1970s when he was struck by a strange new variable in his analysis of corpses: maggots.

Having spent much of his career in Kansas, where bodies can go years before being discovered due to the wide swaths of unoccupied land (by which time the maggots were usually long gone), Bass realized he knew little about how the insects could help pinpoint time of death for "fresh" corpses. There wasn't much in forensic literature about them, either. His concerns over the imperfect understanding of decomposition were heightened when local police asked for his assistance with a strange case: They'd recently discovered that the grave of a Civil War-era colonel named William Shy had been disturbed. Inside the casket was a body that looked oddly well-preserved for having spent over 100 years in the ground. Police suspected someone had swapped Shy’s body for that of a recent crime victim. That turned out not to be the case—Shy was simply well-embalmed in a tightly sealed casket—but it was further evidence the science of post-mortem investigation needed to be brought up to date.

Up until then, forensic analysis had been limited to pig carcasses. Bass decided to make the study of decomposing human corpses his primary focus, and set up a 1.3-acre plot on a farm donated to the university outside of Knoxville. By the end of the 1970s, the first body farm was open and running.

2. People donate their corpses to body farms for different reasons.

The body farm at the University of Tennessee has seen roughly 1800 corpses pass through its grounds, with another 4000 pledging to join them in the future. Why would anyone agree to such post-mortem treatment? For some, the donation of their bodies to science is reason enough. Body farms typically have fewer requirements than medical schools, which often put limits on the deceased’s body weight or reject bodies that have undergone an autopsy. (It’s also worth noting medical schools can only dissect a body once, while bodies at the farms can provide information for months.) Others may want to apply their philosophy about returning to the earth and allowing their body’s nutrients to be “recycled.” For others, cost is a consideration. Funerals can run into the thousands of dollars. At the Texas State body farm, dubbed Freeman Ranch, pick-up is free.

3. Bodies experience a variety of fates at the farms—including vultures.

At Freeman Ranch, bodies are observed while under siege by a variety of different elements. The field is typically made up of about 50 corpses at a time: Some go directly under the sun, while others rest in the shade. A few might be positioned in cars or in sheds. Scientists put many bodies in a cage to prevent animals from interrupting the process, while other bodies are left out and vulnerable to animals—including vultures—to determine what kind of damage can be inflicted. A rat, for example, will only gnaw on fresh, greasy bone, whereas a squirrel will chomp on an older, dry bone. That helps investigators know that if they see squirrel bites, the body is probably at least a year old.

Of course, corpses will see deterioration with or without the involvement of predators. Once the body’s cells rupture during the decay process, skin begins sloughing off. Bacterial growth within the body leads to the release of gases that can bloat a corpse to twice its normal size. That leads to flies, who lay eggs and introduce maggots that feed on flesh. Leaking fluids, bacteria, and maggots all conspire to eventually render the body a bony remnant, left to dry out and mummify. Within six to 12 months, nothing will remain but bone, some skin, and cartilage. Temperature and exposure can alter the timing of these processes, however: In cooler climates, for example, flies may not be in any hurry to lay eggs, as they prefer to do that in warmer months.

4. The term body farm has mysterious origins.

William Bass and his anthropological cohorts didn’t coin the catchy phrase body farm. The official name for their research area is the Forensic Anthropology Center. The term body farm is sometimes credited to Knoxville police, who began using it as slang in the 1980s. Others cite novelist Patricia Cornwell, who wrote a 1994 crime novel titled Body Farm and included a character conducting research similar to Bass. The character, Lyall Shade, appears in several Cornwell novels tending to the fictional Knoxville Body Farm.

5. Body farms let law enforcement conduct mock exhumations.

Not all bodies at body farms remain exposed to the elements. Some locations, like the University of Tennessee’s, invite law enforcement officials to come and dig up bodies so they can better understand the anatomy of bones, how bodies are positioned in graves, and how to collect forensic evidence. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has been sending agents to the Tennessee site for the past 20 years.

6. Body farms find even skeletal remains useful, too.

Once a body has finished decomposing and has reached the point where observation is no longer useful, the remaining bones are often stored so they can be used for comparison purposes later on. Why? Human skeletal structures can vary depending on lifestyle habits. People carrying excessive weight might have more joint wear, for example. In 2008, anthropology professor and Texas State body farm director Daniel Wescott noticed that the remains of a decapitated body had slender thigh bones. Based on samples from the University of Tennessee, Westcott surmised that the bones were smaller than usual because the victim spent time in a wheelchair. The tip allowed the public to assist authorities in identifying the victim.

7. Body farms maintain photo rights.

If you’re squeamish about extensive photographic analysis of your body or your dearly departed's, it’s best not to donate to a body farm. Most farms retain photographic rights, which means you could end up in a National Geographic documentary or embedded in an article that uses your now-deceased self to illustrate the finer points of decay for the public at large.

8. The bones at body farms sometimes go back to loved ones.

Body farms are typically fenced-in and covered by security cameras to avoid trespassers or any other unintended indignities being visited upon their occupants. The University of Tennessee site is not open for public tours. But after decomposition ends and bones are stored? That’s another story. The university allows scholars and investigators to check out the bones like books for examination and then return them. The offer is also open to relatives of the deceased. On average, four to six families a year request to see the skeleton of their loved one and get more information on how their death is helping science.

10 of the Best Indoor and Outdoor Heaters on Amazon

Mr. Heater/Amazon
Mr. Heater/Amazon

With the colder months just around the corner, you might want to start thinking about investing in an indoor or outdoor heater. Indoor heaters not only provide a boost of heat for drafty spaces, but they can also be a money-saver, allowing you to actively control the heat based on the rooms you’re using. Outdoor heaters, meanwhile, can help you take advantage of cold-weather activities like camping or tailgating without having to call it quits because your extremities have gone numb. Check out this list of some of Amazon’s highest-rated indoor and outdoor heaters so you can spend less time shivering this winter and more time enjoying what the season has to offer.

Indoor Heaters

1. Lasko Ceramic Portable Heater; $20

Lasko/Amazon

This 1500-watt heater from Lasko may only be nine inches tall, but it can heat up to 300 square feet of space. With 11 temperature settings and three quiet settings—for high heat, low heat, and fan only—it’s a dynamic powerhouse that’ll keep you toasty all season long.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Alrocket Oscillating Space Heater; $25

Alrocket/Amazon

Alrocket’s oscillating space heater is an excellent addition to any desk or nightstand. Using energy-saving ceramic technology, this heater is made of fire-resistant material, and its special “tip-over” safety feature forces it to turn off if it falls over (making it a reliable choice for homes with kids or pets). It’s extremely quiet, too—at only 45 dB, it’s just a touch louder than a whisper. According to one reviewer, this an ideal option for a “very quiet but powerful” heater.

Buy it: Amazon

3. De’Longhi Oil-Filled Radiator Space Heather; $79

De’Longhi/Amazon

If you prefer a space heater with a more old-fashioned vibe, this radiator heater from De’Longhi gives you 2020 technology with a vintage feel. De’Longhi’s heater automatically turns itself on when the temperatures drops below 44°F, and it will also automatically turn itself off if it starts to overheat. Another smart safety feature? The oil system is permanently sealed, so you won’t have to worry about accidental spills.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Aikoper Ceramic Tower Heater; $70

Aikoper/Amazon

Whether your room needs a little extra warmth or its own heat source, Aikoper’s incredibly precise space heater has got you covered. With a range of 40-95°F, it adjusts by one-degree intervals, giving you the specific level of heat you want. It also has an option for running on an eight-hour timer, ensuring that it will only run when you need it.

Buy it: Amazon

5. Isiler Space Heater; $37

Isiler/Amazon

For a space heater that adds a fun pop of color to any room, check out this yellow unit from Isiler. Made from fire-resistant ceramic, Isiler’s heater can start warming up a space within seconds. It’s positioned on a triangular stand that creates an optimal angle for hot air to start circulating, rendering it so effective that, as one reviewer put it, “This heater needs to say ‘mighty’ in its description.”

Buy it: Amazon

Outdoor Heaters

6. Mr. Heater Portable Buddy; $104

Mr. Heater/Amazon

Make outdoor activities like camping and grilling last longer with Mr. Heater’s indoor/outdoor portable heater. This heater can connect to a propane tank or to a disposable cylinder, allowing you to keep it in one place or take it on the go. With such a versatile range of uses, this heater will—true to its name—become your best buddy when the temperature starts to drop.

Buy it: Amazon

7. Hiland Pyramid Patio Propane Heater; Various

Hiland/Amazon

The cold’s got nothing on this powerful outdoor heater. Hiland’s patio heater has a whopping 40,000 BTU output, which runs for eight to 10 hours on high heat. Simply open the heater’s bottom door to insert a propane tank, power it on, and sit back to let it warm up your backyard. The bright, contained flame from the propane doubles as an outdoor light.

Buy it: Amazon

8. Solo Stove Bonfire Pit; $345

Solo Stove/Amazon

This one is a slight cheat since it’s a bonfire pit and not a traditional outdoor heater, but the Solo Stove has a 4.7-star rating on Amazon for a reason. Everything about this portable fire pit is meticulously crafted to maximize airflow while it's lit, from its double-wall construction to its bottom air vents. These features all work together to help the logs burn more completely while emitting far less smoke than other pits. It’s the best choice for anyone who wants both warmth and ambiance on their patio.

Buy it: Amazon

9. Dr. Infrared Garage Shop Heater; $119

Dr. Infrared/Amazon

You’ll be able to use your garage or basement workshop all season long with this durable heater from Dr. Infrared. It’s unique in that it includes a built-in fan to keep warm air flowing—something that’s especially handy if you need to work without wearing gloves. The fan is overlaid with heat and finger-protectant grills, keeping you safe while it’s powered on.

Buy it: Amazon

10. Mr. Heater 540 Degree Tank Top; $86

Mr. Heater/Amazon

Mr. Heater’s clever propane tank top automatically connects to its fuel source, saving you from having to bring any extra attachments with you on the road. With three heat settings that can get up to 45,000 BTU, the top can rotate 360 degrees to give you the perfect angle of heat you need to stay cozy. According to a reviewer, for a no-fuss outdoor heater, “This baby is super easy to light, comes fully assembled … and man, does it put out the heat.”

Buy it: Amazon

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5 TV Shows to Watch On Netflix If You Miss The Good Place

Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara in a scene from Schitt's Creek.
Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara in a scene from Schitt's Creek.
Pop TV

Though The Good Place capped off its four-season run in early 2020, it only recently became available to stream on Netflix. The series, which stars Kristen Bell, Ted Danson, and William Jackson Harper, is a philosophical comedy about a group of people who are selected to enter a Heaven-like utopia after their deaths. If you’ve finished the witty, heartwarming series and are wondering what to watch next time you open Netflix, look no further than these five shows.

1. Schitt’s Creek

Schitt’s Creek is certifiably entertaining—the show did, after all, set a record at the 2020 Emmy Awards, bagging a staggering nine awards. The series chronicles the lives of the uber-wealthy Rose family, who lose all of their money after being defrauded by their business manager. With no place left to turn, the Roses are forced to relocate to Schitt’s Creek, a little town they once purchased as a joke. Their personalities frequently clash with the town’s more humble residents, and the results couldn’t be funnier.

The sixth and final season of the series is coming to Netflix on October 7.

2. Grace and Frankie

If you want something as laugh-out-loud funny as The Good Place, give Grace and Frankie a try. The series stars Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin as Grace and Frankie, respectively—two women who have never been fond of each other, but have been forced to interact over the years because their husbands are best friends and business partners. However, their lives are turned upside-down when their husbands (played by Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston) announce that they are in love and leaving their wives in order to marry each other. Which forces Grace and Frankie to end up living together, and inevitably learn that friendship can come from the most unexpected places.

3. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend stars Rachel Bloom as Rebecca Bunch, a successful attorney at a well-respected law firm in New York. Even though it looks as if she has her life together, Rebecca is far from perfect. When a chance meeting with her ex-boyfriend Josh (Vincent Rodriguez III) gives her a new lease on life, she decides to abandon her life in New York and move to Josh’s hometown of West Covina, California, in order to win him back.

4. Cuckoo

Cuckoo follows the lives of the Thompson family. When they pick their daughter Rachel (Tamla Kari) up at the airport, parents Ken (Greg Davies) and Lorna (Helen Baxendale) learn Rachel has married Dale “Cuckoo” Ashbrick (Andy Samberg), an unemployed American drifter with a penchant for drugs.

5. BoJack Horseman

This animated series is hilarious, deeply tragic, and surprisingly poignant. Even though the series is firmly rooted in fantasy, it manages to tackle tough subjects like depression, sexual assault, fame, and alcoholism with frightening realism. Similar to The Good Place, BoJack Horseman will have you laughing one minute and pondering the human condition the next.