Dynamics of Ninhydrin-Reactive Nitrogen and pH in Gravesoil During the Extended Postmortem Interval*

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Abstract

Estimating the postmortem interval of skeletal remains is difficult, as few tools exist to do so. To address this problem, we conducted a field experiment to measure the chemistry of swine (Sus scrofa domesticus Linnaeus) gravesoil after 1 year and 3 years postmortem. Carcasses were placed on the soil surface of a pasture during June in a cold (Dfa) climate. Significant (p < 0.05) increases in ninhydrin-reactive nitrogen, pH, total nitrogen, and nitrate in gravesoil were detected 1 year postmortem. Significant differences in gravesoil chemistry were not detected 3 years postmortem. These observations coincided with gaps in plant growth 1 year postmortem and the development of lush vegetation 3 years postmortem. We conclude that these phenomena can be used to assist the decision-making process regarding the allocation of resources during the early stages of a death investigation.

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