Caution: Not for the faint of heart

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Photo: Male Skeleton — via interactive-biology

As seen in various fields of art, science, and cultures, skeletons are commonly represented to be the bone framework of an individual who has passed. For instance, in Mexican culture, Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is a celebration to honour the deceased ancestors and people  decorate their homes with skeleton decorations. In addition to this, skeletons are even used in science. From a skeleton, scientists can tell when and how the person may have died, and these discoveries further scientific research.

However, despite the heavy exposure of skeletons in today’s society, have you ever wondered how humans become skeletons?

Although the process is long, it consists of three main steps:

  1. Algor mortis and primary flaccidity
  2. Livor mortis and rigor mortis
  3. Decomposition

At the moment of death, the corpse immediately becomes limp and loses heat. Due to the lack of circulation of blood cells, the body temperature falls 0.83 degrees Celsius every hour until it reaches room temperature. This process is called Algor mortis but it is more commonly known as the “death chill”. While the body is losing its heat, the body begins to lose its tension. For example, the pupils dilate, the joints and limbs become malleable, and the skin begins to sag.

Once the body reaches room temperature, a process called livor mortis occurs. Since blood circulation is nonexistent, the corpse forms a reddish-purple colour on areas of the body that are closest to the ground. Meanwhile, inside the body, the cells suffer a chemical transformation. The chemical change ultimately causes for all the muscle tissues in the body to stiff. The muscles in the facial area such as the eyes, jaw, and neck are affected first. Then it spreads to the lower regions of the body such as the chest, arms, legs, organs, fingers, and toes. The speed of how fast the expansion completely depends on the gender, room temperature, age, and physical condition of the body.

As soon as rigor mortis is completed, decomposition takes place. This process happens a few days after death and is when the bacteria begin to decompose the corpse. During decomposition, many physical and internal changes are made to the body. For example, the corpse changes from a greenish colour to purple and then finally becomes (and remains) black. In addition, the tongue comes out of the mouth and the eyes break out of their eye sockets due to the gas developing inside the corpse. Then after a week into the decomposition process, the skin becomes to swell and fragile to the touch. Decomposition is completed when the organs are liquefied, hair and nails are no longer remaining on the corpse and the gas that has been developing inside releases. Finally, when the process is done, only a bone framework of the one that has passed remains.

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