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How long do skeletons last if a person was buried without a coffin or embalming?

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raccoon Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Dec-02-08 09:44 AM
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How long do skeletons last if a person was buried without a coffin or embalming?
For instance, at Andersonville, GA, where there was a Civil War POW camp, if someone dug up the graves would there be any remains?



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hlthe2b Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Dec-02-08 09:46 AM
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1. As long as the soil dries out (not a marsh condition)
yes, there would be bones...

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YOY Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Dec-02-08 09:49 AM
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2. Caspers Dictum helps for Flesh
Not too sure about bone though.
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Lerkfish Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Dec-02-08 09:50 AM
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3. um...I hope you're asking for historical reasons
:)
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azmouse Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Dec-02-08 09:53 AM
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4. I seem to remember hearing that bones are still sometimes uncovered
on Civil War battlefields. I don't have links to any info about it though.

Sounds like bones can last a long time, depending on the conditions where they are found.
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enlightenment Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Dec-02-08 10:03 AM
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5. Definitely depends on ground conditions and other factors.
There's a fairly old book (1995), called 'Bones: A Forensic Detective's Casebook" that might help explain the intricacies. It's an easy read without a lot of jargon and (ergh) statistical analyses.

http://www.amazon.com/Bones-Forensic-Detectives-Douglas...
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KansDem Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Dec-02-08 10:04 AM
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6. I think I recall recently that someone saw human bones there...
And they had dinosaur footprints in them.
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bananas Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Dec-02-08 10:08 AM
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7. Red Skelton?
He'll be with us forever on videotape.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_Skelton
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potisok Donating Member (67 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Dec-02-08 10:08 AM
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8. Depends, probably not.
The acidity of the soil, moisture, depth of burial ect. They will not be solid like you could pick up and look at, larger bones and teeth most likely if anything at all. Be sure any disturbing done is within the parameters of the law of your state, preferably not at all.
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raccoon Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Dec-02-08 10:22 AM
Response to Reply #8
10. This was just an academic question. nt
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TechBear_Seattle Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Dec-02-08 10:12 AM
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9. Some have been found that are millions of years old
It all depends on the conditions where the body is left. Lucy, for example, lived an estimated 3.2 million years ago. In Scotland, mummies have been found in peat bogs, where paleolithic people died thousands of years ago and were preserved by the anaerobic environment. Other mummies, just as old, have been found in the Andes, China and Egypt (many poorer people were buried without benefit of the mummification ritual; the desert dried out and preserved their bodies.) And let's not forget the Ice Man.

In short, there are just too many variables to answer your question.

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semillama Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Dec-02-08 11:17 AM
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11. There may be teeth and small bone fragments
Otherwise, not much else of the skeleton. Assuming from your question that the graves would be shallow, the position of the graves in the soil column would allow for bioturbation and rapid decomposition to pretty much take the whole body apart in a couple of years. if the graves were carefully excavated under controlled archaeological conditions, you'd be able to identify the graves through the shaft locations, and you'd likely find some non-perishable clothing items, such as buttons (again, assuming the POWs were buried wearing clothes).

If they were put in wooden coffins, you'd find the coffin hardware, but unless the soil stayed consistently wet and anaerobic, you wouldn't find the wood, and again, there probably wouldn't be much left of the skeleton either.
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Xithras Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Dec-02-08 01:12 PM
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12. There is no way to know.
Edited on Tue Dec-02-08 01:12 PM by Xithras
The inorganic portion of human bones is composed mostly of calcium and salts, both of which are soluble in water. In fact, a human body immersed completely in water can dissolve in only a few decades. If buried unprotected in the ground, the same thing can happen and a body can be reduced to mud in 50-100 years.

The thing is, local soil types have a LOT to do with it. What is the salt and calcium content of the surrounding ground? How much water does the local soil have? What is the soils pH? What type of insects or worms live in the ground? How deeply were the bodies buried? Were surface plants rooting through the remains?

Under the right conditions, a human skeleton can survive intact for millions of years. Under the wrong ones, it's lucky to survive 50.
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