Post-mortem interval

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Stages of death

Pallor mortis
Algor mortis
Rigor mortis
Livor mortis

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.

Types of change after death

Many types of changes to a body occur after death. Some of those that can be used to determine the post mortem interval are:[1][2]

Traditional decomposition stages

A person who judges the time of death by the means of decomposition can refer to a simple five-stage process:

  • Stage 1: Initial Decay - Bacteria located mainly in the lower intestine begin decomposition, giving a greenish color to the lower abdomen.[1]:17
  • Stage 2: Putrefaction - Bacteria grow throughout the body, releasing gases, which in turn bloat the body and cause unpleasant odor.
  • Stage 3: Black Putrefaction - This stage brings further discoloration to the body. The gases from bacterial decay begin to escape, causing strong odor.
  • Stage 4: Butyric Fermentation - The internal organs liquefy and the body begins to dry out.
  • Stage 5: Mummification - This is the slowest of the five stages. In a hot, dry climate the body may dehydrate, inhibiting bacterial decay; the skin dries to a dark leathery appearance.[1]:17

More advanced methods

More advanced methods include DNA quantification,[4] infrared spectroscopy.[5] and for buried individuals changes in soils such as the levels of methane,[6] phosphates and nitrates,[7] ninhydrin-reactive nitrogen,[8] volatile organic compounds[9] and water conductivity.[10]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 Survey of Biological Factors Affecting the Determination of the Postmortem Interval. Bautista, Richard. Spring 2012.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Blood, guts, gore and soil: decomposition processes in graves and forensic taphonomic applications. Tibbett, Mark. 2010 19th World Congress of Soil Science, Soil Solutions for a Changing World.
  3. Muñoz, JI; Suárez-Peñaranda, JM; Otero, XL; Rodríguez-Calvo, MS; Costas, E; Miguéns, X; Concheiro, L (2001). "A new perspective in the estimation of postmortem interval (PMI) based on vitreous". Journal of Forensic Sciences. 46 (2): 209–14. PMID 11305419.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Lin, X; Yin, YS; Ji, Q (2011). "Progress on DNA quantification in estimation of postmortem interval". Fa yi xue za zhi. 27 (1): 47–9, 53. PMID 21542228.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Huang, P; Tuo, Y; Wang, ZY (2010). "Review on estimation of postmortem interval using FTIR spectroscopy". Fa yi xue za zhi. 26 (3): 198–201. PMID 20707280.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Davla, M; Moore, TR; Kalacska, M; LeBlanc, G; Costopoulos, A (2015). "Nitrous oxide, methane and carbon dioxide dynamics from experimental pig graves". Forensic Science International. 247: 41–47. doi:10.1016/j.forsciint.2014.12.002.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Senos Matias, MJ (2004). "An investigation into the use of geophysical methods in the study of aquifer contamination by graveyards". Near Surface Geophysics. 2 (3): 131–136. doi:10.3997/1873-0604.2004010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Van Belle, LE; Carter, DO; Forbes, SL (2009). "Measurement of ninhydrin reactive nitrogen influx into gravesoil during aboveground and below ground carcass (Sus domesticus) decomposition". Forensic Science International. 193: 37–41. doi:10.1016/j.forsciint.2009.08.016.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Vass, A (2012). "Odor mortis". Forensic Science International. 222: 234–241. doi:10.1016/j.forsciint.2012.06.006.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. Pringle, JK; Cassella, JP; Jervis, JR; Williams, A; Cross, P; Cassidy, NJ (2015). "Soilwater Conductivity Analysis to Date and Locate Clandestine Graves of Homicide Victims". Journal of forensic sciences. 60 (4): 1052–1061. doi:10.1111/1556-4029.12802.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>