Monday, November 28, 2005

Ripped From 'Law & Order'

There is an episode of the TV series "Law and Order" which begins with extra bodies being discovered in a research field. Scientists have placed dead bodies in various positions and locations to study how they decay and what happens to them. A University of Northern Iowa professor wants to build such a facility in Iowa.

Details to a story Ron Davis will enjoy, from KCCI-TV in Des Moines (where I once worked):

A professor at the University of Northern Iowa wants to turn some prime Iowa pasture into a body farm, where human bodies that are buried, stuffed in car trunks or exposed to the elements can be studied.

Biological anthropology professor Tyler O'Brien said the research would provide scholars and criminalists with valuable information about human decay. He said it's information that will help investigators determine how long a body has been dead.

O'Brien is seeking a grant of about $500,000 from the National Institute of Justice and other organizations to obtain the land and set up the project.

If approved, the body farm would be just the second in the nation and closely modeled after the work pioneered by O'Brien's mentor, William Bass III, at the University of Tennessee's Forensic Anthropology Center. Bass said there is a need for a second location because it is critical to study decay in different climates.

The Midwest offers a flat and open landscape exposed to wind, rain, sun, snow and extreme temperature shifts. It also offers an entirely new spectrum of plants, rodents and bugs, whose life cycle can provide clues to when someone was killed or the body was dumped.

I also taught for three years at UNI, but don't know Dr. O'Brien. I would agree that Iowa offers an open landscape exposed to the elements and extreme temperature shifts. But not all of Iowa is flat. Especially the northeastern portion, where UNI is located. Iowa farm land is great for growing corn and soybeans. Also good for beef and pork.

UNI has its share of ghost stories, including a haunted women's dorm. If this comes about, will greek pledges be expected to spend a night at the body farm as part of their initiation?