In this 2003 article it is said that in Germany, the time before a coffins collapse and crumble into the soil is expanding

Previously that process would take from eight to 10 years - but now in around one third of graves in Germany, it is taking longer, and bodies which were buried 30 or 40 years ago are still not decomposed.

Then an undertaker says :

"Bodies that were put into the ground 30 years ago look like they went in last week," said Walter Muller, an undertaker in Berlin. "It's like they've been pickled in preservatives and there is no explanation for it."

Other hyposthesis include "earth-born bacteria being wiped out by pollution or pesticides", or "amalgams used in dental fillings".

I found some articles related to the problematic. Apparently the process of putrefaction is supposed to take 15 to 25 years, not 8 years. Also when putrefaction does not happen it's because of Adipocere (saponification). And lack of gram bacteria could be involved.

I found no papers on the effect of pesticides or food preserver.

So, is there any proof that corpses do not decompose as well as in the good old time ? If so could the effect come from the food preservers and pesticides in our food ?

Edit: After some research, I found that :

Corpses of women, infants and overweight persons are particularly prone to adipocere transformation because they contain more body fat

So if people are getting fatter, adipocere would be more likely to happen.

  • 1
    I suspect if this were the case it would make it damn near impossible for homicide detectives to estimate time of death because it would depend on the person's diet. May 20 '16 at 12:36
  • 1
    In all fairness to the Telegraph it should be noted that they report the claims as the opinion of unspecified "some" and "other" people. The article does not seem to support the claims (and in fact lists the proper reasons as supported by a number of other publications).
    – user21930
    May 23 '16 at 8:27
  • In fact I wanted to debunk a junk article that appeared in my facebook feed. It did not hesitate to make the claim, but I did not wish to force that upon anyone. The telegraph is only the original source of the junk article, and you're rigth it actually included the "too much water hypothesis" amongs other.
    – Jylo
    May 23 '16 at 9:34

I googled for "verwesung auf friedhöfen langsamer" ( putrefaction in graveyards more slowly ?) and it returned an amazing number of hits from German newspapers. However as far as I can tell none of them say that corpses rot slower than they used to (this mortician calls this an urban myth).

The problem seems to be rather with the graveyards - if there is too much water in the ground and not enough oxygen the bodies do not decompose and stay intact for a long time (the german term is "Wachsleiche", literally "waxen body" because that's how the skin of these bodies looks like). The german Wikipedia has an article on "Wachsleichen" that attributes a higher incidence of un-putrefied bodies to a decline in cremations in some areas in Germany.

This article in "Die Zeit" also name oak coffins (as opposed to the less durable pinewood), clothing from synthetic fiber etc. as culprits.

None of the articles mentiones pesticides etc., except to call the presumed connection an urban myth.

  • Thank you for your research. It seem to me that "Wachsleichen" is really "Adipocere". However there is two pages in the german wikipedia : one for "adipocire", one for "Wachsleichen". If it's the same it would be consistent with what I read about adipocere. (Anaeorobic decomposition in watery environnement cause it and it's more likely in infant and overwiegth poeple). I'll wait a little to accept the answer in case someone else is still planning an answer.
    – Jylo
    May 22 '16 at 21:14
  • 1
    Adipocire is the substance (apparently called "grave wax" according to Wikipedia,) that covers the body and prevents decomposing. "Wachsleiche" is the complete body that is preserved (to an extent) by grave wax (which is of course not really wax).
    – user21930
    May 23 '16 at 7:03

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .