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There's many fictional and nonfictional stories about passerby detecting dead bodies inside buildings and such by an "overwhelming stench of decay" or something equivalent, usually even through thick walls or from separate houses. But the total mass of a human is somewhat less than the mass in an averaged-sized dumpster which gets its own smells of decay, and I usually don't detect a dumpster unless I get extremely close and/or it was left open. I probably couldn't guess there was a dumpster in the adjacent apartment or anything remotely like some of these stories.

Do people (knowingly or subconsciously) exaggerate the sensation after the fact because it's a human body and it's creepy? Or is there some scientific reason that dead bodies have a smell that pervades a whole area more than normal rotting organic material?

closed as unclear what you're asking by Oddthinking Aug 30 '17 at 5:17

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    Welcome to Skeptics! According to the FAQ, Skeptics.SE is for researching the evidence behind the claims you hear or read. I am trying to work out what the claim you have heard here is (rather than your speculation about exaggerations and specially pervasiveness): that corpses smell bad? – Oddthinking Aug 30 '17 at 5:19
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    Human beings are mostly meat. If you've ever smelled a large quantity of rotting meat you'll know it's not an exaggeration. – GordonM Aug 30 '17 at 9:52
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    Keep in mind that modern food is full of preservatives that prevent bacteria from eating it before we do. Humans are not. The smell of rotting meat comes from the gases bacteria excrete. Also, you mention dumpsters, which are usually filled with bags of trash (which helps contain smell), non-meat materials (which helps absorb the smell), have lids (also smell containment), and are emptied regularly. I had a dumpster that I dumped a snake carcass into, then a few days later I opened the lid and nearly vomited from the smell. I covered it with other trash to reduce the smell. – Kevin Fee Aug 30 '17 at 15:27
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    If you've ever come across a dead animal that's been there for awhile, you'll believe it. – Mark Aug 30 '17 at 17:39
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    A school I worked at had the power cut to the middle-school wing over the summer for construction. One of the construction workers called the police because he smelled a dead body. Turned out to be a roadkill fox carcass that the 8th grade bio teacher left in the freezer for later dissection - small animal, but it stank up the whole building something awful. – Adam Aug 30 '17 at 19:29