Iowa’s rich topsoil and climate have nourished some of the nation’s most plentiful corn and soybean crops. Tyler O’Brien wants to learn more about their influence on rotting corpses.
A biological anthropology professor at the University of Northern Iowa, O’Brien envisions turning some prime Iowa pasture into a body farm, where human bodies — buried, stuffed in car trunks or exposed to the elements — can provide scholars and criminalists with new benchmark data on human decay.
“This idea has strong scientific value,” O’Brien said. “To answer the question of how long a body has been dead, how long a person has been missing, is critical to criminal investigations.”
O’Brien is seeking a grant of $400,000 to $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.