• Question: What part of your body would last the longest?

    Asked by ells8 to Kate, Mark U, Tess, Yue on 30 Apr 2012.
    • Photo: Tess Newman

      Tess Newman answered on 30 Apr 2012:

      The structural elements of your body are designed to be the most hard wearing, and so, as you would expect, they live the longest. Unlike soft tissue, such as skin and your brain, bone is not made up entirely of living cells – the cells are surrounded by solid material, known as the ‘extracellular matrix’, which gives bone is ‘bonyness’. This survives once the cells have died, and is what archaeologists dig up when they find ancient bodies. Similarly, teeth often remain in ancient graves

    • Photo: Kate Davies

      Kate Davies answered on 30 Apr 2012:

      Under normal circumstances, this would be the skeletal system, basically your bones. The rest of our body or the tissues require a living organism (us) to sustain them, once we pass away so to do the tissues, the remaining oxygen in the body will be used up in the first few hours after death before anaerobic those that don’t need oxygen) organisms that are present begin to breakdown the fats, carbohydrates and proteins present and as a result produce gases, one of which is methane (which is where the smell comes from) and the body may then appear bloated, further decomposition of the tissues takes place and the stage known as ‘active decay’ is when greatest mass is lost.

      The skeleton however is almost immune from this stage, hence why even today we find bones from hundreds and even thousands of years ago, the bone is made up of living and dead cells, the outer casing of the bone is referred to as compact bone, which I believe helps to protect the bone from bacteria that may speed up decomposition. If there is high acidity where a body/skeleton lies the bones will decompose much quicker than in a more neutral soil.

      There are situations where much more of the body can be preserved and last much longer such as human performed processed which include mummification or embalming. Even natural environmental conditions surrounding a body can prevent decomposition , if it is dry and hot or extremely cold the bodies are preserved as the bacteria that take part in the decomposition are unable to function.