Seven miles northwest of San Marcos, Texas lies a 16-acre ranch called The Freeman Ranch that has something spooky in their yard. This extra ordinary ranch doesn’t grow crops neither raise livestock, instead, something extremely morbid. Beyond the ranch, 50 or more decaying naked human bodies scattered all over the field. But don’t panic, this is not a hide out of some Jeepers Creepers-like killer who dumps hundreds of bodies under an old church. Actually, these dead bodies that lie in this ranch serve a good purpose.
Warning: The photos below might be quite disturbing for some readers, be sure to have a strong stomach before scrolling down.
The Freeman Ranch AKA the “Body Farm” is part of the Forensic Anthropology Center at Texas State University. Its main purpose is to study how the human body decomposes.
Several times a month, new dead bodies are delivered to the ranch. Researchers and graduate students must then clean and catalog the new bodies before they are put out into the field.
The bodies that scattered in this farm are donated ones and left out in the open by researchers to see the effect of different weather conditions and terrain setting on the decomposition of human bodies.
Some are intentionally left in the hot sun, among foot-high prairie grasses, while others are put in a shady grove of Ashe juniper and oak trees. Most are protected by two-foot-high metal cages, but some are fully exposed so researchers can observe the effects of vultures using tree-mounted game cameras.
The better understanding of the process of decomposition helps assist criminal investigations. Observations made at body farms have been keys to puzzling questions like “how long ago the person died.” The research institute also uses their knowledge of human decomposition to help identify the bodies of hundreds of people who die of dehydration or heat stroke every year after they cross the border into Texas.
To fully understand the process of decomposition, researchers have to see the stages in order. The body goes through three stages of decomposition, from the grisly beginning to the spare, dried-out end. The first stage begins shortly after death, during this stage, the body bloats out because the bacteria inside release gases as they consume the body’s carbon.
Next is advanced decay. This happens after the body bursts and releases decomposition fluids.
Finally is the dry decay stage, which comes when nearly all flesh on the body is consumed. This stage is usually reached after several weeks and is the stage most of the bodies at the Freeman Ranch are in.
This is what a body looks like after several weeks when left uncaged. This is the result of the voraciously pickling of vultures and other wildlife.
“What researchers really want to do is comprehensively map the necrobiome to aid in determining the post-mortem interval. Figuring out how long a recent body has been dead is fairly easy, but for those that have been lying around for months, narrowing it down becomes increasingly difficult. The necrobiome could be a solution.” You can read more about the Freeman Ranch here.
What they do at the Body Farm might be extremely morbid and terrifying. Disturbing the dead isn’t their intent but for the sake of science and to help humanity they have to bear this extreme job.