Morbid, but fascinating

23 Oct
October 23, 2012


(c) can’t say I’ve ever been one for horror stories. I’m far too squeamish for all the blood and gore, and anyway, having a slightly nervous disposition, that ‘jumping out of my skin’ feeling lingers for far too long afterwards. So when my editor asked me to write about what happens to a body from the moment of death until it turns to dust, I should probably have known better than to say yes. A few weeks and one very disturbing nightmare later the result is out now as part of New Scientist’s “Death Special.”

Here’s just a taster of the unsavoury truths that I learned while writing it: The dog you live with and love to the bones might well strip you to yours if you happen to die in their company and they run out of food. Read this if you don’t believe me. Oh, and getting put into an airtight coffin to keep the maggots out won’t keep you in one piece for that much longer. Much of it comes down to our own enzymes, which start digesting us from within soon after death along with those “friendly bacteria” who turn out to be not quite so friendly when we stop providing them with food and become dinner ourselves. And don’t even get me started on adipocere, or grave wax, which forms in damp conditions… If you really want to know, Google it and try not to click on a site with images.

So read it if you dare… and if you don’t then read the rest of the special anyway. There’s loads of less gory but equally fascinating stuff in there, from the psychology of why we fear death, to why our unique understanding of death has driven humankind to invent all kinds of ways to avoid it, from agriculture to science and medicine. Enjoy…