Mortuary science students visit Forensic Anthropology Center

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Students study decomposition from beginning to end.

By Alberto Ramirez

Thirteen mortuary science students who attended a seminar at the Forensic Anthropology Center at Texas State University Feb. 15 said the visit helped them feel better prepared for cases they will encounter in careers in funeral service.

The seminar included information on the stages of human decomposition.

Students were able to view specimens of abnormal human skeletons in a separate exhibit.

Fieldwork for the research done at the center is completed at the Forensic Anthropology Research Facility, known as the Texas State Body Farm, which uses donated human remains left to decompose in the open air.

Mortuary science Instructor Darrell Woody said he began taking students to the center three years ago because “what we do directly relates to what they do at the body farm as far as the whole decomposition process from beginning to end.”

“It doesn’t matter if it’s a human being or if it’s an animal you see on the side of the road, we all go through the same decomposition process,” Woody said.

In interviews Feb. 22, students and faculty emphasized the importance of this broad understanding of the process of decomposition in serving families of the deceased.

Mortuary science student Olivia Mattzela said, “They showed us different versions of decomp, which we handle in the embalming area.”

“We get people who just died or we can get them weeks, months later,” Mattzela said.

Besides receiving bodies at different stages of decomposition, embalmers and funeral directors receive them in many different conditions depending on cause of death, the amount of time since death or other factors.

Woody said he has had embalming cases as young as 20-weeks gestational to the oldest at 101 years old.

“The rate of decomposition may be accelerated in some people because of certain illnesses they may have, because of certain medications they may have, because of certain infections,” Woody said.

For this reason, mortuary science students take MRTS 1225, Thanatochemistry, which covers chemistry as it relates to funeral service and embalming.

The students then apply this knowledge in MRTS 2445, Technical Procedures 1, and MRTS 2447, Technical Procedures 2.

Mortuary science students also must contend with traumatic injuries that must be repaired before bodies are further “cosmetized” and placed in a casket for a service.

The mortuary science program is the only program in the country to have a 3D-printer for reconstructing damaged structures of the face or other body parts, Professor Mary Allen-Martin said.

There are limits on what embalmers can do to make a body presentable given the particular circumstances of a death or time since death that embalmers receive a body.

“It depends on how badly decomposed they are, or how traumatic the collision or whatever trauma they went through, because there is a point where it just can’t be fixed,” Mattzela said.

“We would usually advise the family to not have a viewing in that case, but the families can always see their loved one if they choose to. It’s really up to the family. At the end of the day it’s up to them.”


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