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Temperature Measurement From the Brain and Rectum in Charred Corpses: A Pilot Study on an Animal Model

Gibelli, Daniele MD, PhD*; Cantatore, Angela PhD; Porta, Davide BSc*; Poppa, Pasquale BSc, PhD*; Sala, Remo PhD; Marco, Grandi MD*; Cattaneo, Cristina MD, PhD*

The American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology: March 2014 - Volume 35 - Issue 1 - p 34–37
doi: 10.1097/PAF.0000000000000066
Original Articles

Measurement of body temperature provides relevant data on postmortem interval, and different studies have been so far attempted to apply temperature assessment methods also under extreme environmental conditions; however, none of them has been performed yet on charred or heated bodies, where temperature measurement is presumed to be unreliable because of the possible influence of heating. This study aimed at verifying any possible early-stage alterations of rectal and endocranial temperature due to fire on an animal model during the charring process.

Three pigs, 2 adults (pigs 1 and 2) whose weight was about 50 kg each and 1 piglet weighing 3 kg, were heated and burnt on a natural fire lit on top of a wooden stack, without the use of accelerants; 2 thermocouples were positioned in the rectum and in the cranium to record second-by-second rectal and endocranial temperature values. Results demonstrate that the rectal temperature does not seem to increase in adult pigs for 40 to 50 minutes after the body has been exposed to fire, probably because of the thermal insulating characteristics of the adipose tissue. Therefore, temperature may still be of some help for estimating postmortem interval on heated or burnt cadavers.

From the *LABANOF, Laboratorio di Antropologia e Odontologia Forense, Sezione di Medicina Legale, DMU–Dipartimento di Scienze Biomediche per la Salute, Università degli Studi di Milano; and †Dipartimento di Meccanica, Sezione Misure Meccaniche e Termiche, Politecnico di Milano, Milan, Italy.

Manuscript received October 15, 2012; accepted April 21, 2013.

The authors report no conflicts of interest.

Reprints: Cristina Cattaneo, MD, PhD, LABANOF, Laboratorio di Antropologia e Odontologia ForenseSezione di Medicina Legale, DMU–Dipartimento di Scienze Biomediche per la Salute, Universita degli Studi di Milano, V. Mangiagalli 37, Milan, Italy. E-mail:

© 2014 by Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.