The purpose of this study is to compare decomposition of animal samples in plowed and unplowed soils. To accomplish this, two sets of three pig (Sus domesticus) ham hocks were buried in soil in early May of 2023, one set in a highly disturbed agricultural field and the other set in an undisturbed forested area. Soybeans were planted in the agricultural field within a week. The samples remained buried until excavated in October 2023 after harvest to compare the extent of decomposition and any other changes that occurred to the surrounding soil. Additionally, the soil at each site was described following standard methods of the National Soil Survey Center to determine the factors acting upon the soils. Soil samples from each were analyzed by the EARTH Systems Laboratory at Minnesota State University, Mankato for particle size distribution. Soil samples from pre- and post- decomposition were also sent to Ward Laboratories Inc. of Kearney, Nebraska for chemical analysis. The study found that the ham hocks had all reached similar levels of decomposition and were completely, or nearly completely, skeletonized. More adipocere tissue was recovered on the remains buried in the forest while more invertebrate activity was observed on the remains buried in the plowed field. Chemically, pH decreased in the plowed soil from May to October while pH increased in the forested soil. Nitrate concentration in the plowed soil increased significantly while nitrate concentration decreased in the forest soil from May to October. Due to the high level of decomposition, previous methods for cataloging animal decomposition were not very effective. Future research could include shorter periods of time for analysis, expanding the sample size, and testing over more soil types and treatments.


Kathleen Blue

Committee Member

Kathryn Elliott

Committee Member

Mark Bowen

Date of Degree




Document Type



Master of Science (MS)

Program of Study

Master of Science


Geography and Anthropology


Humanities and Social Sciences

Included in

Anthropology Commons



Rights Statement

In Copyright