When you hear the words ‘body farm’, chances are you’ll be at least a little take aback, unless you’re a goth, in which case you’ll be frothing at the mouth or something. Either way, it sounds nasty, especially when you consider the fact that it applies to human beings in real life, and it’s not in The Human Centipede or something.

Basically, body farming is the practise of leaving dead human bodies outside, in cordoned off ‘farms’ and exposed to the elements, in order to study the several aspects of the decomposition process.

At the moment, this slightly unnerving form of research only takes place in the US, where bodies are donated to facilities such as the Texas State University at Freeman Ranch. The process is known as human taphonomy, which is the study of what happens to an organism after its death. Scientists at these outdoor labs can monitor the process of human decomposition in a variety of different situations. The decomposition of human beings is complex and highly dependent on different stimuli.

To understand decomposition better, bodies are kept in different situations, such as inside a car, submerged in water, or wrapped in a blanket.

The practise also has a lot of other practical, CSI-style uses. It can be helpful in determining information such as the timing and circumstances of a death. While the general process of decomposition of a body is universally similar, factors like temperature, humidity and general climate make a world of difference.

The first research facility of this kind was started at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville in 1981 by forensic anthropologist Bill Bass, and there are 6 such facilities in the US today.

The facilities are also used to monitor physical, chemical and bacterial changes in decomposing bodies, and can be useful in forensic police investigations.

While there are only body farms in the US right now, there’s word that facilities like these are going to come up soon in the UK, Australia and even in India. Creepy but useful, the perfect combination! … Unless it leads to the zombie apocalypse.