When Mary Scarborough wrote the lyrics to “Old MacDonald Had a Farm” in 1923, she probably didn’t have a research facility in mind. She wouldn’t find cows, chickens or pigs at “The Body Farm” – just scores of rotting human bodies, covered in maggots.
The Body Farm (officially known as the University of Tennessee Forensic Anthropology Facility) was the brainchild of Dr. William Bass, a Forensic Anthropologist from Kansas who helps law enforcement agencies estimate how long a person has been dead. Determining the time of death is crucial in confirming alibis and establishing timelines for violent crimes.
After 11 years of watching human decomposition, Bass realized how little was known about what happens to the human body after death. So, he approached the University of Tennessee Medical Center and asked for a small plot of land where he could control what happens to a body, post-mortem.
Bass’s Body Farm drew the attention of readers in 1994 when popular crime novelist Patricia Cornwell featured it in her book of the same name. In her book, Cornwell describes a research facility that stages human corpses in various states of decay, in a variety of locations like a wooded area, the trunk of a car, under water or under a pile of leaves – all to determine how human bodies decay under varying circumstances.