From dust we came and to dust we shall return, but in between, there’s a fairly fascinating biological process known as decomposition. Although hard to stomach and not for the faint of heart, decomposition is the natural breakdown of organic waste, and occurs in everything from a fruit fly to a blue whale.

It Begins Sooner Than You Might Think

According to Mosaic Science, human decomposition begins a mere few minutes after death with a process called autolysis, or self digestion. And trust me, this is as gruesome as it sounds. Soon after the heart stops beating, cells in the body begin to accumulate toxic by-products as a result of oxygen deprivation. Enzymes start to digest cell membranes and then leak out as the cells break down.

It Can Last For Years After You’ve Been Buried

When buried six feet down, without a coffin, in ordinary soil, an unembalmed adult normally takes eight to twelve years to decompose to a skeleton, Memorial Pages reported. However if placed in a coffin, the body can take many years longer, depending on the type of wood used.

You’ll Smell It Before You See It

It’s no surprise that the a decaying body smells bad, but the reason for why it smells could surprise you. The smell is caused by trapped gases that are generated by bacteria in the intestinal tract which begin to build up and release odors after death. According to, in addition to the various gases generated by bacteria in the body, a decomposing corpse also releases around 30 chemical compounds. All these come together to make a truly unpleasant odor.

Corpses Of Cancer Survivors May Make Animals Sick

The harsh radiation used in chemotherapy can last long after you pass away. According to, corpses of individuals who had a lot of chemotherapy in their life affect the type of insects that will aid in the decay. According to ​ Dr. Daniel Wescott, director of the Texas State Forensic Anthropology Center, the team purposely keep these corpses away from the vultures because it tends to get the birds sick.