Bass III, William

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Bass III, William


William ("Bill") Bass, professor emeritus of the University of Tennessee and one of the world's most renowned forensic anthropologists, is perhaps best known as the (former) custodian of "The Body Farm," also known as the University of Tennessee's Anthropology Research Facility. The Body Farm , as it is commonly known, is the world's only research facility dedicated solely to studying the decomposition of human bodies. Bill Bass started the research center with one corpse and a small piece of land in 1971.

Bass retained directorship of the University's Forensic Anthropology Center after achieving emeritus status. He has continued an active forensic consulting practice, with particular areas of expertise in estimating time of death and victim identification . He has remained a sought-after forensics public speaker well into his retirement from academia.

The Body Farm encompasses three barbed wire encircled acres not far from the University of Tennessee's Medical Center. At any given time, about forty bodies are being studied as they decompose under varying conditions; some hang from scaffolds; some are left in cage-like enclosures; some are in car trunks; some lie in the sun; some are in the shade; some are barely covered by leaves and forest debris; some are covered with brush; some are submerged in ponds; and some even occupy shallow graves.

Throughout the United States, law-enforcement agencies and graduate students of forensic anthropology have sent students and staff to the Anthropology Research Facility (informally called ARF, but publicly known as the Body Farm, particularly by readers of Patricia Cornwell's Kay Scarpetta series). The FBI conducts short-course trainings at the ARF each year, teaching Special Agents what to look for when they excavate areas to search for bodies. Agents learn which insects feed on human bodies, and how their activity can suggest time of death (or, more accurately, time since death).

Eventually, the skeletal remains of the Body Farm's inhabitants are collected and cleaned; sorted by age, gender, and race; numbered; and stored in boxes in an indoor lab, where they are used during student research.

Bass's work has been lauded in worldwide media; he has been profiled by CNN, featured in the American Bar Association Journal, thePhiladelphia Inquirer, and Reuter's News Service, among many others. Bass estimates that he has personally been involved in the training of at least 65% of the forensic scientists in the United States. William Bass continues to be intrigued by the study of decomposition of human bodies, and believes that much is yet to be learned. Bass views his life's work not as the study of death, but as an intriguing science experiment. Bass sees his job as marshalling all of his abilities and his knowledge, striving to see the corpse as an individual, and trying to determine exactly what happened to him or her.

see also Ancient cases and mysteries; Anthropology; Decomposition.