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Classical Signs of Death

Estimation of time since death by the classical signs of death based on estimation of body temperature, death stiffness (rigor mortis) and death spots (lividity) is very crude.

Rule of thumb

Trunk feelsBodyTOD (hours)
WarmFlexible< 3
WarmStiff3 - 8
ColdStiff8 - 36
ColdFlexible> 36

The cooling curve and the developing of rigor mortis is affected by numerous factors such as muscle mass, initial body temperature, body dimensions, posture, clothing, coverings, the ambient temperature, air movement, humidity and haemorrhage. These factors must be taken into consideration when using this rule of thumb.

After 36 hours, estimation of the degree of putrefaction and the study of the life cycle of insects (forensic entomology) may be used to estimate time of death.