The Smell of Dead Pig in the Morning: The Search, Pt II

On August 4th, a team that consisted of Shari Forbes, a few Calgary Police Services Canine Unit officers and me, put out four pig carcasses in the wilds outside of Calgary so that we may see what scavenged upon them and eventually — hopefully — scattered the pigs’ remains.

On September 2nd, we returned, with some help from Edmonton Police Services members and a Lethbridge member, to see what, if anything had happened.

Shari had set-up cameras at each carcass so that we could remotely monitor any big events. But the actual dispersal of remains, if it existed, would be unknown until we revisited each site and performed a search.

September 2nd was the search day.

We didn’t know what to expect.

This is the second of four posts outlining what we found at each of the four sites.

West of Calgary, in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, we had two sites. At each site, two pig carcasses were dressed in human clothing. Each carcass was placed at least 100 metres apart to discourage cross-dispersal of remains. And each carcass was placed in either an ‘open’ or ‘forested’ environmental context.

The previous post outlined what we discovered at the ‘forested’ carcass of Site #2. This post outlines what we discovered at the ‘open’ carcass of Site #2.

After we’d placed each carcass on August 4th, I’d done an informal survey of everyone for their predictions:

  • what scavengers would visit each site?
  • in which direction would the remains disperse?
  • when would the carcass be scavenged?

There is a tendency for searchers to bring their own perspectives to situations with scattered and scavenged remains. Often these perspectives are based on anecdotal evidence or stories passed along without evidence. Part of the reason Shari and I are doing this research is to dispel the myth that these anecdotes and stories are worth basing searches upon. We want to collect evidence to replace these anecdotes and stories so that search methods are evidence-based, not myth-based.

The prediction on this site was that a black bear would scavenge the carcass within a day, and that remains would be dispersed from the relatively open area toward the more forested area to the north.

One prediction was correct.

The other was almost correct.

But this wasn’t the whole story of what happened here.

The cameras had recorded black bear, grizzly bear, coyotes, foxes, deer, horses, cattle, as well as a possible bobcat. A grizzly bear was the first scavenger to appear….4 days after we’d placed the carcass.

This was the almost-correct prediction: a bear was the first scavenger on site. The grizzly, shown, here, moved the carcass from its original position (left photo, blue plaid shorts in centre frame) to somewhere out of frame, possibly toward the east (right side)(right photo).

Was this the same grizzly who scavenged the carcass in the other nearby site? We don’t know.

The original deposition point (ODP) consisted of bleached bone, grizzly hair, and very little body staining from the decomposition of the carcass. This would correspond with the grizzly bear moving the carcass within 4 days of the carcass’s placement – the carcass didn’t have enough time to decompose and leave body staining at the ODP.

The remains discovered at the original deposition point (ODP), including the cranium, maxilla, teeth, and vertebral fragments.

The blue plaid shorts were discovered 11 metres to the east of the original deposition point.

Based on our learnings from the previous site, we organized a search of the area concentrating on game trails.

As predicted, the remains were dispersed toward the north and the forested area. The remains were also discovered primarily along well-worn game trails. No remains were discovered to the south, east, or west.

A game trail originating from the ODP and traveling toward the north. Most remains were discovered along this trail (blue flags).

In fact, the remains at this site were dispersed along a single, well-worn game trail, and dispersed approximately 65 metres north, toward the forested area.

All of the remains we discovered were skeletal and most displayed evidence of scavenging.

Of special note, the game trails we noted at the time of the set-up were sometimes difficult to see (like trail we created by dragging the carcass to the ODP) likely because they weren’t often used. However, at the time of the search, these same game trails were now wide and well-worn. The trail we created at this site (and the one previous) by dragging the carcass to its placement point was observed to be well-worn at the time of the search.

On the left, our trail through the vegetation from dragging the carcass from the road to the ODP on set-up day. On the right, the same trail (a bit closer to the ODP) on the search day.

What did we learn from searching this site?

We reinforced our learnings from the first site:

  1. There was a discernible pattern in the dispersal of the carcass’s remains.
  2. The dispersal pattern tended to follow existing or new game trails.
  3. The dispersal pattern ranged from the ODP to at least 65 metres from the ODP.

We also learned:

  • There is an active male grizzly in the area!
  • Wildlife tends to use existing trails.
  • Our predictions were only partly correct.
  • While the grizzly was the first scavenger on the scene, we still don’t know with certainty what animal(s) dispersed the remains along the game trail. Cameras were focused only on the ODP, not on any game trails.
  • We still don’t know the whole story of what happened here.

Stay tuned for the search of Site #1 and what we found there!

Further Reading

Edmonton Journal – Dead pigs used in Edmonton animal scavenging study will help improve human remains investigations: police, forensic expert

Scattered Podcast

Bone Search and Recovery Short Course

Kjorlien, Beattie, Peterson – Scavenging activity can produce predictable patterns in surface skeletal remains scattering: Observations and comments from two experiments

The Smell of Dead Pig in the Morning: The Search, Pt I and Pt III

One response to “The Smell of Dead Pig in the Morning: The Search, Pt II

  1. Pingback: The Smell of Dead Pig in the Morning: The Search, Pt III | The Reluctant Archaeologist·

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