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Do you Know What Death Smells Like?

Plamena M.Plamena M.

During the annual science festival at Bradford, scientists from the University of Huddersfield, Great Britain, announced a unique discovery. They have found out what death smells like.

Actually we're talking about the aroma of the human body, immediately after the person dies. Right before the body's tissues begin to decompose, it gives off a smell of fresh fish and freshly mowed grass.

All research in this area had so far been focused at determining what the smell of a corpse consists of. It's now been found to be a combination of 2 molecules - putrescine and cadaverine, which are produced during bodily decomposition. But the British scientists, led by Anna Williams, aimed their research in an entirely different direction. Their goal was to find out whether there was any difference between the smell of the living and the dead immediately after death.

For their studies, the team used the bodies of pigs, since their tissues bear the closest resemblance to human ones. The taken samples were placed in airtight containers, inaccessible to microbes. Every hour they took samples of the air in them and compared them to the smell of living people. Analyses took several days, in which scientists examined the chemical makeup of the samples using a gas chromatograph.

The results indicated that a dead body begins to decompose even before bacteria get involved. This leads to the release of the volatile substance hexanal, which gives off the typical scent of freshly cut grass. Besides it, they registered trimethylamine, with its fragrance of fresh fish and indole, with its characteristically sharp odor.

According to experts, the study and its results will be useful to homicide detectives where investigating cases of recently deceased persons, as well as in training police sniffer dogs.


Meanwhile, in the past 6 months, researchers at the University of Leuven in Belgium have compared samples from 6 people with 26 different types of animals. According to their data, human death has a well defined fruity smell. It is a unique symbiosis of 5 chemical compounds which are unique to humans and not typical of animals.

These compounds include butyl pentanoate (the smell of raspberries), hexanoate (the smell of pineapple and blackberries), 2-methylbutane (the smell of cherries and apples) and 3-methylbutyl pentanoate (the smell of green apples). This cocktail is labeled as quite pleasant smelling. But it can only be sensed in laboratory conditions since in a real-life scenario external factors have an effect as well.