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Histological observations on adipocere in human remains buried for 21 years at the Tomašica grave-site in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Adis Salihbegović, John Clark, Nermin Sarajlić, Svjetlana Radović, Finlay Finlay, Anes Jogunčić, Emina Spahić, Vedo Tuco


The Tomašica grave-site near Prijedor in the north of Bosnia is reported to be the largest primary mass grave discovered thus far relating to the 1992–95 war. A total of 275 complete bodies and 125 body parts were exhumed from it in 2013. Post mortem examinations of the victims showed that nearly all had died from gunshot injuries but an additional striking feature was the degree of preservation of many of the bodies, even 21 years on, with skin, soft tissues and internal organs still present in abundance and gross structures clearly identifiable. Histology was performed on 68 samples of soft tissue from a total 13 bodies, on both skin and internal organs, and the degree of preservation was assessed in terms of the ability to recognize microscopic structure. Further comparison was made with samples taken a month or so later (56 tissue samples from 9 bodies, all but one different from the first group), after the bodies had been covered in salt as a means of general preservation. Generally, at a microscopic level, skin and subcutaneous tissues were better preserved than internal organs, while tissues sampled at the time of autopsy were better preserved than those sampled weeks later.


Tomašica mass grave; adipocere; histopathology

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