Free enamel pin when you buy any two Atlas Obscura products. Shop now.

Knoxville, Tennessee

The Body Farm

Bring out your dead. 

Calling William K. Bass’s center for forensic observation a “farm” is, in a lot of ways a bit of a misnomer. Rather than growing any particular product, this farm is focused on how organic materials break down and decompose. Specifically, human cadavers.

Behind the University of Tennessee, a little outside of Knoxville, there’s a 2.5 acre plot of land surrounded by a razor wire fence. This is the body farm, where forensic scientists and researchers learn about human decomposition. When William K. Bass first opened his center to study human remains in 1981, he had one dead body and a 16 square foot cage. By 2007, the farm had over 150 decaying specimen - many donated to the farm by interested volunteers. The bodies are placed in a range of scenarios to simulate various crime scenes. Clothed dead bodies, naked dead bodies, dead bodies underwater, dead bodies in cars, the list goes on. Bass’s work on the Body Farm has revolutionized the field of forensic anthropology.

In addition to the extensive, ever-growing research, the Farm also possesses one of the largest collections of modern skeletal remains in the world, with over 700 in total and an additional 1000 future bodies willed to the project.

Know Before You Go

There are no tours of the Outdoor Research Facility. It is an active research center for students and faculty only. Visit https://fac.utk.edu/ for more information on the school.