In forensics, skeletonization refers to the complete decomposition of the non-bony tissues of a corpse, leading to a bare skeleton. In a temperate climate, it usually requires three months to several years for a body to completely decompose into a skeleton, depending on factors such as temperature, presence of insects, and submergence in a substrate such as water. In the tropics, skeletonization can occur in weeks, while in the Andes Mountains or tundra, skeletonization will never occur if subzero temperatures persist.
The rate of skeletonization and the present condition of the corpse can be used to determine the time of death.
After skeletonization has occurred, the skeleton of mid to large size mammals such as humans takes about twenty years under optimal conditions to be completely dissolved by acids in the soil leaving no trace of the organism. In neutral pH soil or sand, the skeleton will persist for at least several thousand years before it finally disintegrates. Infrequently, however, the skeleton can undergo fossilization, leaving an impression of the bone that can persist for millions of years. Template:WH Template:WS