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Hi, Anyone know if bones of an 8 year-old  (even just skull, teeth and a femur, say) could survive 150 years at the bottom of a freshwater, spring-fed lake?  Would be really grateful for any pointers.  Thanks.
Olivia
 

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Based on the context of the forum I assume it is for a police novel and not for committing a crime or hiding a body.

I have a relatively great biological knowledge, but I don't know about the preservation of bodies. I think bones cannot be preserved that much underwater, especially bones so young that they have low bone mineral density. In any case, check the scientific literature on the subject because there are some evidence of ancient preservation.

You can see this paper:
https://sci-hub.st/10.1016/s0047-2484(78)80091-8
(maybe it won't work because it's on sea water)

The paper discusses some finds of skulls on ships during the 1700s.

Search in google academic or another source of academic papers, if you want a paper and you do not have access to it you can send me a PM and I will surely get you the paper.
 

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Bogs have preserved young bones, but that's because of the PH in peat I believe. Kennewick Man was 9000 years old and was found on the bank of the Columbia river. Then there is the Melbourne Bone Bed, a creekbed in Florida with bones of animals up to 20,000 years old. Last year, bones were found in a creek bed in San Jose, and speculation was that they were the bones of a missing 15-year-old who had been missing for a decade. It turned out they were not, but the speculation suggests young bones would remain relatively in tact.

So there's that.

EDIT: In tact bones of a large group were found in a thawing river in the Himalayas. Probably human sacrifices. In a freshwater sinkhole in Mexico there was a similar find at the site of an ancient capsized boat. So temperature may or may not play a part. It is probably going to depend more on the presence of bacteria and enzymes as well as the kinds and variety of feeding fish.
 

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Ha, okay.  I mean, I assume this is for a book, so for a book, here are a few things to consider about general chemical solubility:

Solvent and substrate- Mineral bone is largely calcium phosphate which is a polar (but not highly polar) substrate, and water is a polar solvent.  Given time, the water will break down the substrate, but the speed of that happening can be drastically altered based on conditions.

Surface area- Smaller bones will have a higher surface area to volume ratio and will break down faster in a solvent.  Similarly, the finer the material is broken into before it goes into the solvent, the faster it will break down.

Organic material- Nonpolar organic material can be on and in bone.  This is fats, tissues, and things like that.  Scavengers in the system will usually eat these things, but in a closed system without scavengers, the organic material can block the water interacting directly with the mineral bone.  Many man-made or smaller natural water systems don't have a lot of species diversity so the presence/absence of scavengers can be variable.  But remember that most scavengers will not eat mineral bone because it has a very low carbohydrate content.

Energetic inputs- Average temp, pressure, enzymatic activity, depth (presence or absence of sunlight), can all affect solubility rates.  You can think of it as all energy.  Adding energy to your system will decrease the time needed to chemically break down a substrate in a solvent.

Moving vs stagnant water- The longer the water can just sit on the substrate, the faster it will react.

pH- The relative acidity of the solvent can alter how it behaves.  Water with an acidic pH will have a lot of free ions in it, and the polar water molecules will react with free ions before they react with calcium phosphate.  By occupying the polar ends of the water molecules, the acidity of the water can preserve bone.  But good preservation would only happen in highly acidic conditions.

Uggh, I'm going back in time to O-chem here a bit, so bear with me if I missed anything.  There are probably more factors, but those are the big ones at least.  Organic activity really is the most critical part.  Bone can be composted in a controlled system, so organic activity alone can degrade the substrate in a short amount of time.

I think what I'm trying to say is that in a story, you could really write this any way you wanted to, and be able to justify it.  jdcore had some great examples of old finds, and these things happen just because there are so many variables that can have a drastic affect.  Under ideal conditions to preserve, they would look almost perfectly preserved.  Under ideal conditions to solubilize,  it could look much different.

The classic example of solubility is water temp when you are washing dishes.  If you use soap and hot water, the grease is solubilized quickly.  If you use soap and cold water, but you leave the dishes to soak, the results are the same.  You are substituting heat (energy) for time.  The grease will break down in soap and water, because soap and water acts as a non-polar solvent, but the time it takes depends on temp.
 

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Discussion Starter #7
Hi, Anyone know if bones of an 8 year-old (even just skull, teeth and a femur, say) could survive 150 years at the bottom of a freshwater, spring-fed lake? Would be really grateful for any pointers. Thanks.
Olivia
Based on the context of the forum I assume it is for a police novel and not for committing a crime or hiding a body.

I have a relatively great biological knowledge, but I don't know about the preservation of bodies. I think bones cannot be preserved that much underwater, especially bones so young that they have low bone mineral density. In any case, check the scientific literature on the subject because there are some evidence of ancient preservation.

You can see this paper:
Sci-Hub | On the problem of the preservation of human bone in sea-water. Journal of Human Evolution, 7(5), 409–420 | 10.1016/S0047-2484(78)80091-8
(maybe it won't work because it's on sea water)

The paper discusses some finds of skulls on ships during the 1700s.

Search in google academic or another source of academic papers, if you want a paper and you do not have access to it you can send me a PM and I will surely get you the paper.
Thank you so much for your response. Sorry it's taken so long to respond.
Is this a question for a crime novel? I don't mean to be mean, I just think it would be good to clarify a bit.
Yes, it's a crime novel. Thanks.
Bogs have preserved young bones, but that's because of the PH in peat I believe. Kennewick Man was 9000 years old and was found on the bank of the Columbia river. Then there is the Melbourne Bone Bed, a creekbed in Florida with bones of animals up to 20,000 years old. Last year, bones were found in a creek bed in San Jose, and speculation was that they were the bones of a missing 15-year-old who had been missing for a decade. It turned out they were not, but the speculation suggests young bones would remain relatively in tact.

So there's that.

EDIT: In tact bones of a large group were found in a thawing river in the Himalayas. Probably human sacrifices. In a freshwater sinkhole in Mexico there was a similar find at the site of an ancient capsized boat. So temperature may or may not play a part. It is probably going to depend more on the presence of bacteria and enzymes as well as the kinds and variety of feeding fish.
Thanks so much for your response. I'm going with the body having been well sealed in oilskin and the PH of the water meaning it wasn't acidic. Sorry it took me so long to respond but I'm new to kboards and had completely forgotten I'd put up this question.
Ha, okay. I mean, I assume this is for a book, so for a book, here are a few things to consider about general chemical solubility:

Solvent and substrate- Mineral bone is largely calcium phosphate which is a polar (but not highly polar) substrate, and water is a polar solvent. Given time, the water will break down the substrate, but the speed of that happening can be drastically altered based on conditions.

Surface area- Smaller bones will have a higher surface area to volume ratio and will break down faster in a solvent. Similarly, the finer the material is broken into before it goes into the solvent, the faster it will break down.

Organic material- Nonpolar organic material can be on and in bone. This is fats, tissues, and things like that. Scavengers in the system will usually eat these things, but in a closed system without scavengers, the organic material can block the water interacting directly with the mineral bone. Many man-made or smaller natural water systems don't have a lot of species diversity so the presence/absence of scavengers can be variable. But remember that most scavengers will not eat mineral bone because it has a very low carbohydrate content.

Energetic inputs- Average temp, pressure, enzymatic activity, depth (presence or absence of sunlight), can all affect solubility rates. You can think of it as all energy. Adding energy to your system will decrease the time needed to chemically break down a substrate in a solvent.

Moving vs stagnant water- The longer the water can just sit on the substrate, the faster it will react.

pH- The relative acidity of the solvent can alter how it behaves. Water with an acidic pH will have a lot of free ions in it, and the polar water molecules will react with free ions before they react with calcium phosphate. By occupying the polar ends of the water molecules, the acidity of the water can preserve bone. But good preservation would only happen in highly acidic conditions.

Uggh, I'm going back in time to O-chem here a bit, so bear with me if I missed anything. There are probably more factors, but those are the big ones at least. Organic activity really is the most critical part. Bone can be composted in a controlled system, so organic activity alone can degrade the substrate in a short amount of time.

I think what I'm trying to say is that in a story, you could really write this any way you wanted to, and be able to justify it. jdcore had some great examples of old finds, and these things happen just because there are so many variables that can have a drastic affect. Under ideal conditions to preserve, they would look almost perfectly preserved. Under ideal conditions to solubilize, it could look much different.

The classic example of solubility is water temp when you are washing dishes. If you use soap and hot water, the grease is solubilized quickly. If you use soap and cold water, but you leave the dishes to soak, the results are the same. You are substituting heat (energy) for time. The grease will break down in soap and water, because soap and water acts as a non-polar solvent, but the time it takes depends on temp.
Thanks so much for this. I love what you say about how I could really write this in any way I want to - I'm going with the body having been well sealed in oilskin and the PH level being non acidic. I'm sure if the novel ever sees the light of day someone will correct me. Thank again and sorry for the length of time it's taken me to respond.
 

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Hey, glad that your story is going ahead! Having a hydophobic cover will deficiently help to keep things from decomposing. I think you can make a case for it being preserved, and really, who is going to know for sure? There are probably a handful of people in the world who would actually know for a fact what would happen. And, in my experience at least, experts in things are usually really nice and they understand that not everyone will know everything. Anyone who complains aggressively has just watched too many crime shows, and there's going to be no way to please them. Honestly, if I was writing it, I'd purposely leave some details out and then if someone complains, say, what, I never stated the exact conditions. Might be kind of a jerk move, but sometimes I'll take jerk moves that make life easier.
 

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You may find the story of Roopkund Skeleton Lake interesting. It's a lake in the Himalayas with hundreds of skeletons in it, some of which are thought to be up to 1,000 years old. No one really knows how the skeletons got there or who the people were. There are plenty of articles online about it, just Google.
 
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