Forensic archaeologist discusses likelihood of zombies

Zombies have been revived and reinvented in popular culture over the last several years. Television shows like "The Walking Dead" and films like "28 Days Later" and "Zombieland" have created many new zombie enthusiasts.

Actual human zombies are very unlikely though, said Kimberlee Moran, a part-time lecturer in the Department of Sociology, Anthropology and Criminal Justice at Rutgers-Camden.

“If you really look at the science of death and decomposition, there is just absolutely no way that zombies could ever exist in the traditional idea of dead people walking around,” she said.

After death, rigor mortis causes the corpse to stiffen within a couple hours, which disputes the idea of zombies chasing after their victims, Moran said.

She also said that decomposition is observable within 36 hours of death because bacteria in the body’s gut quickly digest the internal organs and soft tissues. Zombies would have to overcome both rigor mortis and the pain of decaying body parts in order to hunt someone down.

“One of the first things to go are the eyes, so the dead body would not be able to see anything,” she said. “It pretty much makes the whole 'walking dead' idea a complete myth.”

Zombies are known for their obsession with killing and eating their victims. Moran said this suggests that they have some basic functioning of the most primitive parts of the brain, so while core functions like eating are still present, higher functions like emotions are absent.

“The definition of being dead is that there is no more electrical activity in the brain, but everything is interconnected,” she said. “(The brain) is not going to shut down to a point where you can still move but you can’t think or feel.”

Moran said that modern portrayals of zombies may be more feasible. The film "28 Days Later" revolves around a virus that causes zombie traits. 

In this film, living bodies become zombies as opposed to the traditional idea that zombies are people who come back from the dead.

Although this alternative depiction of zombies dodges the problems of decomposition presented earlier, it is not free from drawbacks, Moran said.

“Because people are infected (in '28 Days Later'), they are vomiting blood and not sleeping," she said. 

The zombies in the movie are also not eating or drinking, and would likely die from a combination of dehydration and exhaustion before they could infect a lot of other people, she said.

"We can all sleep soundly tonight knowing that there are no zombies that are going to be out there," she said. 

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