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How do animal bones decompose? © Getty Images

How do animal bones decompose?

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Bones do decay, just at a slower rate than other organic material. Depending on the conditions, this process usually takes a few years.

Asked by: Ned Ludgate, by email


Bones are largely a fibrous matrix of collagen fibres, impregnated with calcium phosphate. In warm, damp environments, bacteria and fungi will attack the collagen protein and the skeleton will crumble over the course of a few years.

Calcium phosphate isn’t attacked by micro-organisms, but it reacts readily with acid, so bones decompose fastest in well aerated, peaty soils.

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