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A Czech case study has found a rare instance of post-mortem hyperthermia – a corpse heating up spontaneously after death. According to the study published in the American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology, a 69-year-old man passed away under medical care due to heart disease. When nurses attempted to move the corpse, they discovered it was warm to the touch. After taking the corpse’s temperature, it was confirmed that the body had risen to 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius) in just ninety minutes following death. The attending nurses reportedly feared the body might spontaneously combust and took measures to cool it down with ice.

The authors claim that even though many other cases of postmortem hyperthermia have been observed in the past, it is still unknown what might cause the phenomenon:

Postmortem increase in body core temperature is a well-known phenomenon in forensic practice. Despite this, cases of reliably documented postmortem hyperthermia are rarely reported in the forensic literature, and it is still not clear how frequently postmortem hyperthermia occurs and in which cases we may it predict.

This latest article claims that the cause is likely continued bacterial metabolism – bacteria having a field day eating and pooping throughout the recently-deceased meat sac that was once a living human being. Another cause might be decreased circulation, allowing heat in the muscles and organs to remain there rather than being circulated and diffused throughout the body. A definitive cause remains a mystery, however.

These cases of postmortem hyperthermia can complicate estimations of time of death, possibly skewing investigations of wrongful death. However, if a definitively cause for this unexplained heating of corpses can be found, forensic researchers might be able to compensate their calculations.

This case study is adding to a growing body of evidence that suggests the firm line we imagine between life and death might not be as firm as we think. If the human “soul” or consciousness is in fact merely a state of quantum entanglement, perhaps death is merely a shift to another quantum state or dimension. Of course, it is also likely that we just cease metabolic processes and rot in the ground. Unfortunately, death and any possible ‘afterlife’ will remain mysteries as long as death remains a barrier modern science cannot yet cross.