We’ve already established the likelihood that zombies can’t survive past the first level of decomposition (see: Fresh Stage Decay & The Zombie Lifespan).  Inspired by a reader’s comments, the ZRS team recently looked at the  The Lost Colony of Roanoke to establish a potential outside limit to the longevity of the undead.

If the settlers on Roanoke Island were in fact overrun by a deadly Roanoke Zombie Decayzombie outbreak, then there are certain important date markers to note.  They landed at their new home on July 27, 1587, and exactly one month later the ships that delivered them sailed back to England.  Then, on August 18, 1590, the ships returned to bring supplies and support to the new colony, but they found not a single living soul.  ZRS Researcher, Lou Welker, continues:

“Even if the Roanoke zombie plague began just days after the ships sailed, the lack of human remains found upon return indicates that an outside estimate for the zombie lifespan would be two years.  It could obviously be much shorter, but two years is a probable max.”

The notion is that there must have been enough time for zombies to completely overrun the colony, leaving no one left alive, and then wander the island aimlessly until they slowly decayed back into the earth.  By the time the reinforcements arrived, there would rightly be nothing for them to discover.

Though the Roanoke lifespan theory relies heavily on hypotheticals, it may be the closest we have yet come to finally uncovering a concrete timeframe for the coming zombie threat.  As always, more research is required…


  1. Doesn’t the two year thing only work for the number of settlers, though? For that figure to be accurate on a global scale, wouldn’t we have to create a proportional number? Create a mathematical equation? Lessee… (maybe I’m overthinking this, but I’ve gotten this far, might as well finish it) The equation would be 2(Roanoke’s timeline) over R (Roanoke’s population, I couldn’t find a figure) would equal L (life/death span, which we’re supposed to be solving for) over 6,850,000,000 (current global population, rounded up). Or, 2/R=L/6,850,000,000. This is assuming everyone on the planet gets infected, but it will help us find a max timeline. I highly doubt the infection will only spread to the same number of people in an isolated way like it did with Roanoke, should it ever really happen.

    • I think it’s more the lifespan of an individual zombie we’re talking about. So it’s from the date of infection and reanimation for each person. That should be a fixed window of time no matter how many people you’re consider, at least in theory.

  2. take in to acount in modern america the appocalipse could last for decades due to people surviving andthen getting infected so zombie life span could be nomorethen a fewdays the appocolipse lenght ismade by population

  3. Wouldn’t modern day zombies survive longer though? I’m not sure how true it is, but i’ve heard that, because of all the preservatives in our diet, our bodies don’t decompose as fast as they did in the past. Wouldn’t zombies also be affected by this?

      • Actually it has been confirmed that human bodies no longer decay in the same manner that they once did Matt, and this is due to preservatives still occupying the body.

        • So then organic eating humans that become zombies will decompose faster. These healthy eaters are usually healthy in their lifestyle– exercise, etc– and will make “better” zombies. Ironically, the healthy will rot away fastest. Conversely, fatasses who eat too many Hostess cupcakes will be left the longest, and they will be slower and easier to exterminate.

  4. Katrina Russell

    It usually takes about 3 to 5 years for a non-living dead person to be fully decayed (depending on the area). Since zombies aren’t that different from the non-living dead(if we were talking about normal zombies, and not the super mutation type that we see in video games and movies today), their decaying process and life span are and should be the same.

  5. but you have to factor in all the other things such as; animals eating away at the corpses, the amount of rain and as someone else said, just climate in general.
    I think on an island like Roanoke Island there is high possibility that animals could have eaten the corpses. no?

  6. Since Roanoke is a barrier island there would be plenty of visual enticement from not so far off shores that might prompt a hungry zombie off of the island once the population had been demolished.
    What might have saved the east coast Indian population is the river silt beds that surround the island under water that could trap a zombie walking on the ocean/river floor. And even if they made it across a lot of the near by land is swampy and could further trap the walking dead.
    Buried in silt or mud they would eventually rot into nothingness leaving nothing for us to find.

  7. It still seems to me that if zombies overran the island there would have been skeletal remains lying around for people to find. If there was a zombie outbreak, it seems like it must have been a relatively small case that caused most of the inhabitants to flee the island (after which the zombies walked into the ocean in an attempt to follow?) otherwise there would be the skeletal remains of victims, decayed zombies, etc.

    • Good point, Caleb – But remember, the supply ship that returned did not make a full search of the island. They weren’t looking for skeletal remains – they were looking for living human beings. So when they searched the settlement and no people appears – and also no zombies – they then left. So there could have been some remains about, just no active zombies. At least that’s how the theory goes.

      • Plus any people that did survive and fled the island or the native themselves or even any animals might have buried/carried off the remains.

  8. Weather. What was the recorded weather patterns during that time? If we even have such things from that time period. During a two year period, the humidity in the air during spring/summer would help to break down the body more than during the autumn/winter months. Though the harsh weather conditions during winter would help to destroy the body.

    Ofcourse, we are also assuming that the natives didn’t decide to put an end to the zombies either, or that the zombies didn’t walk into the ocean.

  9. two yEars pEr ZombiE, and if a 1 & 1/2 yr “Z” gEts to bitE/scratch a Living souL thEn that mEans another 2 yrs for that nEw “Z” and so on & so forth……

  10. Dont forget that colder tempratures would slow the decomposition of the undead creature, so outbreaks in spring would likely make the threat much longer.

  11. two years if we can go that long

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Scroll To Top