Reader Janine C. recently asked, “How long can a zombie survive?” Answering this question is at the core of the Zombie Research Society’s mission, and far too complex for a single blog update. So we’ll try to divide the relevant issues into several posts.
To start, it’s important to understand that by human physiological standards, zombies are dead. They have no heartbeat, their blood is cold, and their tissue is in a state of decay. So it stands to reason that by looking at the specifics of human decomposition, we can come closer to the truth about the Zombie lifespan (or deathspan, as it were).
The human corpse goes through several distinct stages of decay: fresh, bloat, putrefaction, etc. In her 2004 New York Times Bestseller, STIFF, Mary Roach clearly breaks down this progression, offering important information about each stage, particularly the first:
“The hallmark of fresh-stage decay is a process called autolysis, or self-digestion.”
Roach goes on to explain that all of the body’s internal organs liquefy in the fresh stage, including the brain.
In fact, because the brain is so soft, and so close to hungry bacteria in the mouth, it is one of the first organs to go. By the second stage of decomposition, bloat, the brain has already been turned into a worthless puddle of goo, unable to keep from leaking out of the nasal cavity, much less control the actions of a bloodthirsty zombie.
Therefore, it seems likely that a zombie’s lifespan lasts as long as the fresh stage of decomposition, and not one moment longer. We have only to discover the length of fresh stage decay in zombies, to know when their deathspan is over.