Scientists say that the inside of the nose could help pinpoint the time of death, especially if it was within the previous 24 hours.
Tiny finger-like projections lining the nose called cilia continue to beat after death, even though it slows down gradually at a predictable rate.
Accurately estimating the time of death has been a challenge for forensic teams as indicators of body temperature or decomposition rate can be confounded by a number of factors including temperature, and whether the person was involved in a struggle, say, shortly before death.
Cilia, however, seems relatively immune to environmental factors, researchers say.
Biagio Solarino of the University of Bari in Italy and his colleagues suspected that cilia continue to beat after death.
So they took a scraping of the inside of the nose from 100 cadavers to examine the cilia.
They observed motility in cilia as long as 20 hours after death, reports New Scientist.
The study will be presented at the International Symposium on Advances in Legal Medicine in Frankfurt, Germany.