Decapitation Irregularities or How I Stop Worrying and Laughed My Head Off

Discussion in 'The Powder Keg' started by blueice, Aug 29, 2010.

  1. **** Interesting • Lucid Decapitation

    Lucid Decapitation

    Written by Alan Bellows on 09 July 2008
    On 08 April 2006, we published this article. Due to some kind of violation of the space-time continuum, it has appeared again on our front page instead of the shiny new article we had hoped for. Imagine our surprise!


    For thousands of years, the forceful removal of the human head has been used as a form of capital punishment. In fact, the word “capital” in the context of punishment was coined to describe execution by decapitation, derived from the Latin word caput, which means “head.” Since the very beginnings of the practice, there has been much speculation and debate regarding the length of time that the head can remain conscious after its removal. Many argue that a beheaded person will almost instantly lose consciousness due to a massive drop in blood pressure in the brain, and/or the heavy impact of the decapitation device. But there are countless eyewitness reports in history describing a few moments of apparent awareness in the victim.

    Beheading has been discontinued as a form of execution in much of the world due to the suspicion that a severed head remains conscious and able to experience pain, so there have been no recent scientific observations of human decapitation. However studies of decapitated animals has lent some credibility to the massive number of stories regarding a head’s brief consciousness after being separated from the body. Under certain circumstances, it is very possible that a head so removed may remain lucid long enough to know its fate.

    In many cases, the anecdotal evidence describes blinking eyes, wandering gaze, and moving lips on a freshly amputated head. As grotesque and troubling as these movements may be to the witnesses, such muscular spasms are not surprising under the circumstances. It is not uncommon for any separated limb to twitch briefly due to reflex nerve action. More difficult to attribute to nerve reflexes are the stories of specific facial expressions sometimes seen on the faces of the beheaded as they died. Some were said to change expressions several times in the last few moments, ranging from pain and confusion to grief and fear.
    In the heyday of the guillotine during the French Revolution, it is said that many of the condemned were asked to blink for as long as possible after decapitation. While many reportedly did not blink at all, some complied for as long as thirty seconds. Still other observations describe much more specific reactions to stimuli following beheading. Consider the case of Languille, a convicted murderer who was guillotined in France. He was observed by Dr. Beaurieux during his execution at 5:30am on June 28th, 1905. As written in Archives d’Anthropologie Criminelle, here are the doctor’s observations:

    Here, then, is what I was able to note immediately after the decapitation: the eyelids and lips of the guillotined man worked in irregularly rhythmic contractions for about five or six seconds … I waited for several seconds. The spasmodic movements ceased. The face relaxed, the lids half closed on the eyeballs, leaving only the white of the conjunctiva visible, exactly as in the dying whom we have occasion to see every day in the exercise of our profession, or as in those just dead.

    It was then that I called in a strong, sharp voice: ‘Languille!’ I saw the eyelids slowly lift up, without any spasmodic contractions … Next Languille’s eyes very definitely fixed themselves on mine and the pupils focused themselves … After several seconds, the eyelids closed again, slowly and evenly, and the head took on the same appearance as it had had before I called out.

    It was at that point that I called out again and, once more, without any spasm, slowly, the eyelids lifted and undeniably living eyes fixed themselves on mine with perhaps even more penetration than the first time. Then there was a further closing of the eyelids, but now less complete. I attempted the effect of a third call; there was no further movement and the eyes took on the glazed look which they have in the dead.

    I have just recounted to you with rigorous exactness what I was able to observe. The whole thing had lasted twenty-five to thirty seconds.

    In the book Crucibles: The Story of Chemistry, a story is related where the unnamed servant of chemist Antoine Lavoisier was beheaded by guillotine. According to the writer, Lavoisier immediately picked up the head and asked the servant to blink if he understood. Reportedly, the man blinked. There is also an oft-repeated anecdote involving Antoine Lavoisier’s own later experience on the guillotine in 1794. The story is dubious considering that it does not appear in any of his biographies, but reportedly he told his assistant that he would blink for as long as he was able after execution, and successfully did so for fifteen to twenty seconds.

    A more recent account tells of an accidental decapitation in an automobile. In 1989, a U.S. Army veteran who served in the Korean war was riding in a taxi with a friend when it collided with a truck. The witness was pinned to his seat, and the friend was decapitated by the collision:

    My friend’s head came to rest face up, and (from my angle) upside-down. As I watched, his mouth opened and closed no less than two times. The facial expressions he displayed were first of shock or confusion, followed by terror or grief. I cannot exaggerate and say that he was looking all around, but he did display ocular movement in that his eyes moved from me, to his body, and back to me. He had direct eye contact with me when his eyes took on a hazy, absent expression . . . and he was dead.


    Judith Beheading HolofernesNot all attempts to observe consciousness in decapitated heads has been successful. In 1836, a murderer named Lacenaire agreed to wink after execution, but he did not do so. Another murderer named Prunier in 1879 also failed to respond to stimuli. But it is likely that some individuals will lose consciousness immediately upon decapitation, while others might experience a few horrifying moments of lucidity as one’s head parts ways with the rest of one’s person. It is also very possible that most beheaded persons are too disoriented and/or distracted by pain and grief to trouble themselves with such trivial tasks.

    Can it be concluded that a separated head is capable of consciousness and awareness following the event? Not with any certainty. Further scientific observation of human decapitation is highly unlikely, so it is a question that may remain unanswered indefinitely. But there is much evidence to indicate that for some, death is not instantaneous, which probably offers a truly surreal experience for those few, brief moments. It goes without saying that there are no first-hand accounts to shed further light on the subject.
  2. Midas

    Midas Chief Troll B' Gone Forum Contributor

    Very interesting read, this is something that I had never thought about before.

  3. big shrek

    big shrek G&G Evangelist

    It strikes me that murderers do not care how long it takes their victims to die...
    and in some cases even work quite hard to make their victim suffer as much as possible...
    so we should not care how long a government execution takes, as long as it is within a
    reasonable time of less than 15 seconds from the Final Cut/Electric Chair Switch flip.
  4. AndrewA74

    AndrewA74 G&G Addict

    Very interesting and very disturbing.
  5. Ninja Piper

    Ninja Piper G&G Evangelist

    I'm wondering if this could be finally tested with the CT scanning technology we have today and finally be laid to rest. Obviously, this experiment could never actually take place for obvious reasons, but it would be interesting nonetheless.
  6. woody1981

    woody1981 Love Your Firearms! Forum Contributor

    Ummmm. Interesting to think about.
  7. Ninja Piper, the Mexican drug gangs maybe of some helf....

    I was always under the impression, that once the head was severed all functions ceased...I guessed wrong..
  8. grizcty

    grizcty God, Guns, Glory Forum Contributor

    Something to ponder.

    If David had only knocked out Goliath, with his sling.(instead of killing him)
    Just maybe, when he was beheaded.
    He SAW, the error of his ways!
  9. .22guy

    .22guy G&G Enthusiast

    Very morbid and interesting read!
  10. PAPA G

    PAPA G G&G Evangelist Forum Contributor

    ever see a chicken with its head cut off, running around until it bleeds out.
  11. Plumber

    Plumber G&G Addict

    In lower forms of life, this is normal. If you have ever killed a snapping turtle, by cutting it's head off, you know it will twitch for up to 24 hours.
    If you give a scallop a flick of your finger, it will twitch, for up to three days. That's the best way to tell if they're fresh.