Tim managed to create a time machine in secret. Foolishly, he used it on himself, like all good (movie) scientists do and traveled back in time. He thought he configured the machine to five minutes, but he instead accidentally sent himself back to medieval times, where he was promptly killed for witch craft.

Many years later, archaeologists/scientists are baffled to find a corpse from seemingly medieval times wearing modern clothing and gadgets.

Conspiracy theorists are already shouting "time traveler!", but the scientists try to come up with a more reasonable explanation, as they know time travel isn't possible, obviously. They're trying to think of ways of how a modern human could've suffered decay that made him seem like he came from medieval times.

What would the scientists come up with? Or would they realize the human remains actually were from a time traveler?

Bonus question: they find a smartphone on the corpse, but it's the 90s and smartphones weren't invented yet. Over the years, would it suffer enough decay to make it unrecognizable?

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    $\begingroup$ What Tim wearing during his travelling? Is his TARD... time machine close by? $\endgroup$ Sep 21, 2018 at 8:40
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    $\begingroup$ I fear that there won't be a corpse! If he was lynched by the mob because of witchcraft, they will most likely have burned the corpse. Furthermore, you need quite special circumstances to preserve a body so that even clothes are not completely rotten off. $\endgroup$
    – DarthDonut
    Sep 21, 2018 at 8:46
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    $\begingroup$ From the information given, "scientists" would not draw any conclusions. Please explain where (geographically) and when he died, what kind of clothing exactly, the condition of the body and clothes (I mean have you seen artifacts from the middle ages? That stuff is for the most part not in a good condition), how he was burried and so on. From the information you have provided, there is absolutely no chance to give a meaningful answer. It isn't really in the nature of science to create a story, but I guess you mean "what would a newspaper write that scientists had come up with" $\endgroup$
    – Raditz_35
    Sep 21, 2018 at 8:59
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    $\begingroup$ This is the plot in Timeline by Michael Crichton: they find modern eyeglasses in a place closed since the 14th century (left by a time traveler). And the first idea by the experts is "Contamination". Someone has dropped them in a recent past. And they are very angry about it because it can invalidate anything else they find. $\endgroup$ Sep 21, 2018 at 9:44
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    $\begingroup$ @Raditz_35 Based on your input from your first comment, this question suffers from a lack of "enough detail to identify an adequate answer" (too broad). It could also be argued to be about what the characters come up with (too story-based). The latter depends on what the characters' field of study is (expert bias). $\endgroup$
    – Frostfyre
    Sep 21, 2018 at 13:59

5 Answers 5


Those found guilty of witchcraft were often sentenced to be burnt, or having in any case their corpse destroyed.

Since there was the belief that a corpse had to be preserved for the day when the dead would rise again, destroying the body added a further punishment, ensuring the guilty person could not participate in the end of the days.

Same goes with any item Tim might have carried along with him: a metal bracelet moving on its own? A flat stone emitting light and sound when god made stones silent and dark? All destroyed, for the major glory of the lord.

Not even a proper burial would grant that something would remain for present archeologist to find.

Being killed in an open environment by brigands or thieves would likely result in no lasting remains, too.

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    $\begingroup$ I know the flat stone is a smartphone, but what is the bracelet? $\endgroup$ Sep 21, 2018 at 9:28
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexandervonWernherr Probably his wristwatch $\endgroup$
    – Elmy
    Sep 21, 2018 at 9:39
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexandervonWernherr, as Elmy said.. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Sep 21, 2018 at 9:40
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    $\begingroup$ Okay, but 'Moving on it's own' is confusing me. Thanks $\endgroup$ Sep 21, 2018 at 9:43
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexandervonWernherr: the movement of the hands is what I assume is being referred to there. $\endgroup$
    – Joe Bloggs
    Sep 21, 2018 at 10:22

If they do a throughout check of the body, they will find undeniable evidence that this poor guy is indeed a modern body. Fillings in cavities come to mind, analysis of the teeth and bones will bring up taken medicine, diet and life style, some of which was not existent in the middle ages.
But how to explain a modern body in a medieval soil layer? How to explain the state of the body?
If our poor time traveler went to, let's say, the 12th century, then his body would be made of... bones. And nothing else. Flesh, skin and other tissues would have rotten away, or destroyed by carrion eaters.
Most likely they will asume that they found a missing person or murder victim that somehow ended up in that soil layer, and was there for a few month or years, nothing special. They will find a way to explain why the soil layer was nearly or not at all disturbed (as would have happened if someone dug a shallow grave).

But honestly... It is debatable if the skeleton would ever be found, because there are a myriad ways how a body is completely destroyed, and only a few very special ways how it is preserved.

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    $\begingroup$ You have some valid points, however please be aware that you have to assume a lot and mainly ask questions. This is just a friendly hint: Very often, the OP will later edit the question and clarify some of the things you have pointed out, potentially making your efforts wasted. It is best to ask for clarification first if you are unsure and see multiple ways to go. I know that Dutch did the same thing, but he doesn't seem to mind. He answers quickly anyhow, since you don't have the 64k rep yet also, I thought I'd point that out to you $\endgroup$
    – Raditz_35
    Sep 21, 2018 at 9:07

Your scientists could not only get an accurate date of your timetraveler's birth, but they may even be able to determine how much time he has spent outside of his 'birth time'.

Check out Bomb pulse dating. We live in a wonderful time where it is really hard for someone to lie about their age. Basically, by measuring amounts of Carbon 14 in human tissue, we can get an accurate time range of when that tissue was formed. Since your time traveler appears to be alive in 'current' times (smart phone era), this effect could certainly be in effect (however, in the future, ~2050, this technique may not be feasible anymore).

Also, by seeing that some tissue (say a fractured bone which happened when our traveler was in the past, or things like hair/nails) does not contain any elevated amounts of 14C, the scientists would also be able to tell that newer tissue was formed outside of the influences of our current time. This may not be a nail in the coffin that he was absolutely a time traveler, but it would certainly be a burning question raising lots of more questions.

As for your question about the smart phone, the best I can say is 'it depends'. The plastics would be in the range where decomposition is possible. If it is a magnesium case, then possibly game over. Also, if the body is well preserved and undisturbed, and different types of scans can be made of the area the undisturbed smart phone is, then circuity (especially anything with gold) could possibly still be in place. There aren't many naturally occurring phenomena which resemble the metalization of modern circuity.

Another link concerning bomb pulse forensics.

  • $\begingroup$ +1 for stating the obvious problem. I was preparing to write a comment asking whether the querent wishes us to disregard the effects of the massive modification in the concentration of radioisotopes in the second half of the 20th century. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Sep 21, 2018 at 10:19
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    $\begingroup$ I wouldn't discard so easily the overwhelming power of "it can't be true so it's false". If you present the scientific community a real alien corpse they all will agree it is false, since... well, since it must be false. Radiocarbon forensics are irrelevant, since no serious scientist is going to lose a single minute of their time performing an expensive radiocarbon datation on such obvious forgery. Even if you managed to get the body analyzed, the results would show that the man died less than two centuries ago (because of having too much C14 in it), so they would be even more convinced. $\endgroup$
    – Rekesoft
    Sep 21, 2018 at 12:29
  • $\begingroup$ C14 is acurate based on certain criteria. There are lots of examples where C14 wasn't acurate because of the method measuring or the sample, meaning there is margin for interpretation. Finding a dead body in the woods or in a burial site is probably not the right circumstances for acurate C14 dating. $\endgroup$
    – Mixxiphoid
    Sep 21, 2018 at 14:30
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    $\begingroup$ his C14 would be at the same level as anybody else who died around that time. They'd probably be a few half-times off from the actual date of death because of the extra C14 content, but it wouldn't look modern to them. $\endgroup$
    – Gloweye
    Sep 21, 2018 at 14:57

I am a scientist, but not a forensic scientist. First, if the body was just "left in a field", you'd probably have no body; bugs and wild animals would eat it all, often even the bones, and the bones would likely be scattered.

But presuming anything survived, chances are the modern origin would prove to the scientists the body was modern. Period. Anything else about how it was found would be dismissed as a hoax, or a misunderstanding of whomever found it.

We wouldn't embrace the idea of time travel, the best you can hope for is that we scientists are perfectly comfortable saying "We don't know." Only laymen insist upon an explanation for everything, no matter how outlandish. We will say "we don't know" how a modern body ended up in a medieval archaeological dig, and we will not embrace any "magical" solution (like time travel). Ever.

It just happened by some normal method, or fraud, or a misunderstanding or a failure of some sort, and like many unsolved murders we don't know, and the evidence (soil and site, not bones) has been destroyed so we will never know. That's okay with us, "I don't know" is the only honest answer.

The reasoning behind that is Magic can explain anything, so embracing it puts an end to real inquiry, real science, and real explanations. Just blame everything on Magic, or God, or Time Travel and you're done. If we don't reject magical solutions, or if we consider everything possible no matter how many contradictions or paradoxes it might produce, then serious science and discovery cannot happen. I admit not every scientist is on this boat, but the vast majority of us are. We will regard your time-traveling body a trick of humans, or a trick of nature, but not as actual time travel.


When a body is found the police are informed. It's clearly a modern body even if it's in an apparently historic hole in an advanced state of decay, for that matter a body that has clearly died a violent death.

You're now looking at a murder investigation that will go unsolved. Time travel will not be considered by the scientists or authorities, because time travel isn't possible.

The conspiracy nuts can say what they like, they usually do, but nobody will take them seriously. At least until time travel is publicly invented, at which point the slightly strange cold case may be reopened but will more likely have been long forgotten.

  • $\begingroup$ The medieval era is far enough back to do reliable C14-dating as it will be a skeleton only... $\endgroup$
    – Fabby
    Sep 21, 2018 at 11:40
  • $\begingroup$ @Fabby, it's a modern skeleton so you can't do C14 dating, it's already corrupted by the nuclear test background. $\endgroup$
    – Separatrix
    Sep 21, 2018 at 11:44
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    $\begingroup$ The c14 cycle ends with the death of the subject, and normal radioactive decay will ensure that it dates to within a few years of the actual death. However, police will be called and dental records will tie the body to the missing mad scientist. Only if the body is found before the scientist goes missing would anyone consider carbon dating it. $\endgroup$
    – pojo-guy
    Sep 22, 2018 at 5:38

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