In a long series of writings (e.g. manifesto, p. 468), Roberto Muehlenkamp (the only person currently attempting the technical feasibility of holocaust burial and cremation claims) has made rhetorical use of a 1969 paper by Bruce Ettling in order to support the idea of self-sustaining cremations.
Ettling describes two experimental burnings of ewes. Both of the ewes were quite large. During the 2001 UK FMD epidemic, sheep were assessed at an average weight of 50 kg, but the ewes Ettling used were 150 pounds (68.0 kg) and 170 pounds (77.1 kg). Body fat in sheep increases dramatically at higher body weights, as the following table shows. (The table is from a 1968 book, while Ettling’s paper was published in 1969, making it quite a good match in time, in case there were any concern that changes in the breeding of sheep might have altered in the relevant information.)
Both of the ewes used in the experiment were larger than the sheep which the above table addresses, so they would have had even higher levels of body fat. Although naturally there is a degree of uncertainty resulting from the fact that the ewe’s breed is not specified, the 170 pound ewe may well have had 30 kilograms of body fat. Muehlenkamp, however, thinks Polish Jews weighed an average of 34 kilograms, thus being highly emaciated.
(This data concerning the body fat levels of sheep at different weights, incidentally, gives an affirmative answer to a question which Muehlenkamp asked here, namely: “the carcass used in Ettling’s experiment (see the blog Friedrich Jansson changes the subject) was not obese either (or was it, Mr. Jansson?)”. Yes, Roberto, its weight suggests that it was obese, if the term can be applied to livestock. Certainly the available evidence indicates that it had a rather high percentage of body fat.)
Both of the ewes were placed inside cars, with the addition of 6 quarts (for the 150 pound ewe) and 11 quarts (for the 170 pound ewe) of gasoline. To these quantities one must add the fuel supplied by the car interiors (seats and the like – which are made of highly energetic substances). Nevertheless, the first ewe did not burn very well. Ettling estimated its post-fire weight as 120 pounds. The 170 pound ewe, on the other hand, supported an extended fire, and Ettling estimated its post-fire weight at 50 pounds. (Note that these figures are explicitly stated to be estimates – evidently Ettling did not bother to actually weigh the remains.)
A remnant weight of an estimated 50 pounds hardly supports Muehlenkamp’s idea that auto-combustion (after external ignition) can be used to completely dispose of carcasses. Rather, the experiment suggests that given a very fat carcass, it’s possible to create a fire that, fueled by the extensive fat, will consume the fat, evaporate some water, and incinerate a portion of the protein. This, however, is no surprise to anyone.
By the same line of reasoning that shows that Muehlenkamp thinks that pigs are self-cremating, we can see that Roberto should also believe that such a very fat ewe would be self-cremating. In spite of his use of significant additional fuel (11 quarts of gasoline plus a car’s interior combustibles), Ettling was left with an estimated 50 pounds of remains. Hardly a case of “erasing the evidence”. According to Muehlenkamp’s analysis, once it was ignited the ewe should have continued to burn until cremation was complete. Why didn’t it? Because Muehlenkamp’s analysis is pure nonsense.
In summary, Ettling’s study may help support Muehlenkamp’s misleading rhetoric, but it does nothing whatsoever to support his delusions about easy mass cremation. Muehlenkamp’s continued use of the study illustrates his fundamental lack of regard for the truth – and his fear of the actual literature concerning mass cremation.