DNA tests prove skeleton found in Leicestershire car park really is King Richard III
528-year mystery of what happened to the body of the last Plantagenet King has been solved
Steve Connor is the Science Editor of The Independent and i. He has won many awards for his journalism, including five-times winner of the prestigious British science writers’ award; the David Perlman Award of the American Geophysical Union; four times highly commended as specialist journalist of the year in the UK Press Awards; UK health journalist of the year and a special merit award of the European School of Oncology for his investigations into the tobacco industry. He has a degree in zoology from the University of Oxford and has a special interest in genetics and medical science, human evolution and origins, climate change and the environment.
Monday 04 February 2013
A skeleton found last year under a council car park in Leicester has been shown “beyond reasonable doubt” to be that of King Richard III who died in the battle of Bosworth Field in 1485, experts have concluded.
A detailed forensic examination of the skull and bones, including DNA tests, has solved the 528-year mystery of what happened to the body of the last Plantagenet King, claimed the University of Leicester, which funded the archaeological dig.
Radiocarbon dating has placed the age of skeleton within the time frame of Richard’s death, and the skull and bones bear the brutal hallmarks of being cut down on a medieval battlefield.
The man also suffered severe spinal curvature, which would have made his right shoulder higher than the left. This is consisted with the Shakesperian notion that Richard, the “hunchbacked king”, had a deformed stature - but there were no signs of the fabled withered arm.
Scientists said that the age of the man at death was between 30 and 33, which is consistent with the age of the 32-year-old king. He also had a slender, almost feminine physique, which matches historical descriptions of Richard.
Crucially, DNA extracted from the teeth and bone match the two living maternal relatives of Richard who genealogy has been confirmed, university scientists said. The chance of this being a random match are only “a few per cent”, they added.
“It is the academic conclusion of The University of Leicester that the individual exhumed at Greyfriars in August 2012 is indeed King Richard III the last Plantagenet King of England,” said Richard Buckley, the lead archaeologist on the four-year project.
The genetic study used maternally-inherited mitochondrial DNA extracted from two living relatives, a London-based carpenter called Michael Ibsen and an unidentified person who has also been traced through 16 generations of genealogical records to Richard’s elder sister, Anne of York.
“We were very excited to find that there is a DNA match between the maternal DNA from the family of Richard III and the skeletal remains we found at the Greyfriars dig,” said Turi King, who carried out the DNA analysis.
“The DNA evidence points to these being the remains of Richard III...The type of DNA we extracted is extremely rare, shared by only a few per cent of the population. Taken together with the other evidence, it is a very strong and compelling case,” Dr King said.
The announcement today at a packed press conference was the remarkable culmination of a quest that began more than four years ago when enthusiastic amateurs suggested that Richard may be buried under the car park of Leicester’s department of social services.
“Everyone thought I was mad. It’s not the easiest pitch in the world to look for a king under a council car park...I’d like to thank Leicester City Council for allowing us to dig up their car park,” said Philippa Langley, a screenwriter and member of the Richard III Society.
The skeleton was found in a grave dug under the choir of Grey Friars church, which stood on the site until the monstery was dissolved in the 16th Century. The man was buried with crossed wrists, suggesting he had been bound, and was slumped in a hole that was slightly too small for the 5ft 8in tall man, said Dr Buckley.
Radiocarbon dating showed that the man lived between about 1455 and 1540, which is consistent with the 1485 battle at Bosworth, he said.
Jo Appleby, an osteologist at Leicester, said there were 10 separate sites of damage to the skeleton - 8 to the skull and 2 to the body - that occurred around the time of death. A large part of the base of the skull had been sliced off by a sharp blade, possibly a sword, and another part of the head had suffered a severe puncture wound, possibly by a halberd. Either of these wounds would have been fatal.
There were other, non-fatal injuries to the cranium and the face that could have been caused by knives or daggers, Dr Appleby said. Other marks to the bones, especially the ribs and pelvis, suggest the body was further damaged once armour had been removed - which is consistent with Richard’s body being stripped and humiliated.
“Examples of such ‘humiliation injuries’ are well known from the historical and forensic literature, and historical sources have suggested that Richard’s body was mistreated after the battle,” Dr Appleby said.
The damage to the pelvis may have been caused by a blade being thrust into the right buttock of Richard’s body, possibly when it was slumped over the back of a pack horse when carried from Bosworth to Leicester, she said.
Richard III will now be buried in nearby Leicester Cathedral.
In his bones: evidence from the grave
Richard III: Died at age of 32
Sketeton: Estimated to have died between age of 30 and 33
Richard III: Died in 1485
Sketeton: Radiocarbon dating estimates death between 1450 and 1540
Richard III: Historical records say he is buried in choir of Gray Friars
Sketeton: Found in choir of same monastery
Richard III: Said to have twisted or deformed physique
Sketeton: Suffered severe spinal curvature which began in adolesence
Richard III: Slain in battle
Sketeton: Shows damage by sharp blades (swords or daggers)
Richard III: Supposed to be related through maternal line to two living descendents
Sketeton: Maternal DNA of all three show perfect match
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