Tuesday 19 November 2019

The king in the car park – DNA tests confirm body is Richard III

Nick Britten and Andrew Hough

IT IS being called one of the most significant finds in British archaeological history, shedding new light on a king's last resting place and solving a 500-year-old mystery over his death.

A skeleton found in a Leicester car park was confirmed by DNA tests to be the missing remains of Richard III.

It also emerged yesterday that a 19th-Century plumber built a lavatory above the burial site and the shallow grave came close to being destroyed – but the foundations missed by inches.

A skeleton believed to be that of the king, who died in the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, was uncovered last September in the remains of Grey Friars Church in Leicester. A council car park had been built over the site.

The identity was confirmed after DNA tests showed a direct match to two distant relations of Richard III, while studies of the skeleton found 10 battle-related injuries and also his reported curved spine.

Together with historical texts, which said he had been laid to rest in the church and described the skeleton's height and age at death, which matched, Leicester University said it was beyond any reasonable doubt that the skeleton was that of the last English monarch to die in battle.

Dr Richard Buckley, a co-director of archaeologists at Leicester University, said it was an honour and privilege to work on a project that aroused such "phenomenal" global interest.

"Rarely have the conclusions of academic research been so eagerly awaited," he said.

But he added they had been lucky to find the skeleton intact as building works and the excavation itself could have destroyed it.

"The remains were very vulnerable because they were only under relatively modern debris," said Mr Buckley.

"There was trauma to the skull, which we believe was caused years after death. A 19th-Century brick outhouse came very close to destroying the grave altogether.

"The feet were missing, almost certainly as a result of later disturbances," he added.

'Astonishing'

David Monteith, Canon Chancellor at Leicester Cathedral, said the remains would be reinterred early next year in a Christian-led but ecumenical service at the cathedral.

Richard Taylor, the deputy registrar at Leicester University, said the confirmation of the find was "truly astonishing".

"Today we bear witness to history and peer 500 years into medieval times, and literally reach into a grave," he said.

Experts pointed to a "wealth of evidence" to support the claims, including radiocarbon dating, radiological evidence, DNA and bone analysis and archaeological results.

These show that the individual was likely to have been killed by one of two blows to the skull, one from a sword and one from a halberd, a type of axe. One blow sliced off part of his skull.

He was also stabbed through the buttock, probably as an act of humiliation as his body was strapped naked to a horse and carried from the battlefield. Other injuries to his body were also thought to have been made by his enemies after he died.

Tests revealed that he died in the late 15th or early 16th Century, consistent with Richard III's death.

Historical descriptions of Richard III as a hunchback were supported by tests, which said that although he was 5ft 8in, he would have stood "significantly shorter".

Opinion is divided over Richard's character. Some say he was a misunderstood man who ushered in new freedoms, others that he was a murderer who killed his two nephews in the Tower. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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