Bones unearthed in England may belong to King Richard III
Published Wednesday, September 12, 2012 10:10AM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, September 12, 2012 12:17PM EDT
Archaeologists searching for the long-lost grave of King Richard III announced Wednesday they have found bones that could very well be his.
A team from the University of Leicester said the man’s bones they uncovered are a "prime candidate" to belong to one of England’s most reviled monarchs.
"We are not saying today that we have found King Richard III," Richard Taylor, the university's director of corporate affairs, told a news conference.
However, "this skeleton certainly has characteristics that warrant extensive, further detailed examination,” he said.
Richard Buckley, who led the excavation, said: "The skeleton is a very strong candidate indeed, but it's going to take 12 weeks for the DNA analysis to come through."
The remains, which are in good condition, are now being examined in a lab and it’s hoped that enough DNA can be recovered to help with identification.
If so, they will compare the DNA with that of a 55-year-old furniture-maker named Michael Ibsen, who is a direct descendant of Richard's eldest sister, Anne of York.
The bones were unearthed beneath the site of a long-demolished Grey Friars church in Leicester, central England. That’s where historical accounts say Richard was buried following his death in the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485.
“The skeleton was buried in a grave without a coffin," said Buckley. "It was probably a shrouded burial -- just buried in a shroud -- with no grave goods."
With the help of the Richard III Society, the university’s archaeologists received permission to exhume the area, which is now a parking lot. They used both current and ancient maps to narrow in on a site, then employed ground penetrating radar to find the best places to start digging.
They started digging last month and within a week, they hit upon thick walls and the remains of tiled floors. Shortly after, they found the collection of bones.
Richard III may be best known as the hunchbacked villain in William Shakespeare’s play who kills his two nephews so he can ascend the throne. Official royal history disputes that account, though. The royals’ website says only that the young princes "disappeared" while under Richard's protection.
The Leicester team said the skeleton is not that of a hunchback, but it does show signs of a curved spine.
"We believe that the individual would have had severe scoliosis, which is a form of spinal curvature. This would have made his right shoulder appear visibly higher than his left shoulder," said Taylor.
The skeleton also showed signs of trauma to the skull shortly before death, perhaps from a bladed instrument. And a barbed metal arrowhead was found between vertebrae of the upper back.
Legend says archers were used in both sides of the bloody, day-long battle and that the king was killed by an axe blow to the head
Archaeologist Mathew Morris told the press conference they found the bones in one end of a 30 metre-long trench.
"We cleaned all the other parts first but - because it is one of the fiddliest parts - we left the spine to last moment,” he said.
"So it was right after we had the rest of him uncovered, and [the spine] was really obviously curved and we looked at each other and said 'Wow, this is a really good candidate'… And when we lifted the spine, we found [an] arrowhead!"
He said as he drove home that night, it began to sink in that they may have found exactly what they were looking for.
"As an archaeologist people always ask what the best thing you have ever found is. I used to have to think about that. Not anymore."