Canadian's DNA sought to prove human remains belong to King Richard III
Published Thursday, September 13, 2012 8:34AM EDT
Scientists will use a Canadian man’s DNA to determine whether recently found human remains belong to King Richard III.
Michael Ibsen, a 55-year-old furniture maker originally from London, Ont., has been asked to provide DNA to investigators in London, England, who believe they have identified the infamous king’s long-lost resting place.
Archeologists unearthed the burial site, located in a parking lot that was once the site of a Grey Friars church in Leicester, in the centre of the city.
It is believed that Ibsen is the 17th great-grandnephew of the former king, and as such his DNA should be a match to genetic material that forensic scientists hope to extract from the remains – if indeed they belong to Richard III.
“I spent most of yesterday on my phone talking to journalists and TV people, which was a pleasure to do. It’s really quite an event and it’s a privilege to be a small part of it,” Ibsen told CTV’s Canada AM on Thursday from London, England, where he now lives.
Ibsen said his mother, the late Joy Ibsen, got a call from a historian in 2005, informing her that she was a distant cousin of Richard III –--one of Britain’s most reviled monarchs and the subject of Shakespeare’s famously unflattering work named after the king.
“It was somewhat bizarre. My mom was somewhat skeptical, having been a journalist by trade, but as it turned out it was indeed the case,” Ibsen said.
Richard III was believed to have been killed in the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485, and his final resting place has long been a mystery.
But archeologists from the University of Leicester, with the help of the Richard III Society, received permission to excavate a portion of the parking lot.
They used both current and ancient maps to narrow in on a site, then used 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. Because the remains fit historical accounts that Richard III had a stunted stature, and that he died in battle, archeologists felt positive about the discovery.
“It matches up with contemporary descriptions of Richard the third as being a crook back and having one shoulder higher than the other, so it’s very good circumstantial evidence,” said Dr. Jo Appleby, who is taking part in the project.
The skeleton found by researchers has a cleft skull, and an arrow head lodged in its spine – consistent with historical accounts of how the king died.
Ibsen said he has provided a DNA sample for testing, and the results are expected to take up to 12 months to return.
In another surprising Canadian connection, the DNA analysis is being led by a geneticist from Vancouver. Dr. Turi King said it is possible to extract DNA from a more than 500-year-old corpse, and she hopes to obtain a clean sample that can be compared to Ibsen’s genetic makeup.
“It can be done. I’m cautious at the moment because I don’t know what’s in there but it certainly can be done if we can get good quality DNA out,” she told CTV News from London.