King Richard Found
A skeleton found under a carpark in Leicester has been confirmed as that of King Richard III, one of history’s most notorious villains.
There was a skeleton found which had a curvature in the spine and a fractured skull with many wounds, probably from battle. This was found in the original location of the choir of the church where it was supposed King Richard lll was buried.
This find had involved a number of people; there was a small team of archaeologists who had unearthed the skeleton. They had found about four others which were of no interest- they were found to be too old to be King Richard.
They had found the remains of a female who possibly was the Friar’s benefactor. Amongst the female was another female who was a 13th century woman with the name of Ellen Luenor.
The odds of finding King Richard were very small. According to dig site manager Matthew Morris, “It felt like a one in a million chance. It just seemed so improbable we would find anything.”
The Greyfriars church is a huge plot, which had extended 13,000sq ft beneath buildings, walls, electrical cables, underground phone lines and gas pipes. (Greyfriars church was demolished during the Reformation in the 16th Century and over the following centuries its exact location was forgotten.)
A series of tests with ground-probing radar indicated the spots where Matthew and his team could not dig, which left just 17 per cent of the church building available to excavate.
Then from that, the archaeological team had chosen one per cent of the entire church grounds to excavate, due to limitations with their finances and time. This was surely improbable.
“By the time we picked our spot and started digging, we had narrowed the size of the entire friary to a spot which accounted for just 0.06 per cent of the total grounds,” said Matthew.
Mathew was right to take the risk because on the first morning, on the first day, he came across some human remains – a left leg. “I spotted a bone on the first morning of the dig – we would have found it in the first hour of excavating if it wasn’t for the camera crew – but we didn’t realise the importance of what we had found at first. “We didn’t know whether it was male and we hadn’t seen the trauma or the spine yet. Our priority was to find the church first and determine the layout, so we found the body too early – there was no context as to where in the church the remains had been buried.”
The team had used a fairly specific location proposed by Oadby historian David Baldwin, it was almost 30 years ago, and he predicted the site would be found “at the northern end of St Martins”.
Matthew and colleague Dr Jo Appleby – a lecturer in human bio-archaeology at the University of Leicester – began digging.
Although Matthew did have the honour of finding the skeleton, it was up to Dr Appleby to remove it from the earth. Because of the unceremonious way the body had been dumped in the grave, the head had shifted to the right and, unfortunately, took a knock from Dr Appleby’s blade.
“It was very compacted sediment so I needed the mattock,” she said. “I would never have used it if I’d known I was centimetres from a skull.” But at this point the team still had no idea as to the significance of their find.
“After the skull, I decided to work from the bottom up. It was only when I got to the vertebrae that I started to relax and I began to think ‘it’s probably not him’. The first four vertebrae I uncovered were buried where I expected and I uncovered them as normal. I uncovered more vertebrae which carried on to the side and I began to think ‘I think we’ve found him’.”
As Dr Appleby passed out the pieces of King Richard’s remains, Matthew carefully placed them into protective boxes, which would then be taken to the university.
A few more clues, such as battle wounds to the skull and the curving of the spine, had begun to get the team excited. But it was only August and it would be a long time before the identity of their skeleton was confirmed by DNA analysis.
Jelani, Year 8
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Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar, Alford