The King in the car park

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King Richard III
Photo Credit: Wikipedia Commons

In September of last year, a human skeleton was unearthed from beneath a car park in Leicester as part of a search for the body of Richard III–the last English king to die in battle. Buried with no sign of casket or shroud, the body exhibited several wounds to the head that occurred at or near death. The identity of the remains were in question until February 4, when researchers at Leicester University confirmed beyond all reasonable doubt, that the bones belonged to Richard III.

The find was made when historian Dr. Ashdown-Hill and screenwriter Phillipa Langley met on their separate missions to track down Richard III’s grave. Langley had been trying to gather support for the search for the king’s remains as part of the Richard III Society, in the hopes that the discovery of his grave would reopen the conversation of his questionable reputation. After sifting through archives and analyzing maps, Ashdown-Hill had narrowed down the area where the king would have been dragged from the battlefield and buried. His research showed that a tomb had been erected for Richard III in the Choir of Greyfriars church. The building had been demolished long ago and covered, over the centuries, by a car park. As well as a possible location for the remains, he had the Holy Grail of archaeological proof: DNA. After three years of painstakingly tracing the family of Richard’s sister, Anne of York, Dr. Ashdown-Hill found a living descendant; a living descendant who agreed to give their DNA for testing. All the duo needed was an archaeological team and permission. They got both. Excavations began at the car park under the Archaeology department of the University of Leicester and, before too much longer, bones appeared.

The bones instantly started revealing clues to Dr. Jo Appleby, an osteo-archeologist working on the case. There were in total ten wounds to the skeleton that suggested a death in battle, eight of which were to the skull, and two of which could have been the cause of death for the warrior. Examination of the spine revealed pronounced scoliosis, aligning with historical accounts of the king having uneven and slightly hunched shoulders (exaggerated by Shakespeare as a hunched back). Overall, the skeleton revealed a slender man in life–again, consistent with historical accounts of Richard III’s appearance.

Though, even with the evidence from the skeleton itself, there was one final test to be made-a test that could not have been made without the previous efforts of Dr. Ashdown-Hill, the historian who took three years to trace the descendants of Richard III’s family. Michael Ibsen and his sister were part of a direct line of maternal DNA from Richard’s sister. Despite concerns of whether the DNA in the bones would be too degraded, small samples from the teeth and femur of the skeleton were a match. All the evidence in, the bones are, beyond a shadow of a doubt, those of Richard III.

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