The University of Leicester has announced that genetic and archaeological evidence have definitively proven that remains found under a Leicester parking lot are those off England’s King Richard III.
In March, 2011, an archaeological team set to work uncovering the lost Grey Friars church in Leicester, England. Grey Friars had been a small monastic community famous for being the final resting place of Richard III, but the exact location of the site had been lost to urban development. While finding the monastery was a reasonable expectation, uncovering the exact location of the mortal remains of Richard III was thought to be nigh-impossible. So it was very exciting when, in September 2012, the team discovered not only the old church but also a skeleton buried underneath a council parking lot.
King Richard III was an enigmatic figure in British history, his life story shrouded by politics and fictions. His defeat on Bosworth Field in 1485 ended the Wars of the Roses and ended the rule of the Plantagenet dynasty. Later, Shakespeare would immortalize him as a physically deformed, though charismatic villain in the play Richard III, influencing public opinion for centuries.
The skeleton in question had been buried without honors in a shallow grave, consistent with descriptions of the defeated Richard III’s burial. Radiocarbon dating, isotope analysis, and analysis of the skeleton also supported the identity. One of the greatest pieces of evidence came in the form of mitochondrial DNA testing. DNA from the skeleton was matched to two of Richard III’s known surviving relatives, proving a family relationship. Mitochondrial DNA is passed down from mother to child separate from normal chromosomes and can help determine ancient lineages.
A documentary about the search for Richard III’s remains and his life is currently being shown on the BBC. More information about the history and science behind this project can be found at the University of Leicester’s interactive site: http://www.le.ac.uk/richardiii/history.html.