Science behind the story of King Richard’s remains

Richard III SkullThe discovery of the remains of Richard III made headlines around the world. Now a new book sheds light on the archaeology involved. Chris Bond reports.

WHEN archaeologists discovered a skeleton under a council car park in Leicester in September 2012, it caused a flurry of interest not only here, but around the world.

What made this particular skeleton special, and what caused all the fuss, was who it might belong to. A team of archaeologists from the University of Leicester were searching for the grave of Richard III and the remains they unearthed had spinal abnormalities and a “cleaved-in skull”, suggesting it could be the lost king killed in the Battle of Bosworth in 1485.

The bones were then tested for DNA against descendants of Richard’s family and in February the following year lead archaeologist Richard Buckley told a packed press conference: “Beyond reasonable doubt it’s Richard.”

There’s lots of science and forensic work, there’s history, poetry and Shakespeare. It’s an extraordinary story and people have followed all the twists and turns

However, this was far from the end of the story. Bosworth may have been the final battle the Yorkist king faced in life, but the battle over his final resting place had only just begun.

The story of Richard, the last English monarch to die on the battlefield, 
has fascinated people for centuries and the discovery of his royal bones was akin to that of the tomb of Tutankhamun, with one group calling for him to be laid to rest at Leicester Cathedral and another, including some of his distant relatives, saying 
his remains should be reinterred in York Minster.

But while the argument looks set to continue for a little while longer at least, it is just the latest chapter in a remarkable story. “The level of interest both here and abroad and the feelings it has stirred up in Leicester and York shows that people really do care about this,” says archaeologist and journalist Mike Pitts.

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