The discovery that could rewrite history

As this magazine went to press, the University of Leicester was poised to announce the results of its investigation into potentially one of the most dramatic finds in archaeological history following its Search for Richard III.

Historic findings of human remains – including a man with apparent battle wounds and curvature of the spine – have been revealed by an archaeological team from the University of Leicester.

The University of Leicester led the archaeological search for the burial place of King Richard III with Leicester City Council, in association with the Richard III Society. The dig has yielded dramatic findings of human remains which the University is subjecting to rigorous laboratory tests.

The stunning findings of human remains excavated by the archaeologists came from the Choir of the Grey Friars Church.

Richard Taylor, Director of Corporate Affairs at the University, said:

“The University of Leicester applied to
the Ministry of Justice under the 1857 Burials Act for permission to exhume human remains found at the Grey Friars site in Leicester.

“The work was conducted by Dr Turi King from the University’s Department of Genetics and Dr Jo Appleby and Mathew Morris of our School of Archaeology and Ancient History.

“We have exhumed one fully articulated skeleton and one set of disarticulated human remains. The disarticulated set of human remains was found in what is believed to be the Presbytery of the lost Church of the Grey Friars. These remains are female, and thus certainly not Richard III.

“The articulated skeleton was found in what is believed to be the Choir of the church and is of significant interest
to us.”

Mr Taylor said there were a number of reasons for the University’s interest as the remains were of an adult male and were found in the area reported in the historical record as the burial place of King Richard III. John Rous, reports that Richard ‘at last was buried in the choir of the Friars Minor at Leicester’.

He added that the skeleton, on initial examination, appears to have suffered significant peri-mortem trauma to the
skull which appears consistent with (although not certainly caused by) an injury received in battle. A bladed implement appears to have cleaved part of the rear of the skull

Mr Taylor said: “The skeleton found in the Choir area has spinal abnormalities.We believe the individual would have had severe scoliosis – which is a form of spinal curvature. This would have made his right shoulder appear visibly higher than the left shoulder. This is consistent with contemporary accounts of Richard’s appearance. The skeleton does not have kyphosis – a different form of spinal curvature. The man did not have the feature sometimes inappropriate known as a ‘hunchback’.

”We are not saying that we have found King Richard III. What we are saying is that the Search for Richard III has entered a new phase. Our focus is shifting from the archaeological excavation to laboratory analysis. This skeleton certainly has characteristics that warrant extensive further detailed examination.

“We have all been witness to a powerful and historic story unfolding before our eyes. It is proper that the University now subjects the findings to rigorous analysis so that the strong circumstantial
evidence that has presented itself can be properly understood.

“This is potentially a historic moment for the University and City of Leicester.”

This article originally appeared in LE1 Winter 2012

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