‘Beyond reasonable doubt’: archaeologists give first-hand account of Richard III discovery in new book

Posted by pt91 at Nov 04, 2013 11:30 AM |
Grey Friars team-members’ book discusses the background, excavation and scientific methods that lead to the unearthing and identification of the last Plantagenet King of England

Issued by University of Leicester Press Office on 4 November 2013

PUBLIC BOOK LAUNCH/PHOTO AND INTERVIEW OPPS: Friday, 15 November 2013, 5.30PM-7.30PM, in the University of Leicester’s Fraser Noble Hall, London Road, (junction with University Road) Leicester.

Image of book cover available from pt91@le.ac.uk

Richard Buckley and Mathew Morris, the lead archaeologists behind one of the biggest archaeological finds in history—the unearthing of human remains under a car park in Leicester, and their identification, beyond reasonable doubt, as Richard III—have written about the excavation in a new book, Richard III – The King Under the Car Park.

The book, published this month (November) by the University of Leicester, is the first to tell the story from the viewpoint of those who actually found the remains in August 2012—staff at the University of Leicester Archaeological Services (ULAS) unit, who worked in partnership with Leicester City Council, and in association with the Richard III Society, to excavate Grey Friars in the City Centre.

“The aim of the book is to present all of the information on the excavation of Grey Friars and Richard III in a fact-based, unbiased way,” Mathew, the site director for ULAS, said, “but also, given the huge excitement over the project, in a way that’s accessible to everyone.”

The book is a comprehensive exploration of the excavation and its background, including:

  • The historical context and the events that led Richard III to fall at Bosworth and to be buried at Grey Friars
  • The legends that surround Richard, such as his stay at the Blue Boar Inn and the knocking of his spurs on Bow Bridge
  • The research that went into determining the probable location of the friary and the burial site
  • The account of the momentous days which saw the uncovering of Richard III’s remains
  • The scientific methods used to confirm that the bones found at Grey Friars were in fact those of Richard III
  • The research that went into tracing the genealogical line to two of Richard III’s modern-day relatives (descendants of his elder sister), making it possible to identify the remains using DNA

In many ways, it caps off the momentous story and for its authors means revisiting the excitement of the discovery: “The book reads like a detective story because it all happened like a detective story,” Mathew said. “It was amazing, as time went on, how everything slotted together—from the way we placed the trenches correctly, to finding human remains on the first day, to finding they were buried in the correct part of the church, to identifying the body.

“What’s fantastic is how excited everyone has been about the excavation. Every lecture I’ve done about the project has been packed with a rapt audience.”

“Of course,” added Richard Buckley, lead archaeologist at Grey Friars and co-director of ULAS, “writing the book has meant putting everything in order—at the time it all sort of happened at once! Similarly, it’s very rewarding to look back at all of our decisions in perspective, and to find that they were indeed the right ones!

“The book is definitely a celebration, not just of mine and Mathew’s work, but also of a huge team that worked together and worked very, very hard—from us at ULAS, to our volunteers on site, to Dr. Jo Appleby, Dr. Turi King, Professor Kevin Schϋrer and Professor Sarah Hainsworth who were key in helping identify the remains through their work on analysing the bones and matching the skeleton’s DNA with living descendants of Richard III’s sister. It was a story that meant so much to so many people, and got so many people excited, so of course it’s great to look back on what has been an amazing run for us.”

That said, no one is resting on their laurels at ULAS: “This is the end of the ‘public story’ of Richard III, but it’s just the beginning of the real work,” Mathew pointed out. “We’ve had one academic article about the excavation come out already, in Antiquity, which was very exciting, but now the time has come to present all of the information we got from the dig in all of its proper detail, as academic articles.

“After all, finding the church and the friary was just as exciting, archaeologically, as finding Richard III—if not more so! We knew very little about that area of Leicester before August 2012—Richard III might have stolen the show in the media but uncovering remains of the chapterhouse, cloister walk and church, with evidence for what these buildings might have looked like was also very important.”

Richard added: “This is actually one of the most rewarding things about the discovery of Richard III’s grave, and something we want to get across with the book. It shouldn’t be viewed in isolation, as a headline, but as part of a whole string of archaeological sites and of the wider fabric of English history.”

Accordingly, ULAS have strode on without a pause since Grey Friars, having uncovered Roman smokehouses in Pineham, Iron Age cauldrons at Kirby Muxloe, and sent numerous ULAS staff out conducting rural excavations.

In short, as Richard put it, it’s business as usual: “We’re delighted with the book, but we’re even more delighted to be getting on with what we love doing—there are scores more archaeological sites out there, waiting to be brought to light.”

  • The launch of the University of Leicester Archaeological Service’s book Richard III -The king under the car park, by Mathew Morris and Richard Buckley, will take place on Friday, 15 November 2013, 17:30-19:30, in the Fraser Noble Hall, London Road, Leicester. This is the first authoritative popular publication of the spectacular results of the Grey Friars Project and the discovery of the grave of King Richard III, written by the archaeologists who carried out the excavation. Copies of the book will be on sale at the book launch.
  • The Dig for Richard III was led by the University of Leicester, working with Leicester City Council and in association with the Richard III Society.  The originator of the Search project was Philippa Langley of the Richard III Society.

ENDS

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