Baring the Bones of History, Part VI: Remembering Where You Parked, or “Richard III Plays Hide and Seek”
Underneath a Leicester car park , more than 400 years after his death and several hundred years of asking “where on earth is Richard III?”, the former King of England has made his mark on history one final time.
Archaeologists set out in August 2012 to search for the lost site of Greyfriars Church, which Henry VIII demolished when he dissolved all the monasteries, using fixed points between maps via historical sequence. The comparison worked, and the team was able to find the hastily-buried bones of a king underneath a modern-day car park.
At the same time, a British historian named John Ashdown-Hill was using genealogical research to find matrilineal descendents of Richard’s only niece whose line is still extant. He tracked down the son of a woman named Joy Ibsen, a 16th-generation great-niece of the king—and though she passed away in 2008, her son was able to give a mouth-swab sample to the research team so that they might do a DNA comparison.
Archaeologists, scientists, historians, and researchers waited with bated breath as the DNA from a living descendent was compared with the human remains found on the excavation site.
It’s important note what made archaeologists suspect the skeleton they found might be Richard III: The location (former Greyfriars Church), the body was an adult male, the body had been buried under the choir area of the church, the spine showed evidence of severe scoliosis, and there appeared to be an arrowhead still stuck in the spine, not to mention evidence of a “mortal battlefield wound in the back of the skull” (according to archaeosteologist Dr. Jo Appleby).
And on February 4th, 2013, the DNA results were released and the University of Leicester confirmed that the body in the car park is, beyond reasonable doubt, the remains of King Richard III, only 32-years-old at time of death. The arrowhead, however, was revealed to have been a Roman-era nail that was likely in the ground and disturbed when the body was buried.
The perimortem injuries included part of the skull having been sliced off with some kind of blade weapon—the researchers suspect that because of this evidence, Richard III’s helmet had been knocked off before the killing blow was delivered. Another skull injury was about 10cm deep, from one side of the skull to the other. Other injuries are thought to have been “humiliation” injuries, including a pelvic wound from a weapon’s upward thrust.
As it stands, the remains of King Richard III will be re-interred at Leicester Cathedral in 2014 (after all necessary studies are completed), and a museum opening is planned at the same time, to be located in the buildings adjacent to the dig / grave site.