Experts in search for Richard III body find skeletons under Leicester car park

By Culture24 Reporter | 12 September 2012
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A photo of a crowd of people looking at an archaeological trench in an urban car park
Groups of visitors were shown the floors and walls of the eastern cloister walk at the Leicester site where Richard III's body may have been found© University of Leicester
A skeleton bearing a barbed metal arrowhead between the vertebrae of its upper back could be the battle-slain body of Richard III, archaeologists in a high-profile three-week excavation in Leicester have revealed.

A photo of a large dark grey stone slab in a church in memorial to a former King of England
The memorial stone for Richard III - the final Plantagenet King - in Leicester Cathedral© University of Leicester
The dig in a Leicester City Council car park, thought to have once been the Medieval Greyfriars site where the King’s despoiled body was taken after the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, has unearthed one full skeleton – the potential body of the monarch – and one set of disarticulated female human remains. Their precise location corresponds to the choir area where records show the King was buried.

The University’s Richard Taylor said the intact skeleton had suffered “significant trauma” to the skull consistent with battle injuries, and had “spinal abnormalities” indicating severe scoliosis.

He stressed that the remains were being dealt with in strict accordance with the ethical policies held by the institution, which had received permission from the Ministry of Justice to exhume human remains.

The skeletons will now be transferred for 12 weeks of laboratory analysis, with conclusing DNA identification a distinct possibility.

A photo of a long deep trench of dark brown and bits of stone under an urban car park
Trenches in place at the Greyfriars site, where the Medieval layer is roughly a metre deep© University of Leicester
Peter Soulsby, the Leicester City Mayor, called the news “a major chapter in the country’s history”, and called for the investigation to continue.

Two 30-metre trenches and an adjacent third ditch at the site have already produced several exceptional finds.

Glazed floor tile fragments, a section of wall and a window tracery all suggested the church had previously occupied the grounds, emphasised by a medieval roof tile usually associated with high-status buildings.

Speaking at the weekend, Philippa Langley, of the Richard III society, suggested the team were “in the right area” and were “starting to get a sense” of the exact position of the body.

“I did not think we would be where we are now at the start of the dig,” she added.

“I am totally thrilled. For me, the whole dig is now coming to life.”

An image of a manga cartoon illustration of a King in armour holding a flag during battle
An artistic representation of the search has been made by Emma Vieceli, with Kate Brown (flat colours and textures) and Paul Duffield (panel borders, text)© Emma Vieceli / Kate Brown / Paul Duffield
The garden of former Leicester mayor Robert Herrick – lost along with the Friary – was a crucial discovery.

Herrick built a mansion house on the site during the early 1600s, in which Christopher Wren, the son of the pioneering architect, recorded seeing a three-foot stone pillar inscribed with the words “here lies the body of Richard III sometime King of England.” His note is the last known sighting of the grave.

The house was replaced by municipal buildings at the end of the 19th century, and the garden became a tarmac car park during the 1930s or 1940s.

“At the beginning of the project, I cannot say I was completely confident about finding the remains of the Friary, let alone getting closer to the presumed burial place of Richard III,” admitted Richard Buckley, of the University’s archaeological department.

“The trenches could easily have missed the structures we have found, had they been located differently, or we could have found that the evidence had already been destroyed by later development on the site.

“With or without the burial place of Richard III, the investigation has been extremely rewarding and makes a significant contribution in terms of telling the story of medieval Leicester.”

The site was opened to the public for the first time for three hours on Saturday (September 8).

"The level of interest generated by this excavation has been amazing, and people understandably want to see for themselves the fascinating work which is being carried out,” said Councillor Piara Singh Clair, the Assistant City Mayor.

"The University of Leicester and the Richard III Society are uncovering information which will help us to better tell one of Leicester's most remarkable stories, and to understand the last days of one of the most controversial kings in British history."

Buckley had previously described the search for the King as “a long shot”, but said the excavators – known as the Time Tomb Team by the local media – had been “fired up” and “extremely excited by the prospect of further discoveries”.

Their hopes have now been rewarded, with the full story set to make compelling viewing when it becomes the subject of a Channel 4 documentary later this year.

More pictures:

A photo of an urban city centre car park with domestic cars parked between buildings
The city centre car park where the dig is being held for a third week© University of Leicester
A photo of a man in high visibility clothing digging ground inside an archaeological trench
Experts check the trenches. Three have been dug so far© University of Leicester
A photo of fragments of stone against a light blue background
Copper alloy letters found on the site may come from tomb inscriptions© University of Leicester
A photo of a length of grey stone against a light blue and turquoise tarpaulin piece
Lead window came (the H-section leading that supports stained glass windows) from the Grey Friars church© University of Leicester
A photo of three large fragments of light brown stone positioned on grey gravel
Medieval inlaid floor tiles from the friary© University of Leicester
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