Richard III: Archaeologist Claire Calver on the search for the King's body in Leicester

| 08 August 2013

Richard III: Claire Calver, an archaeology undergraduate at the University of Leicester, on the dig which revealed the King's body...

A photo of a female archaeologist in a high-visibility jacket and helmet during a dig
© University of Leicester
“It still seems a little bizarre to think I have actually had the chance to dig at the site Richard III was discovered, and get personal mentoring from the very person [Mat Morris, Site Director] who painstakingly uncovered his body.

Not many people can say that. It certainly was a fantastic experience and one I will remember for so many reasons.

My last week seemed to fly by. I finally got to remove all the broken floor tiles from my little area of interest by the choir stall – having recorded it first, of course.

After doing so I made a few more discoveries – mostly bits of broken medieval pottery and small animal bones. Perhaps those hungry friars were dining on the medieval version of KFC while sitting in their choir stalls.

As I carried on and was shown how to trowel back the edges, the floor layers underneath the choir stall began to show through. After carefully working back the other way looking for changes in soil and suchlike, I began to realise the floor layers were coming through the other side to match up, proving the hole I was digging was indeed a cut in the floor.

After I'd finished, Mat again confirmed it was very likely a grave cut, and that if we had gone deeper there may well have been a body underneath.

The decision was made not to investigate though, as the remains aren't thought to be at risk, even though a building will be placed on top of the archaeology.

Again, my area needed recording to show the new discoveries and evidence of the floor layers, but this time Mat needed a section drawing done to show all the various features that had been found.

I've found this to be one of the trickier parts - maths and I aren't friends - but he patiently sat down with me and helped me do this. It’s something I'm quite proud of, even though it was a relatively simple drawing.

I also filled out context sheets and got new levels for the plans, so I literally did about everything that needed doing from the first trowel scrape to the final bit of planning.

Of course the most exciting part of the week for the whole team was one of the main objectives of the project: the lifting of the stone coffin lid to reveal the contents hidden for centuries beneath.

After weeks of hot, sunny weather the day of reckoning began with a very wet start after a night of torrential rain.

During the day there were several downpours of the same – cue me and several others running around with buckets and sponges and anything else we could lay our hands on, trying desperately to stop the huge puddles of muddy water spilling their way into the grave cut around the coffin.

I guess you could say I got the full archaeology experience there as I spent the rest of the day feeling pretty soggy.

Fortunately the weather did let up enough for the coffin lid to be removed by eight of the strongest members of the team, and the contents were exposed.

Mat made sure I was as involved as I possibly could be, even letting me help clean and remove the lead coffin from the stone one, ready for the university team to investigate further.

For this I was really grateful, as not once was I ever made to feel unimportant as an intern. I was as hands-on as everyone else, which was really pretty amazing.

There are few people around that can say they've helped with a medieval lead coffin, and it's unlikely I'll get that close to one again.
 
We all went to a local pub for an end of dig drink celebration at the end of the last day. That rounded things off nicely, though it was a very saddening time too, knowing that everyone was off to pastures new.

Other digs, other jobs and other lives with no tellings when and where you would see people again next. Hopefully it'll be soon though, as I really got on well with everyone involved with the dig – it really was a team.

It can only be described as an awesome experience, and one that I feel truly privileged to have been chosen for.”

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