University of Leicester archaeologists bid farewell to Grey Friars site of Richard III body

By Culture24 Reporter | 06 August 2013

Locking the gates and heading to the pub, the archaeologists behind the dig at Grey Friars, the car park scrutinised by the world after the remains of the man who turned out to be Richard III were found beneath it, have left the site for the final time.

A photo of an ancient coffin in a soil trench
Archaeologists have left Grey Friars after a final, month-long dig revealing a coffin thought to contain the body of a medieval knight (centre)© University of Leicester
Their departure follows a month-long follow-up excavation revealing more details of the King’s grave and the church it rested in.

A new building found to the south of the church could have been an earlier church and chapel, and Dr Jo Appleby, an osteoarchaeologist on the University of Leicester team responsible for discoveries which attracted hundreds of news crews to a press conference last February, will be examining two new skeletons found underneath the holy building’s choir.

Richard Buckley, who became the lead archaeologist for a project sparked by Philippa Langley, of the Richard III Society, confessed to some surprise at the spectacular success of the past 12 months.

“In a way, this is the end of the journey for the Grey Friars site,” he reflected.

“It has been a special site to work on. I have always known about Grey Friars and its connection with Richard III, but I never thought for a minute I would get the chance to investigate it. Also, it’s helping us to tell the story of medieval Leicester.

“It has been a very exciting year. This time last year, when we were preparing to dig at Grey Friars for the first time, I thought we would be lucky to find a couple of robber trenches – it didn’t seem possible we would actually find Richard III.”

Around 200 people visited the viewing platform on grounds affording unprecedented public access to an archaeological investigation. As many as 6,000 curious observers took to the most recent dig.

“For me, the most memorable parts have been getting the best weather of the year and being amazed that the two initial trenches identified key friary buildings,” says Buckley.

“They led us to the church.”

Looking back on a time of tentative hope, Buckley enjoyed what he calls the “buzz” and “all the interest from the public and press”.

“Without exception, everyone seemed to be as excited as we were.

“When we had the first open day and I saw the queue of people going around the block, I felt so proud of our achievement and thrilled that, at last, Leicester’s archaeology was receiving the attention it deserved.”

Encased within a lead tomb, a stone coffin – described as the most memorable part of the second dig by Site Director Matthew Morris – is expected to reveal the body of a medieval knight or leading Franciscan when it creaks open under the watch of university experts.

“The nicest part was getting to work with the whole team, and it was really good to have them all back for the second excavation,” said Morris.

“It was sad to be locking the gate for the last time. Our four weeks on site at Grey Friars are officially over.

“At the end of the final day, I said goodbye to the last visitors of the day and locked the gate to the viewing platform for the final time.

“The last archaeological feature was dug and recorded, we said goodbye to our two fantastic interns Claire and Emma, all our equipment and all the newly discovered artefacts were taken up to the University.

“Afterwards, we celebrated the conclusion of another successful project in proper archaeological style – we went to the pub for a well-deserved pint.”

The hard hats and luminous jackets have been replaced by workers constructing the King Richard III Visitor Centre, which will showcase the finds at Grey Friars.

The Search for Richard III:

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

Gray Friars skeleton is last Plantagenet king, say Leicester team on trail of Richard III

Richard III: Leicester's Search for a King attracts record crowds to Medieval Guildhall

Richard III: The Royal Armouries' Bob Woosnam-Savage on the violent death of the King in battle

Forensic reconstruction of Richard III's head to appear at Yorkshire Museum this summer

More pictures:

A photo of an ancient coffin in a soil trench
© University of Leicester
A photo of an ancient coffin in a soil trench
© University of Leicester
A photo of an ancient coffin in a soil trench
© University of Leicester
A photo of an ancient coffin in a soil trench
© University of Leicester
A photo of an archaeological site
© University of Leicester
A photo of archaeologists in high-visibility jackets excavating a coffin from a trench
© University of Leicester
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