Tuesday, February 05, 2013

King Richard III's body found!

Photo courtesy University of Leicester
I’ve always been a bit obsessed by history so identifying a skeleton as a murdered King of England who happens to have been rediscovered under a parking lot in Leicester is rather fascinating. It was strange to think that someone I’ve only ever heard stories about, some most likely untrue, has a physical presence in this world again. It brings history to life and forces one to focus on the mortality of life. Here is a man, dead for more than 500 years and lost to history, has been brought back from ‘the grave’. There’s renewed interest in him as a person and in his story. Even the information about how he was found and his identification reads like a fairytale.

Artist unknown, late 15th c

At first the archaeologists who were looking for him weren’t even sure they were digging in the right place. Originally he’d been buried in a church called Greyfriars. Unfortunately after the dissolution of the monasteries in 1536, the Greyfriars’ church was torn down and eventually lost to time. Several centuries later it was determined that the remains of the church and possibly Richard might be located under a parking lot used by the Leicester City Council.

They started to dig and immediately found the remains of the church and then eventually human remains. It was reported that they had found two skeletons, one male, one female. The male skeleton was found to have various injuries and a SPINAL ABNORMALITY! This was exciting because Richard was rumoured to have been a hunchback. While some historians thought this rumour may have just been slander from Tudor successors, the skeleton on the parking had a curved spine, probably from scoliosis, causing one shoulder to be higher than another and possibly leading to stories about Richard being a hunchback.

Photo courtesy University of Leicester

The plan was to do a DNA analysis on the remains and to compare to DNA from a descendant of Richard’s sister. This descendant happens to be CANADIAN and one member of the family literally lives less than 6 hours away from me! Unfortunately we would have to wait six long, agonizing months to find out the results of this test, meaning we would have to wait until after the New Year.

Then, on February 4 they made the big announcement, holding a press conference with all of the involved parties. About an hour in, after explaining that they were able to retrieve viable DNA from the skeleton and describing all the various wounds on the skeleton, including the ones that slice off parts of his skull, they confirmed that the skeleton had been positively identified as RICHARD III! I heard about this over the radio could not stop from punching the air! It was so very cool to have something like this all come together so easily and so well. There are plans to rebury him in Leicester Cathedral at the end of August 2014.

Thanks to a facial reconstruction here is most likely what he looked like:

Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

It’s events like this that make history more than just a dusty old story you’re told about in school. All of the people who’ve come before that you’ve never met did actually live. All those dates and years you had to memorize, all those events did actually happen, even if they sometimes appear little more than a memory. People tend to forget how much has happened in the history of man and that’s just the information that’s been preserved and written down. It boggles the mind how much has been lost, forgotten or destroyed.

I would hightly suggest checking out The History Blog if you want a more detailed description of the discovery. This site is how I first found out about the dig and the hunt for Richard's body. It has daily updates and always has something interesting to read.

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