“Strong circumstantial evidence” that remains belong to Richard III

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Archaeologists searching for the grave of Richard III say that there is “strong circumstantial evidence” that remains discovered in a Leicester car park are those of the king. The fully intact skeleton, which shows signs of a deformed spine, the head of a barbed iron arrow embedded in its back and a gashed skull, was discovered in a project launched at the end of August by experts from the University of Leicester and the Richard III Society.

Although the team is cautious about directly identifying the remains, these characteristics, and the site’s location in the choir area of the friary where the monarch’s body was taken following his defeat in the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, have added to speculation that they could be those of monarch. The bones will now be taken to the University of Leicester for DNA testing.

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Richard Taylor, the university’s director of corporate affairs, said: “Clearly we are all very excited by these latest discoveries. It is proper that the university now subjects the findings to rigorous analysis so that the strong circumstantial evidence that has presented itself can be properly understood. The skeleton, on initial examination, appears to have suffered significant peri-mortem trauma to the skull, which appears to be consistent with – although not certainly caused by – injury received in battle.”

Archaeaologist Mathew Morris said: “We found one of his legs sticking out into the trench from the side. You expect to find bits of bone in a churchyard because things get mixed up, so you then look for something connected to the leg and, once you have that, you know [that] you have a burial. We weren’t entirely sure we were in the church at that point – we could have been in the graveyard outside the church – so we actually waited for a few days to be sure of where it was before we looked at it.” Another member of the team, Dr Turi King, said: “We’ve taken teeth out under clean conditions from which we’ll try and get DNA, so the analysis will be the next thing. The skeleton is in very good condition so I’m very hopeful.”

The process of comparing DNA from the remains with that of descendants of Richard III, including 17th-generation nephew Michael Ibsen, is set to take 12 weeks. Although the abnormalities evident on the spine point to a condition such as scoliosis, which would have led to spinal curvature and one shoulder being higher than the other, experts are keen to distance the discovery from the ‘hunchback’ that features prominently in some representations of the king.

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Philippa Langley, from the Richard III Society, said: “This will allow us to really challenge what we know about Richard. We can find out how he got to the church, how he was buried, how he died; all the things that have been the subject of assumptions and misconceptions.”