Richard III found

In September I reported on the archaeological excavation in Leicester that had found a skeleton that could be the remains of King Richard 3rd. This morning the teams involved in the dig and the DNA analysis announced that the DNA tests had proven positive and the skeleton was indeed that of the king beyond any reasonable doubt.

richardgraveThe DNA test involved isolating mitochondrial DNA from the skeleton. This is DNA found inside the bodies cells in the mitochondria that are used to metabolize nutrients and provide energy. Unlike nuclear DNA this DNA is passed down from the mother only so to compare with the DNA of living people they had to find someone who shared a common female ancestor with King Richard where both lines of descendants are maternal. The final people in the line can be male and luckily one family with living males who could trace their lines was found. If this discovery had been made after their death it might have been impossible to make the DNA test.

The skeleton found also showed characteristics of a deformed spine and battle wounds that would have been fatal. This fits historical descriptions of Richard III and his final moments. These historical accounts had not been considered reliable in the past but the discovery of his remains confirms that they were perfectly accurate.

Richard III was the last of the Plantagenet monarchs of England from the 15th century so this discovery is very important for English history. His body will now be reinterred at Leicester cathedral.

If you are in the UK you can watch a documentary that followed the discovery on channel 4 this evening.

Update: I watched the program on channel 4 last night and was a little disappointed that much of the science was glossed over. For example, very little was said about the DNA other than it gave a match. It is a great pity that this was not covered by channel 4’s long running archaeology series “time team” who would have done a much better job of it.

The evidence that the skeleton found is indeed Richard III included

  • The place of burial in the church matched expectations
  • He had battle scars consistent with records of his final moments
  • He had a curved spine as depicted in historical records (although doubted by his followers)
  • His slight build was also consistent with accounts from people who knew him
  • Carbon dating was spot on with an error range of a few decades
  • Analysis indicated a high status diet that would have been available only to a few
  • Mitochondrial DNA was a perfect match with authenticated ancestors through maternal lines
  • The facial reconstruction produced a perfect match with his best portrait

The facial reconstruction was shown last night on TV and we be revealed online today.

It is notable that the whole project took place because of the insistence of one woman who was an amateur historian. She was refused the necessary grant of £10,000 but managed to raise it privately through the internet. When they first visited the car park there was a space marked with an R which they jokingly thought might mark the spot. It did!

8 Responses to Richard III found

  1. D R Lunsford says:

    Does this then corroborate tales of his villainy?


    • Lawrence B. Crowell says:

      It has to be remembered that with the fall of the house of York and the ascension of the Tudors under Henry VII that the official propaganda was that Richard III was an abomination. That happens with every revolution. This is not to say Richard III was likely any sort of nice guy, and his successor Henry VII was a pretty nasty piece of work. As a rule in the game of kings, emperors, dictators and potentates nice guys finish last. Richard III died in battle in the War of the Roses, which featured some rather spectacularly violent episodes of mass killing. As a dead leader of the lost side his body was in effect “thrown away,” and his legacy reduced to the level of a rabid dog. Shakespeare wrote of him in “Richard III,” and he seems to have drawn from the Tudor propaganda spun up only about a century earlier.

  2. Lubos Motl says:

    Why do you treat your leaders in this way, just throwing them to a parking lot when they’re used? ;-) We buried their counterparts at the Prague Castle at places where parking lot aren’t allowed yet. :-)

    • Philip Gibbs says:

      :) I’m not sure you want a serious reply but he was killed in battle and deposed by the next monarch from a different family, so he was not given the usual ceremonies. Some historians thought his body had been thrown in the river, but it turns out he was still respected by the locals and given a simple burial in an honorable place.

      • Philip Gibbs says:

        It’s very interesting to know how accurate historical account from that time were. I know it does not tell us anything about science but history is interesting and useful too.

      • carla says:

        I find it strange that anyone would care in this day and age where such and such was buried. But I guess it boils down to him being given the ceremony of a past king.

  3. cormac says:

    Excellent post.
    I agree with Philip; the real importance of the find is that it gives us confidence that this historical figure existed, and was defeated in battle when and where historians had calculated.
    It would be even more interesting (but not very likely) if the bodies of the nephews were found, especially if analysis showed that they died after Richard, as some historians suggest. It seems quite possible that the whole ‘nephews in the tower’ story was a Tudor concoction, but it’s also true that Richard’s brother tried to disinherit them on several occasions

  4. Robert L. Oldershaw says:

    Here is something that may be of interest to those not into dead tyrants.


    The meson mass spectrum can be retrodicted at the 98-99% level of relative agreement with the following formula.

    m = (k + n/2)(M)

    where k = pi = 3.1416; n = 1,2,3,4,… ; and M is the Reduced Planck Mass (h-bar c/8 pi G)^1/2, but using the corrected Atomic Scale value of G predicted by Discrete Scale Relativity.

    If you allow k to vary from 3.08 to 3.38 and insist that the k values must be fractions where x and y of x/y are both integers, then you can achieve 99.9+% relative agreement between the retrodicted and empirical masses.

    The next step is to give the heuristic formula a stronger physical grounding.
    However, it is already clear that there is a very simple and highly organized pattern underlying the meson mass spectrum.

    Compare the above with QCD’s shockingly complicated and ugly effort to retrodict the meson mass spectrum: .


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