The Discovery of Richard III’s Remains

Archaeologists from Leicester University confirmed that the human remains found under a council car park in Leicester were those of Richard III. The last Plantagenet King of England.

History records that after being killed by Henry Tudor's army during the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, Richard III's body was buried in a nearby Franciscan friary. This friary was subsequently destroyed during Henry VIII’s reign and the exact location of the burial site remained a mystery. This was until August 2012 when member of the Richard III Society, founder of the Leicester Dig Project and Screenwriter Philippa Langley commissioned a search team to peruse the lost King's remains.

The search team brought on by Philippa consisted of archaeological contractors from Leicester University (including SUMO Geophysics) and Historians from the Richard III Society, who first started their research previous to the project. It was decided the archaeological dig would commence at the car park during 2012, on the 527th anniversary of Richard's burial in Greyfriars Church. It took Philippa over three years to get the project underway and she commented "It seemed right to be starting the search for King Richard on the anniversary of the day he was buried in the Greyfriars".

Richard Buckley, of the University of Leicester Archaeological Services, said at the outset: "The big question for us was in determining the whereabouts of the church on the site and also where in the church the body was buried. It was quite a long shot but it was a very exciting project. We didn’t know precisely where the body would have been buried but we suspected it would be in the choir or near the altar.’

Richard Buckley, of the University of Leicester Archaeology service and Claire Graham of SUMO Geophysics review the on-screen data from the Ground Penetrating Radar.

Richard Buckley, of the University of Leicester Archaeology service and Claire Graham of SUMO Geophysics review the on-screen data from the Ground Penetrating Radar.

SUMO Geophysics was tasked with completing a High Density GPR Survey. Post processing of the captured GPR data was carried out to identify areas of high activity and the results were presented in a plan format known as timeslice plots. Timeslice plots make it easy to see if areas of high activity came to form recognisable patterns. After post processing had been completed, the GPR data was compiled to create a 3D file. 3D files can be manipulated to view the data from various angles and depths within a range. Next, we linked the data to a ground level, superimposed survey grid. This was tied in with suitable topographic features around the perimeter of the site using a Total Station, to pinpoint the location of any potential anomalies and identify the areas that should be investigated further.

The data collected at shallow depths (down to ~1m) showed overwhelming, strong responses  which most likely associated with made ground or demolition debris. Beneath this layer, a number of anomalies such as modern services (pipes and cables) were identified. To the search teams disappointment, there were no clear signs of coherent linear anomalies that could represent the foundations of a former building. This could have been due to repeated robbing of the site over a number of years. There were however, a number of additional anomalies of potential archaeological interest, which were then specifically targeted for excavation.

The targeted, ensuing dig successfully uncovered the remains of the cloisters and chapter house, as well as the church itself. Work then focused on the choir area, where it was recorded that King Richard had been interred. An adult male skeleton was subsequently found, who scientists revealed suffered from severe scoliosis (a form of spinal curvature which would have made his right shoulder appear higher than the left). The body had also suffered serious damage to the head, where a section of the back of the skull had been sliced off. There was also evidence of numerous other injuries potentially linked with death in battle.

Following an array of tests including DNA testing, carbon dating and environmental analysis, the body was finally identified as Richard III and was laid to rest in March 2015 in Leicester Cathedral, closing an important chapter on England’s history.

Credit: The Telegraph