SUMO Stratascan Assists In The Discovery of Richard III’s Remains.

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

History records, that after being killed by the army of Henry Tudor during the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, the body was buried in a nearby Franciscan friary.  However the friary was subsequently destroyed during Henry VIII’s reign and the exact location of the burial site had remained a mystery to this day.

The search team commissioned by Philippa Langley of the Richard III Society and made up of archaeologists from Leicester University, along with members of the Society, first started researching the project many years ago, but chose to commence the archaeological dig at the car park in 2012 on the 527th anniversary of the Battle of Bosworth. As Philippa 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 archaeology service, 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 Stratascan review the on-screen data from the Ground Penetrating Radar.

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

In order to help find the best places to dig, Stratascan Limited (a member of the SUMO Group) were called in to carry out a geophysical survey of the car park, with a view to identifying any anomalies of archaeological significance that may relate to the lost friary.

Post processing of the captured data was then carried out to identify areas of high activity and the results presented in a plan format known as timeslice plots, making it easy to see if the high activity areas form recognisable patterns. The GPR data was then compiled to create a 3D file, which can be manipulated to view the data from any angle and at any depth within a range. This data was then linked to a ground level superimposed survey grid 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) was overwhelmed by strong responses most likely associated with made ground or demolition debris.  However beneath this layer, a number of anomalies were identified, including modern services such as pipes and cables.  Somewhat disappointingly, due to repeated robbing of the site there were no clear signs of coherent linear anomalies that could represent the foundations of a former building, but there were a number of additional anomalies of potential archaeological interest, which were specifically targeted for excavation. 

The 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 Richard had been interred. The skeleton subsequently found was of an adult male, who suffered from severe scoliosis, a form of spinal curvature which would have made his right shoulder appear higher than the left, giving the appearance of a ‘hunchback’. The body had also suffered serious damage to the head where part of the the skull had been sliced off and numerous other injuries potentially linked with death in battle. 

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