Have UK archaeologists found Richard III's skeleton?

LONDON Wed Sep 12, 2012 9:07am EDT

1 of 2. A painting of King Richard III by an unknown artist from the 16th Century is seen at the National Portrait Gallery in London August 24, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Neil Hall

LONDON (Reuters) - Archaeologists searching for the body of England's King Richard III under a city centre parking lot said on Wednesday they had found remains which could be those of the monarch depicted by Shakespeare as an evil, deformed, child-murdering monster.

Richard was killed at the Battle of Bosworth in central England in 1485 and his bones reportedly ended up in a Franciscan friary known as Greyfriars, now located under a car park in the centre of Leicester.

Bosworth Field is around 14 miles (25 km) away from Leicester and Richard is one of just a few English kings whose final resting place is unknown.

A team from the city's university began excavating the site last month and said they had discovered a skeleton with wounds apparently sustained in combat, which they believed might be that of the last English king to die in battle.

"Clearly we are all very excited by these latest discoveries," Richard Taylor, the university's Director of Corporate Affairs, told reporters.

"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 bones were found in good condition in the choir area of the friary's church which was documented in historical records to be Richard's burial place.

"The skeleton on initial examination appears to have suffered significant perimortem trauma, near-death trauma, to the skull which appears to be consistent, although is not certainly caused by an injury received in battle," Taylor said.

"A bladed implement appears to have cleaved part of the rear of the skull."

A barbed metal arrowhead was also found between vertebrae of the skeleton's upper back.

HUNCHBACK

Richard, who only reigned for two years, was portrayed as a power-hungry hunchback in one of William Shakespeare's most famous plays, "The Tragedy of King Richard the Third", although contemporary chroniclers suggested he was a tough soldier.

Taylor said the body had spinal abnormalities, believed to be severe scoliosis, a form of spinal curvature, which would have made his right shoulder appear visibly higher than his left one, which matches contemporary accounts of Richard.

However, the individual was not a hunchback.

The remains will now undergo laboratory tests, including a DNA test which will take up to 12 weeks. Archaeologists have access to Richard III's DNA after swab samples were taken on Friday from a direct descendant of the king's sister, Canadian-born Michael Ibsen.

"We are not saying today that we have found Richard III," Taylor said.

"Our focus is shifting from archaeological excavation to laboratory analysis. This skeleton certainly has characteristics that warrant extensive further detailed examination."

Whilst his reign was brief, Richard continues to fascinate historians and debate rages to this day as to whether he was responsible for the murder of two young princes in the Tower of London, the sons of his elder brother Edward IV.

"We came with a dream and if the dream becomes reality it will be nothing short of miraculous," said Philippa Langley from the Richard III Society, a group which campaigns for a reassessment of the monarch's unsavoury reputation.

Richard, crowned at Westminster Abbey in July 1483, died fighting his enemies led by Henry Tudor, later Henry VII. He was the last Plantagenet king and was followed by the Tudor dynasty, which included Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth I.

If bones prove to be those of the king, they will be reinterred at Leicester Cathedral, just a few steps away from the excavation site. (Editing by Paul Casciato)

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