"Long before it's in the papers"
January 27, 2015


Bones of King Richard III “confirmed” found

Feb. 4, 2013
Courtesy of the University of Leicester
and World Science staff

A ske­l­e­ton un­earthed last year is def­i­nitely that of Eng­land’s King Rich­ard III, the some­times re­viled mon­arch whose vi­o­lent death opened the door for a new dyn­as­ty and a new age for the coun­try, sci­entists an­nounced Feb. 4.

At a news con­fer­ence, ex­perts from Uni­vers­ity of Leices­ter, U.K. un­an­i­mously iden­ti­fied the re­mains dis­cov­ered in Leices­ter city cen­ter as be­ing those of the king who died in 1485 after a brief reign.

Remains believed to be those of Richard III, found at the found at the site of the Grey Friars church in Leicester, U.K. (Courtesy U. of Leicester)

Sci­en­tif­ic in­ves­ti­ga­t­ions con­firmed strong cir­cum­stanti­al ev­i­dence that the ske­l­e­ton, found under a park­ing lot, was that of Rich­ard III, they said.

The parking lot was once the site of a medieval church called Grey Fri­ars.

Re­search­ers de­scribed an ar­ray of ev­i­dence—including DNA anal­y­sis, ra­di­o­car­bon dat­ing and skele­tal ex­amina­t­ion—prov­ing, they said, the ident­ity of the skel­e­ton. 

“The in­di­vid­ual ex­humed at Grey Fri­ars in Au­gust 2012 is in­deed King Rich­ard III, the last Plan­tag­e­net King of Eng­land,” said Rich­ard Buck­ley, the lead ar­chae­o­lo­gist on the proj­ect. Richard III—fa­mously and very un­flat­tering­ly portrayed in a Shake­speare play by the same name—reigned from 1483 to 1485 after seiz­ing the throne from his ne­phew Ed­ward V, who was im­pris­oned in the Tow­er of London and mur­dered.

Univers­ity of Leices­ter ge­net­i­cist Turi King said he con­firmed that DNA from the Grey Friars ske­l­e­ton matches that of two of Rich­ard III’s family de­scen­dants – Canadian-born fur­ni­ture mak­er Mi­chael Ib­sen and a sec­ond per­son who wishes to re­main anon­y­mous.

“The DNA se­quence ob­tained from the Grey Fri­ars skele­tal re­mains was com­pared with the two ma­ter­nal line rel­a­tives of Rich­ard III. We were very ex­cit­ed to find that there is a DNA match be­tween the ma­ter­nal DNA from the family of Rich­ard III and the skele­tal re­mains we found at the Grey Fri­ars dig,” King said.

A skele­tal anal­y­sis car­ried out by Uni­vers­ity of Leices­ter os­teo­ar­chae­o­lo­gist Jo Ap­pleby indicated the remains were those of a man in his late 20s or 30s. Rich­ard III was 32 when he was killed at the Bat­tle of Bos­worth in 1485. The de­feat con­cluded a civ­il war known as the War of the Roses and planted a new dyn­as­ty, the Tu­dors, on the throne in the person of Henry Tudor (Henry VII).

The ex­humed man had a slen­der phy­sique and se­vere sco­li­o­sis – a cur­va­ture of the spine – pos­sibly with one shoul­der visibly high­er than the oth­er, sci­en­tists said. This, they added, is con­sist­ent with de­scrip­tions of Rich­ard III’s ap­pear­ance from the time.

Trau­ma to the ske­l­e­ton in­di­cates the in­di­vid­ual died af­ter one of two sig­nif­i­cant wounds to the back of the skull – pos­sibly caused by a sword and a hal­berd, ex­perts said. This is con­sist­ent with con­tem­po­rary ac­counts of Rich­ard be­ing killed af­ter re­ceiv­ing a b­low to the back of his head.

The ske­l­e­ton al­so showed a num­ber of non-fatal in­ju­ries to the head, rib and pel­vis – be­lieved to have been caused by a wound through the right but­tock – which sci­en­tists said may have been caused by “hu­milia­t­ion in­ju­ries” af­ter death.

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A skeleton unearthed last year is definitely England’s King Richard III, the sometimes reviled monarch whose violent death opened the door for a new dynasty and a new age for the country, experts said. At a media conference on Feb. 4, experts from University of Leicester, U.K. unanimously identified the remains discovered in Leicester city centre as being those of the last Plantagenet king who died in 1485. Scientific investigations confirmed strong circumstantial evidence that the skeleton found at the site of the Grey Friars church in Leicester was indeed that of King Richard III, they said. Researchers described an array of evidence—including DNA analysis, radiocarbon dating and skeletal examination—proving, they said, the identity of the skeleton. “The individual exhumed at Grey Friars in August 2012 is indeed King Richard III, the last Plantagenet King of England,” said Richard Buckley, the lead archaeologist on the project. University of Leicester geneticist Turi King said he confirmed that DNA from the skeleton matches that of two of Richard III’s family descendants – Canadian-born furniture maker Michael Ibsen and a second person who wishes to remain anonymous. “The DNA sequence obtained from the Grey Friars skeletal remains was compared with the two maternal line relatives of Richard III. We were very excited to find that there is a DNA match between the maternal DNA from the family of Richard the Third and the skeletal remains we found at the Grey Friars dig,” King said. A skeletal analysis carried out by University of Leicester osteoarchaeologist Jo Appleby showed the individual was man in his late 20s or 30s. Richard III was 32 when he was killed at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485. The event ended a long civil war known as the War of the Roses and planted a new dynasty, the Tudors, on the throne. The exhumed man had a slender physique and severe scoliosis – a curvature of the spine – possibly with one shoulder visibly higher than the other, scientists said. This, they added, is consistent with descriptions of Richard III’s appearance from the time. Trauma to the skeleton indicates the individual died after one of two significant wounds to the back of the skull – possibly caused by a sword and a halberd, experts said. This is consistent with contemporary accounts of Richard being killed after receiving a blow to the back of his head. The skeleton also showed a number of non-fatal injuries to the head, rib and pelvis – believed to have been caused by a wound through the right buttock – which scientists said may have been caused by “humiliation injuries” after death.