As so often, with thanks to Renate, who found this article for us.
Not only the archaeologists at Leicester University were kept busy with the Greyfriars Dig, but their mathematicians as well. Undergraduate maths students were asked to calculate what the odds were that Richard’s remains would be found at all.
So far we said that the luck in finding Richard was incredible. Finding the church of the Greyfriars was already a huge feat. After all the area to be searched was 13,000 sq ft (roughly 1200 sq m), covered not only by the now famous – rather small – car park, but also buildings, walls and all the other things that go with this, like electrical cables, phone lines, gas pipes and probably drains as well. Altogether only 17% of the area was open for the dig.
As luck would have it the right portion of the area was only covered by a car park and thus fairly easily accessible. Then the bit of luck of finding remains which as it turned out were really Richard’s on the first day of the dig. It was later revealed that while a Victorian wall had destroyed the feet of the skeleton, another construction could easily have destroyed everything as it came to just within 30 cm of Richard’s head.
If you were a betting man or woman, what would you think the odds would be of finding the friary choir, finding a 500-year-old skeleton in it and being able to identify the remains as those of King Richard III? The mathematics students calculated that the chances of finding Richard were only 0.84%. And the odds of finding him on the first day of the dig are even lower: 0.0554%.
Dr Clive Rix, a visiting lecturer in the Department of Mathematics, concluded: “The odds of actually finding King Richard III were very low indeed. Any commercial organisation would be looking for the potential of fairly spectacular returns to justify an investment with such a low chance of success – but, of course, this was not a commercial venture.”
Someone once summed it all up by saying that it really looked as if Richard had wanted to be found. I couldn’t agree more. And the incredibly lucky incidents did not stop there. A new friend from the conference in Leicester, who lives in the Midlands, told me that one day she was driving along in her car with the radio playing on the same channel that it is always set to. Suddenly, without her doing anything, it changed to a different channel, just in time for an interview with Dr Phil Stone, Chairman of the Richard III Society. She assured me that her car radio had never done this before or since. Maybe the mathematicians could calculate the odds for this happening as well?