Posts Tagged ‘Archaeology’


The Princes in the Tower?

   Posted by: Judy Howard    in News

While perusing the website of St. George’s Chapel at Windsor, UK, I found on their Archives Blog, an article which is yet another angle on the fate of the Princes in the Tower. I found this particularly intriguing at a time when another skeleton is under scrutiny by a team of archaeologists at the University of Leicester which may prove to be the remains of Richard III.

Apparently in 1789 when the paving was being repaired in the North Quire Aisle of St. George’s Chapel, the entrance to the burial vault of Edward IV was identified.  When they entered the vault they found a lead coffin with the remains of a wooden coffin on top – which were the coffins of Edward IV and his consort, Elizabeth Woodville.  Two further coffins were also found and they were believed to have contained the bodies of George, 3rd son of Edward IV who died in 1479 aged 2 years, and his sister Mary, 5th daughter of Edward IV who died in 1482 aged 14 years.  Both George and Mary were known to have been buried at Windsor.  The vault was not investigated any further and the vault was closed with new a slab.

Then in 1810, two more coffins were found in what is now the Albert Memorial Chapel and the inscription on one of these suggests it is the coffin of George and not the one in the vault near Edward IV.  It is known that when George was buried at Windsor on 22 March 1479, the Quire at St George’s Chapel was still under construction and therefore he could not have been interred in Edward IV’s vault. The written account of Mary’s funeral states that she was buried near her brother George.

In 1813 both of these coffins were moved to the vault near Edward IV.

The question remains however – who did the two coffins found in Edward IV’s vault in 1789 belong to??  They were important because they were buried in a place of honour near Edward IV. There is no evidence to suggest who these two coffins belonged to.

The choir of St George’s Chapel, Windsor (photograph by Josep Renalias, obtained through Wikimedia Commons)

The Assistant Archivist at the College of St George has asked the question whether these two coffins could contain the remains of Edward’s other sons, Edward V and Richard, Duke of York, the “Princes in the Tower”?

In light of the momentous discovery of skeletal remains which could possibly be those of Richard III, how marvellous it would be to take this investigation further and attempt to obtain genetic material to determine:

1.    The identification of the bones in the urn at Westminster Abbey, purportedly those of the two “Princes in the Tower”; and
2.    Identification of the bodies in the two coffins discovered in Edward IV’s vault in 1789.

After more than 500 years surely this is not too much to ask, given the sophisticated technology currently at our disposal.

A mystery would be solved, if only.

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Greyfriars Dig: “the evidence is looking really good”

   Posted by: Dorothea Preis    in Greyfriars Dig, News

ArchaeologyThis is what Prof Lynn Foxhall of the University of Leicester said about the ongoing tests which are carried out on the male skeleton found in the former Greyfriars church in Leicester.

However encouraging the statement may look, it would be too early to jump to conclusions.  The various tests are still ongoing and results are only expected in January.

So far we heard most about the DNA testing trying to match the mtDNA of the remains to that of a descendant of Richard’s eldest sister Anne, but this is only one of the aspects investigated.  This descendant’s connection is also being verified and researchers are hoping to establish a second line of descent.

Other tests include the analysis of soil samples from the grave surrounding the skeleton, from which we may not only find out more about the burial practice, but also about the health and diet of the person who was buried there.  This would be in conjunction with evidence gathered from samples of mineralised dental plaque, providing information on the person’s diet, health and living conditions.

Scientists are examining the skeleton in detail trying to get some idea about the person’s age and figure and the scoliosis.  Experts are also trying to establish how exactly the individual died and what kind of weapon would have caused the horrific injuries to the skull.

The remains are also radiocarbon dated in two separate examinations, which will give us an idea of when the person died, to within 80 years.

However, if these remains are indeed those of Richard, the most interesting process would be the CT scan from which a 3-D image of the person can be built.  This would also be the basis for facial reconstruction so that one day we may be able to see what Richard really looked like – remember, none of the existent portrays is contemporary.

All these tests together will provide a detailed image of the person’s lifestyle, his health and even where he grew up, and will thus provide “more assurance about the identity of the individual”.

The process reminds me of the wide variety of information which has been established about Ötzi, the “iceman” found by hikers in the Ötztaler Alps in September 1991.  I have been fascinated by him since he was first discovered and the story of the find was one of the last I wrote about as assistant for a scientific research organization.  Compared to Ötzi’s age of 5300 years, this man’s 500 years seems to be a very short time frame indeed.

More information:

‘‘It’s not like CSI’: the Science of the Search for Richard III’, University of Leicester (15 Nov 2012).

Richard III dig: Results expected in January’, BBC News Leicester (19 Nov 2012).

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Who is the Mystery Woman?

   Posted by: Dorothea Preis    in Greyfriars Dig, News

ArchaeologyDuring the dig, which has hopefully recovered Richard III’s remains, the archaeologists also found female remains.  Obviously the find (potentially) of Richard overshadowed everything else, but at last there is also some information on the female remains.

Although these have not yet been investigated in as much detail, it has now been suggested that these could be those of Ellen Luenor.  It is thought that she and her husband Gilbert founded the friary in the 13th century.

Her incomplete skeleton was found in a different part of the friary than the male remains.  Archaeologists suggest that the skeleton may have been dug up by a gardener when the site was the garden of a mansion house in the 17th century and then reburied.   The manager of the dig site said: “They were buried at a higher level than the church floor and the bones were not intact, which suggests that someone dug them up by accident and reburied them in a different spot, just not as deep.”

A more thorough investigation of the female skeleton will be undertaken, once the analysis of the male remains has been completed.   They also announced that any identification of the former king’s body is at least two weeks away, with the results likely to be released in the new year, when Channel 4 will screen its documentary of the search.

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Everyone in the Ricardian community is waiting for the results of the tests on the human remains found during the dig in Leicester.  And nobody is probably waiting more impatiently than the person, whose research made the whole project possible:  Dr John Ashdown-Hill.

This research was published in his 2010 book The Last Days of Richard III.  This book not only investigates the last 100 days of this king’s life, but also argues that Richard III’s remains could still be found in the place, where they were buried in the Greyfriars church in 1485.  In addition to this he traced Richard’s mtDNA in an all female line descent from Anne of York, Richard’s eldest sister, to a Canadian family.

A member of this family, Michael Ibsen, lives in the UK and has given his DNA to be compared with DNA the scientists are hoping to find in the remains.  Mr Ibsen attended the dig at Leicester and given his possible relationship to the remains described the experience of looking at the grave as “fascinating and spine tingling”.

That human remains were found at the spot where Dr Ashdown-Hill describes they would be, has obviously given him” a great sense of personal triumph, because without [his] prior research, it might never have happened”.

We all share his hope that the tests will confirm what we all see as pretty strong circumstantial evidence that these remains are indeed Richard’s:  “male; right age group and social class; died a violent death; had a twisted spine; found in the right place.”   How many people, who fit all these criteria, would have been buried in a small friary church?

Dr Ashdown-Hill is also planning a new edition of his book including evidence from the dig and more details on the descent of the Ibsen family from Richard’s sister.

The full article from the University of Leicester can be found here.

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This time luck was on Richard III’s side

   Posted by: Dorothea Preis    in Greyfriars Dig, News

ArchaeologyIt seems to be purely by luck that the archaeologists carrying out the dig at Leicester were able to find human remains, which are likely to be those of Richard III,  at all, as they could easily have been destroyed in Victorian times.  It has recently emerged that the head of the remains was found just inches below Victorian foundations.

Site director Mathew Morris said:  “If the Victorians had dug down 30 cm more they would have built on top of the remains and destroyed them.”

The Mayor of Leicester City, Sir Peter Soulsby added:  “They obviously did not discover anything and probably would not have been aware of the importance of the site… If their plans had been just a little different, they could have destroyed a most significant historic find.”

Further information:

Victorian builders came within inches of destroying Richard III bones’, Science Blog.

Body found in Richard III search was almost destroyed’, Science on NBC (16 October 2012).

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Congratulations, Philippa Langley!

   Posted by: Dorothea Preis    in Greyfriars Dig, News, Society News

The Richard III Society has awarded Philippa Langley the Robert Hamblin Award, which was established in 2002 to recognise work of outstanding service by a member.  In addition, she was awarded honorary life membership in recognition of the particular merit of the Greyfriars Dig.

We would like to congratulate Philippa on these awards.  Our branch would like to join all Society members world-wide in thanking her for her tireless work in making this dream come true.

You can read the Press Release of the Richard III Society here.

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Was this King Richard III’s grave?

   Posted by: Dorothea Preis    in Greyfriars Dig, News

You may remember the guest post about the dig in Leicester by Sally Henshaw, the Secretary of the Midlands East branch of the Richard III Society, from about 2 weeks ago.  Sally returned for another visit to the site, after the skeleton was found, and has kindly sent us some photographs of special relevance with the find.

Place where the male skeleton was found between the yellow markers. The head was at the marker at the front of the photo facing the picture of Richard III (facing east). (© Sally Henshaw)

Yorkist retainers keeping watch. (© Sally Henshaw)

The dig and its findings are based on the research by John Ashdown-Hill, which he published in his book The Last Days of Richard III.   It was fitting that it should have been him, who removed the excavated bones from the site. [according to an article in the Daily Gazette, see here]

In the meantime, while we are all waiting for the results of the DNA tests, the Australian media seem to have lost interest in the findings, but not so in the UK, where arguments about where Richard should be re-interred (provided it is established that it is him, of course) and with what kind of ceremony are going backwards and forwards.   I just hope they decide on a place that is quieter and more dignified than Westminster Abbey, though that is where his wife, Queen Anne Nevill, is buried.  I visited the church this July and was fairly horrified – it was not a church but some sort of theme park.

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Pause for thought

   Posted by: Dorothea Preis    in Greyfriars Dig, News

While we are waiting for the outcome of the DNA analysis, it seems to be the right time for some reflection.   This has been the most exciting time for any Ricardian or anyone interested in the period.   We would like to thank everyone concerned, the University of Leicester, Leicester City Council and the Richard III Society for making this investigation possible.  Our special thanks go to Philippa Langley of the Society, whose determination made her dream become reality.

Thanks also go to our friends on the Society Yahoo group, who posted a link to the full 35 minute video on You Tube of the press conference at Leicester, held on 12 September 2012.  This is an unlisted video, but as Richard Taylor of the University of Leicester tweeted the link, I suppose I can share it here.

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Digging up dirt in Leicestershire

   Posted by: Dorothea Preis    in News

No, I’m not talking about the dig in Leicester at the moment, but rather about the Time Team episode on ‘Groby Old Hall’, which will have a repeat broadcast on ABC1 next week.

The announcement on the ABC website says that “The team visit Groby Old Hall in Leicestershire, once home to the legendary White Queen Elizabeth, the wife of Edward IV.”    The description of Elizabeth Woodville as “White Queen” has strong resonances of Philippa Gregory’s novels, but let’s hope that the research Time Team has done is more in-depth than that of a novelist.

Groby Hall was the property of the family of Elizabeth Woodville’s first husband, John Grey.  Later, it passed to their son Thomas Grey.

In spite of any misgivings about the description, the programme should be interesting to watch.  It is on at 18h00 on 18 September 2012 on ABC1.

The above photograph of Groby Old Hall is © Copyright Mat Fascione and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

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No, not a hunchback!

   Posted by: Dorothea Preis    in Greyfriars Dig, News

It’s good to see that the news about the discovery in Leicester of a skeleton which might indeed be the remains of Richard III (subject to DNA testing) are getting quite a bit of exposure in the Australian media.  Our branch received a few requests for radio interviews and so far we found the interviewers interested in hearing our side of the story.

However, readers who live in the Sydney area, might have seen yesterday’s article in the Sydney Morning Herald with the headline ”Hunchback skeleton may be good fit for a king”.  A friend phoned me to talk to me about a similar article in the Australian (which I don’t read), so the story about the ”hunchback king” seems to have done the rounds.

Wednesday’s press release from the University of Leicester explicitly stated that the man, whose remains they had found, was not a hunchback.  He suffered from scoliosis, a sideways curvature of the spine, which would be hardly noticeable on a clothed person.  Above all it is very well possible for someone with scoliosis to be athletic, which a medieval soldier definitely had be, and Richard was an acknowledged good soldier.  I read that Usain Bolt has scoliosis – hardly the misshapen cripple of Shakespeare’s play.

Well, to cut a long story short, I was pretty annoyed with the story in the SMH.  Sufficiently annoyed to write a letter to set the record straight.  And I am glad that my letter was accepted for publication.  You can read it on the letters’ page of today’s paper or on the digital version here (you have to scroll down a bit).

No, I never thought Richard was a hunchback and if this skeleton is indeed his (and I think that there is a very good chance that it is), then it proves that he was not a hunchback.

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