Questions about the search for Richard III

How did we know where to dig?

The precise location of Richard III’s grave, in the choir of the church of the Franciscan friary (Grey Friars) was specified by his one-time friend and contemporary John Rous. We knew the location of the Grey Friars precinct from old maps, but we didn’t know the layout of the buildings.

It was likely that the entrance to the friary church would be on a major street, so that narrowed the possibilities to streets that we were sure existed in Richard III’s time. Since Christian churches are normally aligned east-west, the best way for archaeologists to find them is to put in north-south trenches. Richard Buckley had planned three north-south trenches from the start of the fieldwork. The excavation of these allowed us to understand the plan of the friary precinct, and to be sure that we had found the church. The finds within the church building confirmed its identification as a church. The lines dividing the parking spaces made useful guides for setting out straight trenches, but Richard III’s grave was not, in fact, under a reserved parking space marked with an R.

How do we know the bones we found are really Richard III?

The identification was made by combining different lines of evidence, including:

  • The location of the grave matches the information provided by John Rous, a contemporary and one-time friend of Richard III’s.
  • The nature of the skeleton – including the age of the man, his general build, the injuries inflicted around the time of death and the scoliosis (spinal condition) - are also in agreement with historical accounts.
  • The radiocarbon dating places the date of the skeleton to the period of Richard III’s death.
  • Preliminary isotope analysis suggests an individual with a high-quality diet.
  • The nature of his burial /grave is also highly unusual for Leicester at the time, but fits with the known facts around Richard’s burial.
  • Two direct female-line descendants of Richard’s sister, Anne, were found to share a rare mitochondrial DNA type with the skeletal remains.

The strength of the identification is that different kinds of evidence all point to the same result.

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