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The King in the Car Park

King Richard III's grave looking north © Antiquity Publications Ltd

In the latest issue of Antiquity, University of Leicester archaeologists have published the first peer-reviewed paper on the University-led archaeological search for Richard III.

The paper reports the results of a public archaeology project initiated by Philippa Langley, a member of the Richard III Society, and executed by a team of archaeologists and other specialists from the University of Leicester. The aim was to locate the Grey Friars church in Leicester in which the body of Richard III is recorded to have been buried.

The article describes how the team found the church, previously known only from historical records, beneath a City Council car park. Within it, they excavated a hastily-dug grave in a high-status position beneath the choir.

The lozenge-shaped grave was too small for the skeleton it contained, suggesting the man buried there had been interred in a hurry and with little reverence. The skeleton itself showed signs of scoliosis, a twisting of the spine known to have afflicted Richard III. The body also showed evidence of potential ‘humiliation injuries’ suffered around the time of death, and may have been buried with the hands bound. The combined archaeological evidence, and a mitochondrial DNA match with two living descendents of Richard III, led the team to their conclusion that the remains they had found were those of the king.

The Grey Friars Project has been unusual in the nature of the collaboration between professional and academic archaeologists, an amateur group (the Richard III Society) and the City of Leicester” say the authors. “However, this also means that the project has addressed two different but overlapping sets of research questions, not all of which specialists would routinely ask. Projects developed in this way may become more common in future as non-specialists increasingly become users, stakeholders and participants in academic research.”

We have demonstrated that a project like Grey Friars, where academics, local authorities and amateur enthusiasts work together, can produce answers and benefits for all.”

This first published account of the excavation will be freely available to read online.

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