How Did Richard III's Skeleton Wind Up Under A Parking Lot, Anyway?
A team of genetic detectives announced on Tuesday that it solved one of the longest missing person's cases ever when it confirmed that a skeleton found under a parking lot was medieval King Richard III. At 527 years after Richard III's death, this is the longest after death that geneticists have been able to identify bones.
Two years ago, archeologists discovered a skeleton that they believed belonged to Ye Olde Richard underneath a parking lot in Leicester. A parking lot isn't quite the grisly end that a guy Shakespeare called "that bottled spider, that foul bunch-back'd toad" probably deserved — perhaps a dark, dripping cave or ground up in a cask would've been better. But I suppose it was better than the existing alternative — his final resting place had been a complete mystery. The English king had died in the Battle of Bosworth in 1485 after receiving some pretty nasty blows to the head, and was last known to be at the now-demolished Greyfriars Friary. Somehow in all the ruckus history forgot to keep track of where they put ol' Rich.
Although researchers largely believed that the skeleton was that of Richard III, a new paper published in Nature Communications puts the chance of the found skull not being Richard III at 6.7 million to 1.
The researchers, led by Turi King and Kevin Schürer, were able to confirm the identity by using mitochondrial DNA passed down by his only descendants, who were all female. The team found two Richard III relatives to be a match to the skeleton.
The DNA recovered from the skeleton has been able to tell us what the monarch looked like. No portraits of the king while he was alive still currently exist, so any of the ones painted in the 1500s would have been painted secondhand. While it turns out that many painters nailed the blue eye color, poor Rich got a bad rap from Willy Shakes. Shakespeare perpetuated the false idea that the king was a hunchback, but the skeleton shows that the kings curved spine was simply scoliosis. Richard will be reinterred next March at the Leicester Cathedral. Fingers crossed we don't lose track of him this time.
Even in death there was a bit of scandal trailing Richard's family lineage. The DNA researchers used to trace the maternal lineage matches living relatives, while the paternal DNA does not match. This indicates that at some point in the family tree somebody was getting a little sump'tn sump'tn on the side. That could, depending on when it occurred, have invalidated Richard's claim to the throne in the first place.
So, now that mystery is laid to rest.
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