February 4, 2013 10:29 am
Researchers announced this morning that the bones found beneath a parking lot in England are likely those of King Richard III. CNN reports:
Mitochondrial DNA extracted from the bones was matched to Michael Ibsen, a Canadian cabinetmaker and direct descendant of Richard III’s sister, Anne of York.
Experts say other evidence — including battle wounds and signs of scoliosis, or curvature of the spine, found during the search and the more than four months of tests since support the DNA findings.
Richard III, says the CBC, “is believed to have been buried inside the church of a Franciscan friary known as Greyfriars, whose location was forgotten after the church was suppressed in 1538 when King Henry VIII abolished the monasteries.”
Though the graveyard was lost to time, archeologists from the University of Leicester think they have found it once again, located underneath a parking lot in Leicester, England. What’s more, the team has found a skeleton which they think may be that of the long-dead king. Giving weight to that claim, the researchers said in a statement, is the fact that the skeleton appears to have belonged to someone who had been afflicted by scoliosis—a finding consistent with depictions of Richard III’s disfigurement. The person to whom the skeleton belonged also seems to have died in battle, with an arrowhead in its back and wounds to the head.
The DNA techniques used to identify the bones required finding some descendents of the late leader, says National Geographic:
Turi King, a geneticist at the University of Leicester, and Kevin Schürer, a genealogist at the school, turned up the most compelling evidence. By poring over historical records and documents, Schürer conclusively identified two of Richard III’s living descendants: Michael Ibsen, a furniture maker in London, England, and a second individual who now wishes to remain anonymous.
King took DNA samples from the two descendants and compared them to a sample of ancient DNA obtained from the skeleton from the friary. “There is a DNA match,” King told reporters, “so the DNA evidence points to these being the remains of Richard III.”
The University of Leicester, where the work was done, has a whole site explaining how they came to their conclusion. But other scientists aren’t so sure. The press conference happened Monday morning, announcing the results before the work had been peer reviewed. Nature pointed out some scientists who have voiced their concerns on Twitter:
— Victoria Herridge (@ToriHerridge) February 4, 2013
@paleogenomics Yeah! Absolutely no stats mentioned! What percentage of the population share haplotype with remains? Why no paper?
— Ross Barnett (@DeepFriedDNA) February 4, 2013
Scientists involved in Richard III thing all seem legit obv, but apart from press release, no useful technical detail cc @uniofleicester
— Alok Jha (@alokjha) February 4, 2013
Without peer review, it’s possible that the results are flawed somehow, and that the hubbub over the dead king is overblown. Putting out press releases before papers has come back to bite scientists before. And it’s not like this hunt has been without drama. It was championed by a screenwriter, and Richard III fans (yes, they exist) want history rewritten in favor of the king who’s legacy was quite bloody. The Richard III Society writes:
We have been working since 1924 to secure a more balanced assessment of the king and to support research into his life and times. Membership is open to anyone with an interest in the king and fifteenth-century history. The recent Greyfriars excavation has raised the king’s profile and provided us with new opportunities to make the case for ‘Good King Richard‘.
They hope these results will start the ball rolling on a new version of the king’s life. Either way, it will take time and peer review to figure out if these bones really are the king’s, regardless of how good or bad he was.
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