News, Science

King Richard III’s Bones Discovered Under A Parking Lot

Image: Dcoetzee
The whereabouts of King Richard III had been a mystery until recently. Image: Dcoetzee

He was the king in Shakespeare’s play who uttered the famous words, “My kingdom for a horse!”

His name was Richard III, and he ruled as King of England from 1483 to 1485. He died in battle at age 32 at a place called Bosworth Field near Leicester (pronounced like “Lester”), England.

His body was buried by King Henry VII in a monastery (a place where monks live). Later, the monastery was destroyed and no one ever knew what became of Richard III’s bones.

Until this year, that is.

A group of Richard III enthusiasts, members of the Richard III Society, have been searching for the bones for years. They teamed up with some archeologists to look around Leicester for the lost skeleton.

Image: Chris Tweed
The discovered burial site of King Richard III. Image: Chris Tweed

Last September they finally found it—under a city parking lot in Leicester.

The parking lot is about 25 kilometres from the battle field where the king was killed.

When the archeologists saw the bones, they were hopeful it was Richard III because he has a number of unique physical features including a crooked spine (from a condition called scoliosis) and about 10 war injuries. The king was also rumoured to have a withered arm, but there was no evidence of that on the skeleton.

However, they needed to verify the king’s identity using DNA.

Every animal and insect (including humans) has DNA. DNA is a set of molecules that stores information about an individual. Everyone’s DNA is unique to them.

DNA taken from the skeleton’s teeth would prove whether the bones were that of Richard III.

A Canadian geneticist (a scientist who specializes in DNA research) found two people who were direct descendents of Richard III. In other words, it was known that they were definitely related to him. One is Michael Ibsen, a Canadian carpenter living in England. He is related to Richard’s sister; Ibsen is Richard’s 17th great-grand-nephew. The other person has asked not to be identified.

The geneticist matched their DNA with the DNA from the skeleton. It was a perfect match.

The mystery of Richard III was finally laid to rest.

Unlike when Richard’s body was unceremoniously dumped in the 15th century, this time his bones will be given a king’s burial in Leicester Cathedral.

Related links

Richard III Society website. This is not a specifically kid-friendly site.

This excellent article in the Globe and Mail outlines the interesting Canadian connection to the discovery. This is not a specifically kid-friendly site.

If you’re interested in DNA, take a look at this TKN article about an interesting event at the CN Tower in Toronto.

By Jonathan Tilly

Writing/Discussion Prompt
The bones found under a parking lot in Liecester  were confirmed to belong to Richard III thanks to DNA testing. Have you heard of DNA being used in other ways? What other types of mysteries do you think DNA testing could help solve?

Reading Prompt: Responding to and Evaluating Texts
The Richard III Society and a team of archaeologists put in a tremendous amount of time, effort, and money to find the bones of the former king, but was it worth it? Discuss this topic with a friend and then share with the class why you think searching for the monarch was important / unimportant.

Express personal opinions about ideas presented in texts (OME, Reading: 1.8).

Make judgements and draw conclusions about the ideas and information in texts and cite stated or implied evidence from the text to support their views (OME, Reading: 1.8).

Evaluate the effectiveness of both simple and complex texts based on evidence from the texts (OME, Reading: 1.8).

Grammar Feature: Etymology
Etymology is the study of words. But unlike someone who is interested in the definitions of words, etymologists are particularly interested in where words come from and how their meaning has changed over time. Since today’s story centres around someone who has been dead for over 500 years, lets look at the etymology of an old word used in today’s article.

Did you know that “archaeology” is an ancient greek word? “Arkhaios” means “ancient” and the suffix (ending) “logos” means “knowledge.” Put together, “archaeology” then means “knowledge of the ancient.”

In which subject would knowing etymolgy help you most, language or history? Why do you think so?