While final DNA testing on a skeleton believed to be England’s maligned king, Richard III is concluded, speculation as to how this king met his brutal death paints a grisly picture. In a recent interview with the BBC, Dr Jo Appleby, an osteo-archaeologist from Leicester University’s School of Archaeology and Ancient History, states that the skeleton had suffered ten injuries, including eight to the skull, at around the time of death. Two of the skull wounds were potentially fatal.
According to Appleby, one wound was a “slice” removing a flap of bone, the other was caused by bladed weapon which went through and hit the opposite side of the skull – a depth of more than 10cm (4ins). “Both of these injuries would have caused an almost instant loss of consciousness and death would have followed quickly afterwards. In the case of the larger wound, if the blade had penetrated 7cm into the brain, which we cannot determine from the bones, death would have been instantaneous.”
Other wounds included slashes or stabs to the face and the side of the head. There was also evidence of “humiliation” injuries, including a pelvic wound likely to have been caused by an upward thrust of a weapon, through the buttock.
Dr Appleby added, “The analysis of the skeleton proved that it was an adult male but was an unusually slender, almost feminine, build for a man. Taken as a whole, the skeletal evidence provides a highly convincing case for identification as Richard III.”
Richard was killed at Bosworth in 1485 after only two years on the throne when challenged by Henry Tudor who became England’s King Henry VII. Evidently the defeated monarch was given a rushed and clumsy burial beneath the church of Greyfriars in the center of Leicester. Excavation of the site has revealed no evidence of a coffin or shroud which would have left the bones in a more compact position than they were found. Additionally, the arms of the skeleton were crossed which archaeologists believe could be an indication that the body was buried with the wrists still tied.
While initial DNA testing indicates that the remains are Richard’s, the drama isn’t over yet. In an interview with NBC news,Turi King, Leicester University geneticist who conducted the initial testing stated that mitochondrial DNA is not as precise an indicator as a paternity test. However, she also noted regarding the DNA found, “It’s quite a rare type, so that adds to the weight of the evidence,” further adding that the mitochondrial DNA signature found with the skeleton is shared by only a few percent of Europeans.
The next step will be to analyze the skeleton’s Y-chromosome DNA and the more complicated reconstruction of the skeleton’s Y-chromosome DNA signature which is passed down from father to son. Amazingly, four paternal-line descendants of Richard III’s family have already been identified and tested, awaiting further analysis.
KING RICHARD III OF ENGLAND
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