Human Remains Found in Search for King Richard III's Grave

Richard III of England
A contemporary drawing of Richard III and his queen, Anne Neville, and son, Edward, Prince of Wales (Image credit: public domain)

A hunt for the grave of King Richard III has turned up human remains at the medieval church where the English monarch is said to be buried — but there is no word yet on whether the remains belong to the king.

University of Leicester archaeologists will announce the details of the new findings tomorrow (Sept. 12). Until then, the researchers are remaining tight-lipped about the find.

"What we have uncovered is truly remarkable and today (Wednesday, Sept. 12) we will be announcing to the world that the search for King Richard III has taken a dramatic new turn," said Richard Taylor, the director of corporate affairs at the University of Leicester. [See images of the Richard III discoveries]

Archaeologists began excavating the parking lot of the Leicester City Council on Aug. 25 in search of a medieval Franciscan friary known as Greyfriars. The location of the church had been lost, but historical records hold that Richard III, the last English king to die in battle, was laid to rest there in 1485.

Now, researchers are confident that they have found the church, as well as a 17th-century garden that supposedly once held a memorial to the lost king.

Among the relics uncovered in the dig are medieval window tracery, lead fragments from stained-glass windows, a medieval silver penny and a stone frieze, which may have lined the choir stalls. In addition, paving stones that were found mark the garden of Robert Herrick, a mayor of Leicester who built a mansion on the church site more than 100 years after King Richard III's death in the War of the Roses.

Richard III ruled for only two years before his death during the Battle of Bosworth Field. Despite his short rule, he gained extra fame a century after his death, when William Shakespeare penned "Richard III," immortalizing the king in a play. Since his death, Richard III has been the focus of much interest. Over the years, his lost grave spurred fanciful rumors about where his body had gone, including that his bones were thrown into the Soar River and that his coffin was used as a horse-trough. These tales have been discredited, according to Philippa Langley, a member of the Richard III Society, which is collaborating on the excavations.

The archaeologists have now excavated the choir of the church found under the city council parking lot, which is reportedly not far from where Richard III was laid to rest. If the king's body is found, archaeologists will subject it to DNA analysis and re-inter it in Leicester Cathedral.

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Stephanie Pappas
Live Science Contributor

Stephanie Pappas is a contributing writer for Live Science, covering topics ranging from geoscience to archaeology to the human brain and behavior. She was previously a senior writer for Live Science but is now a freelancer based in Denver, Colorado, and regularly contributes to Scientific American and The Monitor, the monthly magazine of the American Psychological Association. Stephanie received a bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of South Carolina and a graduate certificate in science communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz.