Turi King has been involved in a number of high profile projects including:
King Richard III
Turi lead the genetic and statistical analysis in the King Richard III case. And before you ask, yes, you’re related to Richard III!
King Richard III was killed at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485 and, according to historical documentation, brought to Leicester and buried in the choir of the church of the Greyfriars. Though there were rumours that is remains had been dug up during the dissolution of the monasteries and thrown into the local river Soar, much historical scholarship by people such as Charles Bilson in his book Mediaeval Leicester (1920), Audrey Strange in her Ricardian article (1975) and David Baldwin in his 1986 paper, “King Richard’s Grave in Leicester” all argued convincingly that this was unlikely to be true and that Richard was likely still buried whatever remained of the friary, located in an area of downtown Leicester which was now covered by carparks and buildings.
In 2011, Philippa Langley of the Richard III Society, contacted Richard Buckley of the University of Leicester Archaeological Services and commissioned them to carry out a desk based study. As part of this, Richard Buckley contacted Turi to ask if she would be interested in being involved and to advise on what genetic analysis would be needed in order to help identify the remains.
In 2012, the University decided to help fund an excavation in conjunction with the Richard III Society, alongside this, they funded staff time for what was thought to likely be a 2-3week information-gathering excavation purely to find any remains of the friary as a first step. With her background in both archaeology and genetics, Turi was ideally placed to lead on the ‘clean conditions’ requirements should any remains be found. She was also able to help excavate on site.
In order to excavate remains, it is necessary to gain a license from the Ministry of Justice. Given that this was a friary site and could contain the remains of hundreds of individuals, it was decided that the team would lift up to six sets of remains, looking for ones that most closely fit what was known about Richard at the outset: in the choir of the church of the Greyfriars, aged 32, died in battle, possibly with a spinal abnormality.
On the first day of the excavation, the lower limbs of a skeleton were found as a trench was being dug and it was determined that under the soil was an articulated skeleton. However, at this point, it was not known where the trench lay in relation to the friary, and the team were keen not to disturb or uncover any remains, keeping them safe under the soil to revisit if it was determined that they lay in the choir. After excavating for a further few days, it became apparent that this skeleton lay at one end of the choir and so careful excavation would be started. The rest is history. The University funded all the subsequent research including all staff costs solely.
Richard himself left no known living descendants. And while it’s been estimated that there will be somewhere between 1-17 million people today who are descended from Richard’s family (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/uk-england-leicestershire-23757868/richard-iii-more-or-less-examines-how-many-descendents-he-could-have) because of how our DNA is inherited, it’s not possible to use such relatives to help in the identification of King Richard III unless their related to Richard in two very particular ways.
The vast majority of our DNA is a very complex mixture of DNA passed down to us from our ancestors. However, two segments of our DNA have a very simple pattern of inheritance: both mitochondrial DNA and the Y-chromosome are copied and passed down virtually unchanged (barring naturally occurring mutations) down through the generations and therefore could be used, after all these years, for the DNA identification purposes. Mitochondrial DNA is passed down in the egg and so travels down through the generations through the female line. Men carry mitochondrial DNA passed down to them from their mothers but are unable to pass it on. The Y chromosome is passed down in sperm through the male line. Women inherit the Y chromosome and don’t pass it on. So, this was where the genealogical detective work came in: only individuals related to Richard III through an all-female line or an all-male line could be used as comparators for the DNA analysis.
Two living female line relatives were found. Michael Ibsen and Wendy Duldig, see tree here. Their DNA matched each other and the skeletal remains as would be expected if these were the remains of King Richard III.
Male-line relatives of Richard III are easy to find by going to Burke’s Peerage (https://www.burkespeerage.com). Y chromosome analysis showed that male-line relatives of Richard III, all whom descended from Henry Somerset, the 5th Duke of Beaufort, did not match the skeletal remains. This is not unexpected as it is known that the false paternity rate, where the biological father is not the recorded father, is at around 1-2% per generation.
As the two earliest portraits of King Richard III, one in the Royal Collection and the Arched-Frame portrait in the Society of Antiquaries in London, both painted after his lifetime, differ in terms of hair and eye colour, Turi also led the research to genetically-predict Richard III’s hair and eye pigmentation in order to shed light on which was the most closely matching portrait.
Further information is available at https://le.ac.uk/richard-iii
TRANSCRPT: Richard III: The DNA Analysis and Conclusion
The identification of the remains of King Richard III can be thought of as a historical missing person’s case. Richard III last seen, according to historical records, in the choir of the church of the Grey Friars Friary, in Leicester.
However, since that time, the Friary had been torn down during the dissolution of the monasteries. The excavation that we carried out in 2012 was to first see if we could find what if anything was left of the friary and then from that hopefully home in on the area where he could be. In terms of what we were looking for: we knew Richard was aged 32, in 1485, when he died in battle. And, from looking at the historical sources, he may have had a spinal abnormality.
We carry out the excavation and find the skeletal remains of somebody that looks like it could be him. All of the information from the analysis of the bones is consistent with these being the remains of Richard III. So how does the DNA analysis figure into this case. Well, just as in any missing person’s case, you compare the DNA of the person you’ve found with that of a known relative.
It’s important to remember that Richard has no known living descendants, so any present-day living relatives are descendances of Richard’s own relatives, not Richard himself.
And it’s important to say here that not just any old relative would do for the DNA analysis. The DNA we inherit is a complex mixture of just some of our many, many ancestors. Given the number of generations since Richard III was alive, I had to concentrate on looking at parts of our DNA that’s passed down through the generations in a really simple way.
I was particularly interested in analysing three different segments of DNA from the skeleton as part of this project.
So, the first of these was mitochondrial DNA. Now mitochondrial DNA was interesting for the project for two reasons: first of all, it’s in lots and lots of copies in each of our cells, so if you’re going to find any DNA left in skeletal remains it tends to be mitochondrial DNA. The second reason why it’s really useful for this case is it’s passed down just through the female line, so mum passes it down to all of her children – boys and girls – but only daughters can pass it on.
So, it means that if I can find a female line relative of Richard, and it can be a boy or a girl, so long as it’s all female line all the way through the rest of that line, I can use them to act as a comparator. I can look at the mitochondrial DNA of the living relative and see if it matches those of the remains.
The next segment of DNA I was interested in was the Y chromosome. So, the Y chromosome also has a very simple pattern of inheritance – it is passed down only through the male line, so all men related through the male line should have an identical or near identical Y chromosome types.
The third bits of DNA that I was interested in are sections of our DNA that can help predict a person’s hair and eye colour. And the reason why that is interesting is because there are no contemporary portraits of Richard. So, what I was interested in doing was looking at what the DNA was predicting about his hair and eye colour and then comparing that against the portraits that we’ve got and seeing which is the closest match.
So how to find those relatives to compare the DNA to. Well, one of them was already known: Michael Ibsen. He is a female-line relative of King Richard III.
A member of the Richard III Society, John Ashdown-Hill, and his colleagues had been researching Richard and his family over a number of years. They had previously identified a woman called Joy Ibsen, in Canada, who was a direct female line descendant from Richard’s sister Anne of York. Michael is her son, living in London, and happy to give a DNA sample.
However, we had to be certain that the genealogy was correct, it’s vital to know how a relative is related to the missing person and be certain of that. This is because if there wasn’t a DNA match, how do we know that it isn’t just because the genealogy was wrong. We also knew that our research would be scrutinised and so it would be important to independently verify this work. This entailed Professor Kevin Schürer and his team looking at a range of documents including sources such as centuries-old wills, as well as marriage and birth records. Together they helped reconstruct family trees and give documentary proof, as far as you can obtain it, that the family tree is correct.
It also allowed us to trace another female line relative, distantly related to Michael but also descended from Anne of York. This was a woman called Wendy Duldig, who, thankfully, also agreed to take part in this research. Michael Ibsen and Wendy Duldig are 14th cousins twice removed. They are both descended from Anne of York who is Richard’s eldest sister, and they share the same common ancestors for a couple of generations and then they split off and it’s all female line as you’d expect down through the generations until you get to the both of them.
I was able to take DNA samples from them and look at their mitochondrial DNA. First and foremost, they matched each other, which meant that the family tree linking them was correct and then they matched the skeletal remains, which again showed that the DNA evidence, as well, was pointing to these being the remains of Richard III.
In some respects, the work on the Y chromosome and the male line is more difficult than the mitochondrial DNA and the female line. I was interested to see if there was a genetic link between Richard and his male line relatives who are alive today. Now we always knew from the outset that there might not be a DNA match and that’s because we know from previous research that I and others have done that you get the possibility of what’s known as false or misattributed paternity. This is where the biological father is not the recorded father and that’s going to break the y chromosome link. We know that there’s a percentage for that and it hovers around the one to two percent mark per generation. Still, we thought that this would be an interesting thing to do, just bearing in mind that given the number of generations that there might not be a y chromosome match.
As Richard was from a noble family, finding male line relatives was very straight-forward to do. Using Burke’s Peerage allowed us to identify a number of people by going up from Richard to Edward III and then back down again through John of Gaunt and that goes on through the Earl’s and Dukes of Somerset and eventually the Dukes of Beaufort. We traced five living male line descendants of Henry Somerset, the 5th Duke of Beaufort, who lived in the 18th century. I’m expecting that they should all have the same or similar Y chromosomes and that they should match the skeletal remains.
Now, doing the Y chromosome work I found that there wasn’t a link between Richard III and the male line relatives who are alive today. Now this doesn’t mean that the skeleton isn’t Richard because what we have already is very strong evidence coming from all the other analysis and from the mitochondrial DNA. The genealogy tells us that they should be related but the DNA is telling us that there has been a false of misattributed paternity, where the biological father is not the recorded father, somewhere in the nineteen generations between Henry Somerset and Richard III, and that’s broken the Y chromosome link.
The majority of links in the chain – 13 out of the 19 – do not affect royal descent at all, it’s the remaining six links that could do. Breaks in the links on the Yorkist side of the tree could affect the claim to the throne of the Yorkist Plantagenet Kings, Edward IV and Richard III. If the break occurs between Edward III and his son John of Gaunt, then this asks questions about the legitimacy of any of John’s sons including Henry IV and his subsequent heirs Henry V and Henry VI. John’s heirs also include Henry Tudor, who started the Tudor royal dynasty. He was descended from John of Gaunt’s illegitimate son, John Beaufort, so a break there could also affect the Tudors claim to the throne.
At this moment in time, we have absolutely no proof as to where that break, or breaks occurred. There are nineteen links in that chain, six of which could affect royal descent, so statistically speaking it’s likely to have had no effect at all. However, it would be interesting to investigate this further, to fully understand where that break occurred in the Y chromosome chain.
Finally, while much of the focus of the DNA analysis was on proving that these were the remains of King Richard III, DNA can tell us a lot more than just who you’re related to. I was really interested in looking at the bits of DNA which we know can help us predict likely eye and hair colour.
Now the reason why that’s interesting is because there’s no contemporary portraits of Richard, they all post-date his death by about 25-30 years onwards – and there are two that vie for being the earliest portrait of him. The one in the Royal Collection and the one in the Society of Antiquaries of London. Analysing his DNA, what we’ve been able to show is that we can say with high probability that Richard had blue eyes and that at least his childhood hair colour was probably blonde, but importantly, we know that hair can darken with age. But if you take this genetic data, we suggest that the most closely matching portrait is the one in the Society of Antiquaries in London, known as the Arched Frame Portrait.
What we’ve been focusing on here is the DNA evidence, but what we have to remember is that this is just one strand of evidence – one piece of a jigsaw puzzle – and what we have to do in answering the question ‘is this Richard III?’ is bring all of the pieces of the jigsaw together, just as would be done in any missing person’s case. We know that Richard III was killed in battle, at the Battle of Bosworth, brought back to Leicester and buried in the choir of the church of the Grey Friars friary. He was age 32 when he died, and we know that within his lifetime he was described as having one shoulder as being higher than the other.
So, we do the excavation, and we find the remains of a young man, he is in his early thirties. He has got battle injuries and severe scoliosis of the spine and he’s in the choir of the church of the Grey Friars. Now you can add the radiocarbon data to this, and the DNA analysis and you can bring all of those strands of evidence together and do what’s known as a Bayesian analysis to put a statistical number on how likely this is to be who you think it is.
We’ve done just that; we’ve calculated the probability of these being the remains of Richard III at their most conservative as being 99.999 percent. The evidence is overwhelming that these are the remains of King Richard III.
Mary Jane Kelly
Mary Jane Kelly is considered to be the last canonical victim of Jack the Ripper and in 2015 Turi was contacted by the author Patricia Cornwell, who asked her to research the location of Mary’s grave. This formed the basis of a desk-based study involving a team of University of Leicester staff.
TRANSCRPT: Mary Jane Kelly’s Grave – Victim of Jack The Ripper
In 2015 it was widely reported that Dr Wynne Weston-Davies wanted to extract DNA from the remains of Mary Jane Kelly, the last canonical victim of Jack the Ripper.
He wanted to do this because his family history research had led him to believe that Mary Jane Kelly was actually his great aunt Elizabeth Weston-Davies and therefore Jack the Ripper could have been her ex-husband Francis Spurzheim Craig.
Patricia Cornwell the internationally renowned crime writer, who is known her meticulous research, contacted me to find out whether or not it would be even possible for a project such as this to go ahead and paid for desk-based study.
However, what’s crucial for a case such as this is that we have to know that the remains that we’re looking at are actually those of Mary Jane Kelly. So, we carried out research to determine the likelihood of finding her remains.
Mary Jane Kelly was buried here in St Patrick’s Catholic Cemetery in November 1888. She was buried in a communal grave on top of five other burials. We know in the 1940’s the land was reclaimed, any grave markers removed and a new burial system laid over the top of the old one but with no information about how they related to one another. So we simply don’t know the precise location of Mary Jane Kelly’s grave.
In order to carry out this project we would have to disturb the remains of potentially hundreds of individuals, all of whose relatives would have to give consent for the project to go ahead and the Ministry of Justice would be highly unlikely to grant a license for the excavation.
Secondly, we know of exhumations of remains, from as recently as the 1950’s, show that the graves are heavily waterlogged and remains are in very poor condition, which would affect the retrieval of any usable DNA for a project of this nature.
Given the quality of the research question and extremely unlikely chance of success we felt that breaking ground on this project simply wasn’t justifiable.
Since this time, independent researchers, Pat Marshall and Chris Philips have found documentary evidence proving Elizabeth Weston-Davies died in Wales, in 1929, thereby bringing this case to a close.
Jamestown, Virginia is one of the most important sites in U.S. history. It’s the site of the first permanent English settlement in the U.S. The Jamestown Rediscovery Group have been working there for a number of years and they called me in to have a look at a particularly interesting burial.
The reason why this burial was so interesting is because it’s potentially that of Sir George Yeardley, who died in 1627. Now, Sir George Yeardley was one of the early settlers of Jamestown and he presided over the first representative government, known as the Virginia General Assembly. So, it’s considered to be the birthplace of democracy in what became the United States of America.
Transcript: The search for descendants of Sir George Yeardley
Jamestown, Virginia is one of the most important sites in U.S. history. It’s the site of the first permanent English settlement in the U.S.
The Jamestown Rediscovery Group have been working there for a number of years and they called me in to have a look at a particularly interesting burial.
The reason why this burial was so interesting is because it’s potentially that of Sir George Yeardley who died in 1627. Now, Sir George Yeardley was one of the early settlers of Jamestown and he presided over the first representative government, known as the Virginia General Assembly. So, it’s considered to be the birthplace of democracy in what became the United States of America.
The condition of the remains looks pretty good and while working with ancient DNA is notoriously difficult, we have managed to extract DNA from the remains that we can work with.
In order to identify the remains, we need to find individuals who are related to him either through an all-male line back to him or an all-female line back to his mother, ideally with a verified genealogy.
We know that George Yeardley was born in 1587 in Southwark in London, England to Ralph Yeardley and Rhoda Marston.
So, we’re putting a call out to anybody who fits the criteria. If you know you’re related to Sir George either through an all-male line or an all-female line, please do get in contact with me.
Jamestown - The Search for Sir George Yeardley Transcript
400 years old and this guy’s looking pretty good, just as well because those bones are needed to provide the DNA that will hopefully confirm what everybody here thinks, that this is Sir George Yardley.
What I’m interested in doing is getting a bone or tooth sample that I can take away to do DNA analysis. What I want to do is analyse the DNA from the skeleton and see if it matches that of a known relative.
To check him out myself I have to provide my DNA as a control.
All you need to do is breathe on these remains or touch them and your putting your DNA all over it, so one of the things I’m really worried about is contamination. So I need you just spit into that, up to that line, it’s actually going to take you longer.
That’s a lot of spit?
It is it’ll take you quite a long time to actually do and then we‘re going to close the lid, that’s got a buffer in it, that will keep the DNA nice and happy and then I’m going to take it back to the UK to do analysis.
I’m going to do this somewhere else.
Yeah I’d go, take your time.
Once we’re tested and suited up we enter the gravesite to look for teeth.
Well this is amazing so look over here we got, looks like a tooth here, another one underneath there, so it’s looking good, it’s looking like we’ve got some teeth here that we’ll be able to do DNA analysis, it’s amazing.
To make sure they were digging in the right place scientists used ground-penetrating radar.
This is the first time that we have imaged a human skeleton with ground-penetrating radar. It’s a really big deal because it’s not supposed to be possible, but I think this is going to open a lot of doors for new research for non-invasively looking at archaeological remains and potentially not even having to disturb them at all.
But why does anybody care about Sir George Yardley? This is where Sir George Yardley presided over the first General Assembly that established the rule of law in America and the principle of representative government, but there is a dark side to this story because Sir George was also one of the first English slaveholders in the colonies.
When George Yardley first set foot in Jamestown in the summer of 1610 the colony was on the brink of collapse, barely 60 settlers had survived the winter and some had resorted to cannibalism. A decade later Sir George was in charge of a settlement that offered rich rewards.
In 1619 they also managed to get hold of the first enslaved Africans who arrived in this colony, which was about the same time as the General Assembly and Sir George became one of the largest of those slave owners.
There are a thousand other graves at Jamestown, each with a story to tell and with every discovery emerges a more complete history of the origins of modern America. Jane O’Brien BBC news, Jamestown.
Lara Maiklem – The Thames Skull
In 2019 Lara Maiklem and a fellow mudlark found a skull and bones on the Thames foreshore. The location is historically where prison ships used to be moored, housing prisoners from the Napoleonic War and those awaiting transportation to Australia. After tests by the Police, it was concluded that the bones were two hundred years old and were placed back into the care of Lara, who is now trying shed light on the identity of the remains.
Turi has taken samples from the skull and will be working with these samples to see if any retrievable DNA can be extracted.
Turi recently worked on a project involving the sequencing of the oldest known domesticated cat on the Silk Road. Dating back to the 9th century from Dzhankent, Kazakhstan, the cat showed evidence of having been cared for. This also provides the earliest known cat genome for a domesticated cat.