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.

richard iii skeleton university of leicester

One 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 www.le.ac.uk/richardiii

Mary Jane Kelly

Mary Jane Kelly is considered to be the last canonical victim of Jack the Ripper and in 20. I was contacted by the author Patricia Cornwell who asked Turi to research the location of her grave. This formed the basis of a desk-based study led by Turi involving other University of Leicester staff.

Mary Jane Kelly gravestone

Mary Jane Kelly name entry

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.

turi king jamestown project

Jamestown, Virginia (Sir George Yeardley)

Turi is currently working with archaeologists from the Jamestown Rediscovery Project to determine if the remains found in the church at the Jamestown site are those of Sir George Yeardley.

DNA has been successfully extracted and sequenced. The search is now on to find a living relative.

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.

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 AmericaJane O’Brien BBC news, Jamestown.  

Lara Maiklem – Mudlarking with Professor Turi King

Ancient Kitty

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.

ancient kitty skull