King Richard III

Turi leads 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.

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.

A video of the research project is here. You can download the PDF of the project here.

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

Fred 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 X from the site of X, the cat showed evidence of having been cared for. This also provides the earliest known cat genome for a domesticated cat.