The most exciting recent find in my particular field was the remains of England’s King Richard III in a parking lot (“carpark”) in the city of Leicester in 2012. A good book about it, weaving an account of the dig (by chief archaeologist Philippa Langley) with an account of Richard’s career and demise (by medievalist Michael K. Jones) appeared earlier this year under the title The King’s Grave: The Discovery of Richard III’s Lost Burial Place and the Clues It Holds. Now a study has appeared in the Lancet (reported in the New York Times) reconstructing Richard’s final moments based on forensic evidence of injuries sustained:
LONDON — England’s King Richard III might well have lost his kingdom for a horse.
The reviled king suffered nearly a dozen injuries on the battlefield, but the fatal blows were probably only sustained after he had to abandon his horse, according to a new paper.
Since the skeleton of the 15th-century king was discovered under a parking lot in central England in 2012, scientists have done numerous studies, including an examination of his twisted spine that led Shakespeare to label him a hunchback. In the latest research, published Wednesday in the journal Lancet, scientists used computer scans and other methods to analyze the king’s skeletal wounds.
“Richard was probably in quite a lot of pain at the end,” said Sarah Hainsworth, a professor of materials engineering at the University of Leicester and one of the study authors. She said the king was most likely attacked by numerous assailants after dismounting from his horse, which got stuck in a marsh.
Richard’s skeleton showed evidence of 11 injuries from weapons including daggers, swords and a long metal pole with an axe and hook that was used to pull knights off their horses. “Medieval battle was bloody and brutal,” she said, noting one of the skull injuries showed a sword had pierced his head.
The nine injuries Richard suffered to his head prove the king somehow lost or took off his helmet during the battle at Bosworth Field, against Henry Tudor, on Aug. 22, 1485. He was the last English monarch to die in battle.
They’ve also analyzed his bones and teeth to determine what his diet was:
A chemical analysis of the teeth and bones of King Richard III reveals that his diet was decadent even by standards of medieval royalty.
During his two-year reign, 1483 to ’85, Richard III feasted on expensive freshwater fish and such exotic birds as swan, crane and heron, the study said. And he was consuming vast quantities of wine.
To see how the king’s diet evolved, researchers from the British Geological Survey and the University of Leicester analyzed the chemical isotopes in two teeth, one rib and a femur from his remains, which were discovered under a parking lot in Leicester in 2012. The teeth, which form at childhood, provided evidence of his early diet; the femur, which regenerates slowly throughout one’s life, offered an average of his last 10 to 15 years; and the fast-regenerating rib told of his last two to three years before his death in battle.