Historic rumours that the bones of King Richard III were turfed into a nearby river and his coffin used as a horse trough look set to be proven untrue.
Archaeologists began a search late last month for the king’s grave in Leicester, England, hoping that the rumours were untrue.
The research team, making the first ever search for the lost grave of an anointed King of England, has made stunning progress in the search for his 500-year-old resting place.
The University of Leicester, leading the search with the Leicester City Council and in association with the Richard III Society, has announced the discovery of human remains which researchers will now subject to rigorous laboratory tests to determine if they are those of Richard III.
The remains of a fully articulated skeleton appear to be of an adult male.
The skeleton was found in what is believed to be the choir of the church of the Franciscan Friary, known as the Greyfriars, which historical records identify as the burial place of King Richard III.
The back of the skull appears to have suffered a significant injury consistent with a blow from a bladed implement and a barbed iron arrowhead was found between vertebrae of the upper back.
The skeleton has spinal abnormalities – probably severe curvature of the spine – which would have made the right shoulder appear higher than the left, which may account for suggestions the king was hunchbacked.
Richard Buckley, the University of Leicester archaeologist leading the search for the king’s remains, said: “This is an historic and perhaps defining moment in the story of Leicester and I am proud that the University of Leicester has played a pivotal role in the telling of that story.
“From the outset, the search for Richard III was a thrilling prospect but it has involved many hours of dedicated research by our team that has led to the astonishing finds we have disclosed today.
“The search has caught the imagination of not only the people of Leicester and Leicestershire but beyond and has received global media attention. It is a measure of the power of archaeology to excite public interest and provide a narrative about our heritage.
“Whether or not we have found Richard III, this archaeological project has been exciting because of what it has uncovered about Leicester’s rich and varied past.”
The university’s director of corporate affairs, Richard Taylor, said: “The University has always been clear that any remains would need to be subjected to rigorous laboratory analysis before we confirm the outcome of the search for Richard III.
“We are not saying today that we have found King Richard III. What we are saying is that the search for Richard III has entered a new phase. Our focus is shifting from the archaeological excavation to laboratory analysis. This skeleton certainly has characteristics that warrant extensive further detailed examination.
“Clearly we are all very excited by these latest discoveries. We have said finding Richard was a long-shot. However, it is a testament to the skill of the archaeological team led by Richard Buckley that such extensive progress has been made.
“We have all been witness to a powerful and historic story unfolding before our eyes. It is proper that the university now subjects the findings to rigorous analysis so that the strong circumstantial evidence that has presented itself can be properly understood.”
In 1485, King Richard III was defeated at the Battle of Bosworth. His body, stripped and despoiled, was brought to Leicester where he was buried in the church of the Franciscan Friary, known as the Greyfriars.
Over time the exact whereabouts of the Greyfriars became lost, but was rediscovered quickly by the research team.