Archaeologists Begin New Dig At Richard III Burial Site
July 2, 2013

Archaeologists Begin New Dig At Richard III Burial Site

Lawrence LeBlond for - Your Universe Online

Nearly five months since remains found in a car park in Leicester, England were proven to be those of Richard III, a new study is being undertaken by researchers at University of Leicester to shed new light on the final resting place of the fallen king.

Experts plan to spend the next several weeks carefully digging up the burial spot at the site of the once erect Grey Friars church in hopes of revealing much more about the medieval friary than what was possible during the initial discovery and dig.

The University of Leicester Archaeological Services (ULAS) team is hoping to uncover more details about Richard III's burial; a much clearer picture of the church's layout, including dimensions and architecture; other burials at the site, including a coffin that may contain one of the founders of the friary; and the remains of a group of friars who were beheaded by Henry IV in the early fifteenth century.

The size of the dig site will be about 55 by 82 feet around the area where Richard III's remains were exhumed. They believe this should uncover the whole northeast section of the church, including the choir area and the walking place around the main tower. The trench will run between Leicester City Council's Grey Friars car park and a neighboring car park of the former Alderman Newton School.

The team have sealed Richard III's burial site to protect it during the new excavation. In the first week, the team hopes to use machinery to remove the modern surface material, and over the weeks following they plan to carefully dig by hand to unearth the medieval building and its contents.

A 600-year-old stone coffin unearthed during one of the previous digs is a key area of interest for the team. They believe it could either hold Peter Swynsfeld, a founder of the friary, who died in 1272; or perhaps a medieval knight known as Sir William Moton, who is believed to have been buried at the site in 1362. The coffin could also hold the remains of William of Nottingham, who died in 1330.

Besides that of Swynsfeld, the site could also hold the remains of several other grey friars who were beheaded and buried at the site in 1402.

As the story goes, the friars presumed that the deposed King Richard II was still alive and had paid money for rebels to topple his successor, Henry IV. When Henry IV caught wind of this, he summoned the friars to London and promptly hanged them for treason. Their severed heads were displayed on London Bridge and their bodies were brought back to Leicester for burial.

If the story holds true, then it is likely the remaining headless friars were buried at Grey Friars church in Leicester, which would have been more than 80 years before Richard III was buried at the site.

"We hope this dig will expand the context of Richard III's grave. We also want to preserve the grave's relationship with the rest of the site. We want to leave some evidence of later activities on the site -- including how close it was to the Victorian outhouse," said lead investigator Richard Buckley.

"What drives us with the project is learning more about medieval Leicester and one of its great religious houses. We hope this dig is going to give us a definitive plan of the dimensions and architecture of the church. We may be able to recover more fragments. We might learn more about the dissolution of the church, and we might learn more about what was there before the friary," he said.

The team is planning to erect a viewing platform in the adjacent playground at the former Alderman Newton School to give visitors a chance to come by and watch the archaeological dig when it begins in the second week of July.

A King Richard III Visitor Centre is also being constructed at the site to showcase some of the finds that have been unearthed. Morgan Sindall, a leading UK construction firm is taking on that task and will be working with the team to enable access to the site while excavation and building continues.

The University of Leicester has been leading the 'Search for Richard III' since the initial discovery back in September 2012. The originator of the search was Philippa Langley, of the Richard III Society.

The new work follows a find in late May that painted a grim picture for Richard III's burial. The Leicester archaeologists discovered Richard III's body was hastily buried in the untidy grave with neither shroud nor coffin.