Archaeologists Uncover Coffin Within A Coffin At Richard III Dig Site
July 30, 2013

Archaeologists Uncover Coffin Within A Coffin At Richard III Dig Site

Lawrence LeBlond for - Your Universe Online

During the University of Leicester's month-long excavation of the Grey Friars church site where the remains of King Richard III were previously exhumed, a stone coffin was unearthed just last week. Upon the archaeologists' decision to remove the lid of the coffin, the team made an unexpected discovery: another coffin buried within the first.

The team of Leicester archaeologists is now planning to investigate the contents of the smaller lead coffin. Apart from the discovery of the coffin within the coffin, the team notes this is also the first fully intact stone coffin to be discovered in Leicester in controlled excavations. The team also believes the coffin may contain one of the friary's founders or possibly a medieval monk. While it is unknown who is in the box, the team says it is highly likely it is someone who was of high status.

The team said further examination of the second coffin will be needed before they can attempt to remove the lid off that box. The coffin has been taken to the University's School of Archaeology and Ancient History where researchers will carefully examine the coffin and carry out tests to find the safest way of opening it without causing too much further damage.

While the outer stone coffin was found fully intact, the inner lead coffin did have some damage and the person who is buried within does show off his/her feet through a hole in the casket's lower section.

There are currently three likely targets the Leicester team is suggesting could be within the coffin. The two leading suggestions are Peter Swynsfeld, a leader of the Grey Friars who died in 1272 and William of Nottingham, also a Grey Friar leader who died in 1330. A third suggestion is the coffin holds Sir William de Moton of Peckleton, a knight and one-time mayor of Leicester who died sometime between 1356 and 1362.

However, there were countless people, mostly unnamed, who have been buried in the Grey Friars church and it could ultimately be one of them. The team says it is likely they may never know the true identity of the person in the coffin. The team noted the stone coffin was actually discovered during the September 2012 excavation at the site but was not able to be investigated at that time. They do plan to open the lead coffin in due time, however.

"The stone coffin was always the big thing we wanted to investigate during this dig. For me, it was as exciting as finding Richard III. We still don't know who is inside -- so there is still a question mark over it," said Grey Friars site director Mathew Morris, of the University of Leicester Archaeological Services (ULAS).

"None of us in the team have ever seen a lead coffin within a stone coffin before. We will now need to work out how to open it safely, as we don't want to damage the contents when we are opening the lid," he added. "The coffin could contain William de Moton, Peter Swynsfeld or William of Nottingham -- who are all important people."

Now that the team has the stone coffin and its contents in hand, the second dig of the Grey Friars has come to a close.

Morris, posting on the official Richard III blog on the University of Leicester's website, said on Sunday:

"Well, this is it. Our four weeks on site at Greyfriars are officially over. I have just said good bye to the last visitors of the day and locked the gate to the viewing platform for the final time. The last archaeological feature has been dug and recorded; we have said goodbye to our two fantastic interns Claire and Emma; all our equipment and all the newly discovered artifacts have been taken up to the university and we have celebrated the conclusion of another successful project in proper archaeological style - we went to the pub for a well deserved pint!"

While the month-long dig has been very fruitful, Morris noted it wasn't all success. He mentioned one of the team's goals was to find some evidence of the church's nave and walking place to the west of the choir. But the excavation failed to offer up this bit of history. He said in this part of the church, it seems most evidence has been completely destroyed by later activity. While there remains no evidence, Morris said this can still be good for archaeology because it paints a picture of how the site evolved through the years, noting it was continually used throughout history.

Apart from the coffin, other important artifacts were also uncovered, including floor tiles, pieces of pottery, metalwork, glass and human remains. All pieces will be carefully cleaned and analyzed for future reference and examination. Next, team members will turn hand drawn records into computerized plans, sort through countless photographs and check over the project notes. Then they will still need to piece everything together to make sense of it all and to complete this chapter in the history of the Grey Friars site.