Wealth Of History Uncovered At Richard III, Grey Friars Excavation Site
August 2, 2013

Wealth Of History Uncovered At Richard III, Grey Friars Excavation Site

Lawrence LeBlond for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

A month-long excavation at a Leicester car park in the UK has turned up a treasure trove of artifacts. The site where King Richard III's remains were first uncovered in September 2012 has been heralded as the "site that keeps on giving" by the archaeological team tasked with the latest dig.

The University of Leicester Archaeological Services (ULAS) team made a much larger 55x82-foot excavation at the Grey Friars church site in Leicester than was possible during the first dig last year. While the most notable discovery at the site is the unearthing of Richard III's remains, which were found hastily buried in an unmarked grave with neither shroud nor coffin, this year's dig has given up a wealth of history.

Early in the excavation, which started on July 1, two interns working with the University found some interesting artifacts. Emma Link and Claire Calver, 16 and 37 years old respectively, found pieces of medieval pottery and tiles at the Grey Friars church site. During their time at the dig site, both interns were also able to "learn the ropes of archaeological excavation." Other pieces of history had been unearthed, including metalwork, glass and a jetton counter (token).

During the excavation, Richard III's grave was photographed in great detail and one researcher used high-tech imaging equipment to create a 3D map of the grave site. David Ackerley, a post-graduate researcher at the University's School of Geography, used a terrestrial laser scanner to measure the shape of Richard III's grave and create the highly-detailed model.

The team had also found remains of an old building located at the south of the church with large buttressed walls. The team surmised this could have been an early church or chapel, or perhaps another building connected to the friary. An in-situ floor tile fragment was also discovered from within the church walls, the first piece of intact flooring found inside the church.

Among the artifacts, the archaeologists had also found two skeletons underneath the church's choir, which are now being examined by the University's osteoarchaeologist Dr. Jo Appleby. The team had hoped to find the remains of two beheaded friars that may have been buried at the site in 1402.

Perhaps the greatest discovery came near the end of the month-long dig. A stone coffin, which the archaeology team knew was in the location since last year's dig, was unearthed in late July and had its lid removed. This is when the most unexpected discovery came; the stone coffin was found to contain another lead coffin within. This coffin, which had some damage, showed two legs sticking out of the bottom of the box. The team will now need to carefully work out how to remove the lid on this casket without damaging the contents. The coffin has been taken to the University for further analysis.

"This site keeps on giving - first King Richard III, then an intact medieval stone coffin which, when opened, contained a largely intact lead coffin," said Mathew Morris, the lead director at the Grey Friars dig site. "Lifting the lid on the stone coffin was a first for all of us on site. None of the team had ever excavated an intact stone coffin before, let alone a lead coffin as well and for me it was as exciting as finding Richard III."

During the month-long excavation, the public was able to take part by visiting the site via a viewing platform erected at the north section of the site. The team received great response from the public, with the viewing platform packed each day during the excavation with visitors from all over the world.

Charlotte Barratt, the University's Richard III Outreach Officer, met with spectators, many of whom had traveled from as far away as Canada, the USA and New Zealand to watch the team at work.

"On the days I have helped out on the dig, I have been amazed at the distances people have travelled to see the dig," she noted, adding she began seeing regulars, getting their daily updates.

The site is not just home to excavation, however. Construction firm Morgan Sindall is currently on site building a King Richard III Visitor Centre to showcase the finds from the site. As for King Richard III, he will be given a proper burial in a raised tomb to be constructed at Leicester Cathedral later this year.

Now that the excavation is complete, the team will be tasked with cataloging all the data and artifacts and turning hand-drawn into computerized plans, sort through countless photographs and check all their notes from the month-long project. They then need to piece it all together to make sense of the entire site and complete this chapter in the Richard III/Grey Friars saga.