skull of King Richard III
August 18, 2014

Tooth, Bone Analysis Yields New Revelations About Life Of Richard III

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

In what is being hailed as the most complete forensic study ever conducted on a medieval monarch, experts from the University of Leicester and the British Geological Survey have uncovered new details about the life of King Richard III by analyzing his bone and tooth chemistry.

Isotope analysis of bone and tooth material from the Britain’s last Plantagenet king has uncovered previously unknown details about his early life, as well as the change in his diet 26 months before his death at the Battle of Bosworth, the researchers explained. The evidence they discovered indicates a change in diet and location in his early childhood, and suggests that he consumed expensive, high-status food and drink later on in life.

The study, published in the latest edition of the Journal of Archaeological Science, used isotope measurements associated with geographical location, pollution and diet (strontium, nitrogen, oxygen, carbon and lead) in three locations on Richard III’s skeleton: the teeth, femur and rib, according to lead author Dr. Angela Lamb of the British Geological Survey and her colleagues.

“The chemistry of Richard III’s teeth and bones reveal changes in his geographical movements, diet and social status throughout his life,” Dr. Lamb, an isotope geochemist at the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) Isotope Geosciences Laboratory in Nottingham, said on Sunday.

The teeth, femur and ribs all develop and rebuild at different times, which allowed Dr. Lamb and co-authors Jane E. Evans, Richard Buckley, Jo Appleby to analyze them and learn about changes that took place throughout the monarch’s life.

Teeth, for example, form during childhood. By studying them, the authors confirmed that Richard had moved away from Fotheringay castle in eastern England by the time he was seven, and that during this time he was living in a region marked by higher rainfall, older rocks, and a different type of diet than his birthplace in Northamptonshire.

The femur, which represents an average of the 15 years before death, revealed that Richard had moved back to eastern England as an adolescent or young adult, and had a diet that matched the highest aristocracy.

The rib, in turn, represents only the last two to five years of a person’s life, and indicates the greatest change in the former king’s diet. While an alteration in the chemistry between Richard’s femur and the rib could indicate relocation, historical records indicate that he did not leave eastern England in the two years prior to his death.

Since it does not appear that Richard relocated late in his time as king, Dr. Lamb and her associates suggest that these findings are indicative of dietary changes, including an increase in the consumption of freshwater fish and birds. Those fish, as well as swan, crane, heron and egret were popular dishes to serve at royal banquets of the era.

Furthermore, Richard’s bone chemistry suggests that he started drinking more wine during his short reign, reinforcing the idea that food and drink were strongly linked to social status in Medieval England. According to the researchers, this marks the first time it has been suggested that wine can have an impact on a person’s composition.

“This cutting edge research has provided a unique opportunity to shed new light on the diet and environment of a major historical figure – Richard III,” said Richard Buckley of the University of Leicester Archaeological Services, lead archaeologist in the Richard III dig in the Greyfriars area of the city of Leicester.

“It is very rare indeed in archaeology to be able to identify a named individual with precise dates and a documented life,” he added. “This has enabled the stable-isotope analysis to show how his environment changed at different times in his life and, perhaps most significantly, identified marked changes in his diet when he became king in 1483.”


Richard III: The Road to Leicester by Amy Licence