New 3D Model Of King Richard III’s Spine Shows Prominent Scoliosis

Lawrence LeBlond for – Your Universe Online
It’s been 21 months since an unmarked grave under a car park in Leicester, England revealed the remains of the Last Plantagenet King, Richard III, and since then a wealth of evidence has come to light about the short-lived king and his untimely demise.
The most recent findings of Richard’s remains, which were hastily buried without shroud or coffin, reveals that his spine shows strong evidence of scoliosis. Richard III was popularized in Shakespearean literature as a hunchback, and now everyone can explore the true shape of one of history’s most famous spinal columns, as University of Leicester scientists, employing the help of multimedia experts, have created a 3D model of Richard III’s spine.
The results of their work have been published on May 30 in The Lancet, offering a complete picture of the king’s scoliosis for the first time. The University of Cambridge, Loughborough University and the University Hospitals of Leicester in the UK were also part of this groundbreaking research.
Internet users can now click their mouse on the interactive 3D model of Richard’s spine, rotating it 360 degrees to get a true feeling of what the king’s spine really looked like. The visualization reveals how the king’s spine curved to the right, as well as some twisting, revealing a somewhat spiral shape.
The visualization is based on research led by University of Leicester School of Archaeology and Ancient History osteoarchaeologist Dr Jo Appleby.
Many historical references have told of the physical deformities of Richard III, who ruled England from 1483 to 1485. However, debate has raged for centuries over the extent to which these descriptions were true. Shakespeare referred to him as hunchback and others as crook-backed, but until now, it was unknown if these descriptions were based on his physical appearance or were fantasized as a way to damage his reputation.
The earliest examinations of Richard III’s remains did in fact reveal some curvature of the spine. The latest analysis reveals the deformity would have had a noticeable, yet small, effect on his appearance. Also, the researchers believe it would not have affected his ability to exercise.
Still, based on the findings, the team noted that Richard’s spine would have had a pronounced right-sided curve that was spiral in nature; his right shoulder would have been higher than his left; and his torso would have been relatively short compared to his arms and legs. But, because the spine was a “well-balanced curve,” Richard’s head and neck would have been straight and not tilted to one side. As well, he would likely not have had a limp as “his leg bones were normal and symmetric,” said Dr Appleby.
The team believe based on this information that his condition would not have been immediately visible to those he met, especially if he was wearing well-designed clothes or armor. The team also determined Richard would have stood about 5’ 8” tall without scoliosis – an average height for men in the medieval times. However, due to the curvature, he would have appeared several inches shorter than this.
The team of researchers constructed physical and computer-generated models of the spinal column of Richard III using CT scans at the Leicester Royal Infirmary, and using 3D prints of the bones created by Loughborough University from the CT image data. This allowed the team to analyze the remains to accurately determine the nature of Richard III’s condition and the extent to which it affected his appearance.
The results show that his scoliosis was unlikely an inherited trait, and that it probably began to appear sometime after his tenth birthday. Today, the condition would be called “adolescent onset idiopathic scoliosis,” and is one of the most common forms of scoliosis.
“The major finding we have made is being able to reconstruct the three-dimensional nature of the scoliosis and understand what it would have looked like,” said Dr Appleby. “Obviously, the skeleton was flattened out when it was in the ground. We had a good idea of the sideways aspect of the curve, but we didn’t know the precise nature of the spiral aspect of the condition.”
“The arthritis in the spine meant it could only be reconstructed in a specific way, meaning that we can get a very accurate idea of the shape of the curve. It’s really good to be able to produce this 3D reconstruction rather than a 2D picture, as you get a good sense of how the spine would have actually appeared,” Dr Appleby added.
“Examination of Richard III’s remains shows that he had a scoliosis, thus confirming that the Shakespearean description of a ‘bunch-backed toad’ is a complete fabrication – yet more proof that, while the plays are splendid dramas, they are also most certainly fiction not fact,” explained Dr Phil Stone, Chairman of the Richard III Society.
“History tells us that Richard III was a great warrior. Clearly, he was little inconvenienced by his spinal problem and accounts of his appearance, written when he was alive, tell that he was “of person and bodily shape comely enough” and that he “was the most handsome man in the room after his brother, Edward IV”,” Dr Stone added.
In other news, the High Court has upheld the Ministry of Justice license that was granted to the University of Leicester, permitting them to reinter Richard III’s remains at Leicester Cathedral.
The University pledged in 2012 that, should King Richard’s remains be discovered, they would be properly reinterred in Leicester. The Ministry of Justice, agreeing with Leicester’s commitment, granted the University an exhumation license to proceed with their plans. When an unmarked grave was discovered in September 2012, and the remains were later confirmed as those of Richard III, the University announced it would move forward with reinterment in a raised tomb at Leicester Cathedral.
However, their plans were uprooted by living relatives of Richard III, under the name of the Plantagenet Alliance, who challenged University of Leicester’s license to reinter the remains at Leicester Cathedral. The PA maintained in March 2013 that Richard III should be buried in York, where he called home in life.
A judicial review was opened last August to determine who had rights to the remains of Richard III. Last week, the High Court decided that the University of Leicester holds jurisdiction over the remains and granted approval to reinter the king in Leicester.