It has been revealed that the DNA of the skeleton belonging to Richard III is to sequenced. This could potentially uncover details about the last Plantagenet King, such as his eye and hair colour.
This is the next project in a long line of plans to discover more about the King, whose remains were discovered under a car park in Leicester in 2012. This study is to be led by the geneticist from the University of Leicester, Turi King, who helped confirm Richard’s body through extensive DNA testings.
The programme is estimated to take at least 18 months and will cost £100,000. Through these tests, it is thought that an archive of information could be produced surrounding different findings about Richard III, allowing the public a better understanding of the medieval King.
Many surviving portraits of Richard were painted after his defeat at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485. Therefore, specific elements of his appearance are still contested. However, by mapping his DNA, we may be able to confirm some of his characteristics, and illustrate whether Richard’s portraits were accurate depictions of him. In the Channel 4 documentary The King in the Car Park, which aired shortly after the confirmation of Richard’s body was publicised, the facial reconstruction that was created, which was based on Richard’s exhumed skull, showed a significant likeness to the King’s portraits. The results from the genome sequencing could reveal whether Richard had characteristics such as curly or straight hair, and blue or brown eyes.
These examinations may also be able to suggest whether the King possessed any health conditions, including heart disease, diabetes or whether he was lactose intolerant. One result of the tests, which many will be interested to find out, will be whether the evident scoliosis of Richard’s spine was genetically inherited.
To aid Dr King’s research, she will also be sequencing the DNA of Canadian Michael Ibsen. Mr Ibsen is Richard’s 17-times great nephew, and was the person who’s DNA was used to test against the car park skeleton so to confirm the finding of the medieval King.
Dr King has stated”It is an extremely rare occurrence that archaeologists are involved in the excavation of a known individual, let alone a king of England.”
She continued to speak of how it is now possible to “sequence entire genomes from ancient individuals and with them, those of pathogens that may have caused infectious disease”.
The geneticist added “You can actually look across his entire genetic make-up and say something about his ancestry – it is likely he was northern European.”
The reburial of Richard III is set to continue to be debated, as relatives to the King believe that they should have a voice in the decision of where he should be buried. Richard’s remains were due to be reinterred in Leicester Cathedral, however many continue to contest this and state that the remains should be buried in York Minster.