Richard III's remains....

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cougie    pirate
12/02/2013 at 11:38
Yeah and the parking place had R on it.

I'm convinced.
12/02/2013 at 11:47
popsider wrote (see)

That might be true - but I'm guessing there are not thousands buried in the particular place where Richard III was said to be buried, who died of traumatic injury to the head, who had severe scoliosis, who are a genetic match for the living relative of Richard III

Come on, it's him.  

Sorry, is it true or isn't it?

"traumatic injury to the head" - The skull had a hole in the top, not surprising since it's been in the ground in the middle of various parcels of redeveloped land and the land has been used for parking. A flappy bit at the back: so what? A flattening in a certain place, so what? I didn't feel the "armoury" expert could make the findings he did. And the bit about the injury to the buttock because the body was lain across a horse was laughable.

"who had severe scoliosis" - the Channel Four programme itself said one in a hundred people suffer from scoliolis.

"who are a genetic match for the living relative of Richard III" - this comes back to my question above. It may well be a genetic match for the living relative of Richard III, but so would thousands of other corpses interred in the 16th century.


The Channel Four programme lacked scientific rigour. A team went onto the site wanting to find the remains of Richard III, they found one set of remains with a curved spine and went public with the information too soon, and thereby painted themselves into a corner, needing to prove it was Richard III rather than being objective. (They'd put all their eggs in one basket.) The carbon dating was out, so they shuffled it along to a later date with some schpeel about diet - if in doubt, massage the facts, hey! The reconstruction of the face was a joke: lay all this material on a skull, look at a picture of Richard III, then present a model that - lo and behold! - looks exactly like the portrait (quelle surprise!).

It was admitted in the Channel Four programme that aspects of the bones were FEMININE – e.g, the shape of the pelvis - that this could even be the remains of a woman,  not a man. This was brushed aside by the so-called bones "expert" with a reference to literature that suggested that Richard III was himself a bit feminine.

The whole approach to this appalled me. It reminded me of watching a two-year-old nephew trying to bash a square block into a round hole, and if it wouldn't go, keep bashing...bashing... bashing. Seemingly a nation is easily duped. Some of us like to see a case PROVED, rather than nonsense masquerading as science.


Edited: 12/02/2013 at 11:50
12/02/2013 at 11:57

And the "match" was dealt with in the Channel Four programme in about fifteen seconds. A woman in a room, to a small group, "we have a match".Then the programme moved on.

There wasn't any analysis of what that meant, or didn't mean. It was just left on an implication that saying there is "a match" automatically means "This is Richard III". Hey presto !

My question above - Does "a match" mean it's Richard III, or does "a match" merely mean the DNA loosely matches one of the thousands of people the living relative will be related to in the distant past? If it means it's definitely Richard III, by all means correct me. I don't see how it can mean more than, you match, loosely, one of the thousands of distant relatives you are related to of 500 years ago. If so, this isn't proof of anything of much worth. The corpse could simply be a monk.

Or indeed a nun, since the hips are a bit on the wide side.


Edited: 12/02/2013 at 11:59
cougie    pirate
12/02/2013 at 12:01
Colin - you said - A person who is alive now will be related to thousands of people who lived 500 years ago.

Their DNA will presumably therefore "match" to some extent thousands of people who were alive 500 years ago.

Isnt this the other way round ? I'm not a real archaeologist though.
12/02/2013 at 12:13

You're only looking down one line of descent, cougie.You have hundreds of lines of descent. Different individuals in the past joined your line of descent at different times, directly or more remotely, as they joined the "fornication process" that makes you what you are. I presume we are a hotchpotch of all that DNA that's come down the various lines of descent. We are related to all those people who provided the DNA to us, and we are related to all the people who provided the same DNA to other people.

I think we need a scientist to join in the thread who knows about these things. I don't. I just don't see how finding a living relative and finding the same stuff that's in him is in an ancient skeleton makes that skeleton one particular person from his (vastly numerous) relatives (the one you actually want him  to be - "Eureka! It's Richard!") rather than any other of his (vastly numerous) relatives. Merely saying "there's a match" doesn't seem to be enough to prove the case.


Edited: 12/02/2013 at 12:15
12/02/2013 at 12:18

It is unfortunate that they decided to go for the TV route, rather than publishing the paper in a journal first, as it means people don't think it's "real" science. But, do you honestly think these eminent scientists, would have been happy putting their reputations on the line, on TV for the whole world to see, if they weren't sure? One of them refused to have Richard's standard laid over the box of bones they'd just dug up purely because they were uncertain at that point in time. Reputation is pretty much everything to a scientist, it governs who will work with you, who will employ you, your promotion prospects etc. Any data fraud in a case as high profile as this would result in lifetime unemployment in their chosen career.

Regarding the DNA, you are right that standard DNA testing over so many generations would have resulted in many possible ancestors. However, there are other techniques rather than the standard DNA tests you are talking about, that they probably used. I think the most likely is analysis on DNA found in mitochondria, which is passed exclusively down from mother to child. I believe they were able to match this to the last surviving descendent of Richard's mother.

Face reconstruction is more of an art than a science, and it is difficult to be objective when (famous) portraits exist, but I think it would have been revealing if they'd decided the skull could not support the face structure portrayed in his portraits.

12/02/2013 at 12:33

Colin - unfortunately your hypothesis about gene dilution over the years doesn't hold any scientific credence.

the way ancestral DNA is analysed is to look at certain chromsomes - usually the Y chromosome which is male specific or mitochondrial DNA which is usually female specific. these carry regions of DNA that are carried down the generations - they are not diluted - and are relatively unique to an individual.  so you find a cluster of markers in the DNA being analysed (RIII in this case) and see if an ancestor with a known lineage (in this case RIII's descendant) matches. if so - bingo - you have a match.  the more markers you look at, the more certain the match. it's as simple as that. 

to an extent you are right with the "hotpotch of DNA" - aka autosomal DNA that is shuffled about with each generation - but these are carried on other chromosomes (we have 23 pairs) and aren't analysed - only the sex-specific ones are as these rarely vary over generations.


12/02/2013 at 12:46

Could you apply this to the case in question please (if you will) and say something like:

- It's definitely him beyond a shadow of a doubt, or

- It may be him but it might also be 200/2000/20000 others related to the living relative.

There must be maths on this, and probability.

12/02/2013 at 12:46


12/02/2013 at 12:52

Another thing that struck me, watching the Channel Four documentary.

The "bones expert" woman doubted at first (at the dig) that (a) the head and (b) the bones from a body were from the same person, because they were found at different levels. She dropped the point a minute or so later, but she definitely said it.

It wasn't clear from the "we have a match" meeting whether both the skull and the bones from the body had their DNA tested, to deal with this concern, or whether only one of them was tested.

If only one was tested, on either the skull or on bones from the body but not both, it may remain to be verified whether the skull and the bones from the body do actually have the same DNA, or whether the original concern was right: that they are two different people, not one person.


Edited: 12/02/2013 at 12:53
cougie    pirate
12/02/2013 at 13:03
Didn't she say that before uncovering the very bent spine ? I thought they told us that ?
12/02/2013 at 13:11

I thought so too Cougie - I'm pretty sure they explained that the reason the head was where it was, was because of the curvature of the spinal column.

Either way, I do still remain sceptical about it too Colin - my thoughts regarding how many generations back they're trying to match are the same as yours.  Perhaps they now need to publish a paper with the exact science on it to back up the rather 'airy fairy' way they brushed over their statements in the programme. 

Just a thought.

12/02/2013 at 13:21
Colin McLaughlin wrote (see)

Could you apply this to the case in question please (if you will) and say something like:

- It's definitely him beyond a shadow of a doubt, or

- It may be him but it might also be 200/2000/20000 others related to the living relative.

There must be maths on this, and probability.

doing a bit of digging into this - so far they have only done mitochondrial DNA tests (which comes down the maternal line) and have found a match to two of RIII's sisters DNA - which for many is good enough but the comment "“rare enough to be interesting, but not rare enough to be conclusive.” has been made

they now plan to study the Y-chromosome DNA (paternal line) and if that gives a good match against 4 living ancestors of RIII's great-great-grandfather (he had no male heirs so it has to be a known antecedent to work) then it will be conclusive proof as the 4 ancestors DNA matches precisely that of RIII's GGF.

the maths of the probability of matches is beyond me I'm afraid - I'm a life scientist not a mathematician - but suffice it to say that if the Y tests give the same outcome as the mitochondrial tests then it will be conclusive proof.


Edited: 12/02/2013 at 13:27
12/02/2013 at 14:47

Thanks for that.

So I was in the right ball park, sort of - that saying "we have a match" doesn't mean they are home and dry.

It's interesting that you are saying this hasn't yet been resolved. Yet the Channel Four programme seemed to imply it had: that this was definitely the royal remains they were looking for.


12/02/2013 at 16:47

OK I'm presuming you must have nodded off at certain points during the documentary Colin so I'll fill you in:

1. Yes the osteologist initially thought the skull came from a different body. The reason for this was that the skeleton was not buried flat as is usually the case, the head was raised above the torso - it's why it got damaged while it was being dug out. This, and the fact that hands were in front of the body and not lying by the side suggested two things - first that it was an unusual and probably hasty burial and second that the hands might have been tied. Also people were not generally buried naked and without a shroud as this person was. The thing to remember is that people who dig up bones know what "normal" medieval burials look like because they all look the same. To them, anomalies like this stand out like a sore thumb. 

2.The head was aligned with the body. And if it had belonged to someone else they would have found that other body. You can see from the photgraphs of the dig that you are looking at one body! I have seen multiple burials and they do not look anything like this. But even in a multiple burial you can make out which skull belongs to which body.

3. Osteologists can tell whether an injury was caused in life, around the time of death or by damage after death because of the condition of the bone. The programme was at fault for not pointing out the full extent of the injuries but they were fully described in the press conference of you'd care to Google that: the injury to the top of the head, a cut mark in the lower jaw, the slice hacked off the back on the left side, a further injury at the base of the skull on the right side, the scooped injury to the top of the skull and two puncture wounds to the face as well as the pelvic injury. The injuries are consistent with weapons of the time. They are also consistent with a man who died in battle, whose body is protected by armour but who has lost his helmet.

4. Think about base of the the pelvic bone and where that would be lying when you were a skeleton - it isn't damage that an archaeologist could inflict accidentally while digging or that could have come from earlier grave damage. If they damage bones, they admit it - just as the osteologist did with the skull. Contemporary accounts say that Richard was stripped naked and slung over a horse. We know this man was buried naked and he may have had his hands tied (which you would do if you were going to sling someone over a horse). In that position the sword through the buttock is highly likely.

5. It had become generally accepted that the Tudors lied about Richard's deformity but, lo and behold, the skeleton shows signs of the very deformity that was supposed to be at least exaggeration and at most a fabrication.

6. The skeleton was found exactly where he was expected to be found because this is where contemporary accounts say he was buried. He was also in front of the high altar. That's not where you'd bury an average person.

7. The skeleton was shown to have had a high status diet consisting of frequent meals of fish. This is what affected the original carbon dating data and is a known anomaly - they didn't just make it up to make the dates fit . This was not a monk or anyone else connected with the monastery.

8. The mitochondrial DNA matched. If this is not Richard III than it is some other member of his family - but as far as we know they are all accounted for. The skeleton was the right age and died at the right time. I don't know the mathematical probability but one of the DNA sequences is, apparently, relatively rare. 

9. Has this been resolved 100%? No. 95% - yes. And that should be good enough for anyone. If this was evidence in a murder trial would you be letting the suspect go?


Edited: 12/02/2013 at 16:52
12/02/2013 at 17:02

Ok I have just read all of that Scream, you havent answered the question that is sweeping the internet. Was this the 2nd shooter on the grassy knoll 

Edited: 12/02/2013 at 17:03
12/02/2013 at 18:16

That's another debate goldbeetle

Honestly though Colin, the documentary was pretty poor in the way it presented the evidence. The press conference was far more convincing. The DNA profile was on display too so you could see what she was talking about. Have a look and see if it's still on the BBC news website.

14/02/2013 at 10:06

Thanks for your lengthy comments, Screamapillar. You seem to know a lot about this. What is your job, that makes you know all this?

1. "9. Has this been resolved 100%? No. 95% - yes. And that should be good enough for anyone. If this was evidence in a murder trial would you be letting the suspect go?"

95% isn't good enough, no. Either it's definitely the remains of a King or we simply don't know that it is. If we don't know it is, that should be made clearer to everyone than it has been.

The Today programme on Radio Four yesterday seemed to be under the illusion of the right body definitely having been found, which seems to be the illusion other people have of the situation as well. The documentary on Channel Four was less than frank about any doubts, simply ending with a triumphant 10-second segment, "We have a match, dah-dah!", without bothering to say that only meant "we have identified at best a relative of the living relative". The programme seemed to intend to deliberately mislead the public as to certainty or otherwise.

If there is still a doubt, this should be made plainer to the general public. The pretence that these are definitely the remains should not be persisted in.

The main problem I had with the documentary was that everyone involved seemed to have a vested interest in finding one particular outcome: that these were the remains of a king, not anyone else. When that is the situation, there is a tendency to try to make the findings fit with the result you want, consciously or subconsciously. For that reason, I didn't find any of the supposed "evidence" in the documentary helpful. The people involved were too interested in finding a particular outcome to appear to be objective enough. So the "evidence" gets regarded accordingly.

2. Since a doubt was expressed about whether the skull and the rest of the remains were from the same body, it would do no harm to test the skull separately from the rest. Has this actually been done? Why can't it be done? It is bad science not to do it if a doubt was expressed. In the way of these things, that doubt will carry forward for centuries to come, when it could be put to rest now.

3. The BBC TV News yesterday suggests the Richard III Society seem to be rushing forward hastily to deal with the remains and keep them local at Leicester Cathedral, as though they have a total right to do this. It seems to me that they have at best a "finder's title" and whatever additional title the owner of the site is willing to give them. The Queen owns all the land of England, and everything found in it is part of the land, so it seems to me that the remains actually belong to the Queen (i.e HRH Queen Elizabeth II), who will have a better legal title to the remains than the Richard III Society or the landowner with the paper title. Have the Richard III Society asked the Queen what she wants to direct be done with the remains, rather than treating it as their absolute right to dispose of them as they see fit? Finding something doesn't give an organisation the right to deal with it as it likes.

14/02/2013 at 11:04

This is all about knowing how archaeologists work in a case where the subject is a thought to be a known person. This in itself is extremely rare. Looking at all the evidence, they will decide whether what they find supports or refutes what was known about the person in their lifetime. This works like the golden goal  - as soon a they find something that doesn't fit it's  game over. The Channel 4 programme was poorly made but it did, in essence, show that process. The process of "doubt" doesn't work in this case - either all the pieces of the jigsaw fit or they don't. It is a small thing, but look at the arrowhead that turned out to be a nail. It was potentially an interesting find, so much so it was mentioned in initial reports from the excavation but it was examined and dismissed.

The skull could be tested separately but there is no reason to. It is you who have the doubt about it, not the osteologist, whose initial doubt was removed once she understood the position of the body. If it did not belong to the body it was found with it would be obvious when the skeleton was articulated.  By the same token, if they had dug up someone who was clearly a great hulking brute of a man there would have been immediate doubt as to the identity as Richard was known to have a light build. There is simply no way that the skull could have come from someone else. That someone would still have been there, lying either on top of or below Richard's skeleton. You cannot "lose"  one entire skeleton except the head and leave another whole body intact -  grave disturbance through earlier construction would be indiscriminate and both sets would be disturbed and damaged. Other than that, dead bodies do not move.

I'm not quite sure that everyone did have a vested interest in finding that the remains where those of Richard III. Philippa Langley most definitely did,  but she had had to work very hard to persuade the team to do the dig. If anything, some of them probably would have been only to pleased to find out it wasn't him.

I'm not really here to speculate on what the Richard III Society wants. They might feel they have soe sort of "claim" since they put up the money for the dig but legally thay don't and thay know they don't. I think the Diocese of Leicester are legally the custodians of the remains. 


cougie    pirate
14/02/2013 at 11:14
What threw me the most was the guy from Horrible Histories narrating. I kept expecting a catchy song.
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