My text and email has been alive the past weeks. “You must be really fascinated”, ” WOW, is it cool!”, “Have you been watching news”.
What has it all been about? Richard the III of course!
The coolest thing about this?
Is that the use of a well know person or family can drag archaeology and heritage out of the past and into the future, and todays reality. The biggest curse of heritage is that people cant see the point of doing it, hearing about it, accommodating it in today’s society. A story like Richard III cuts through all of that.
A story about a royal immediately gives flesh to the subject. You see the paintings, read the text (even Shakespeare’s version), can visit the castles, the churches, and the carpark if you fancy it. It is tangible. On the outside it feels as though anybody, anytime, can make a discovery like this!
Most skeletons excavated in the UK never have a name. The report reads “‘Joe or Jane Doe’, lived a long time ago…probably this time based on the ‘other’ information/features found during the excavation (he style of the pottery, the method and imagery on the painted glass windows, the direction of the burial etc). Most of the time their statistics are recorded along with their probable age range, gender and any evidence of disease of lifestyle on the bone, and reburied. In the past they were probably put in a box and taken to a storeroom for later study, maybe.
This story, with the science DNA analysis brings gives credibility to a story that really is just about people at the end of the day…ok a rich and powerful one, who may or may not have been really evil and murderous, with the appearance of a hunchback…but a story that connects many NZers back to the ‘motherland’ and its royal associations, and is all about the celebs or ‘it’ people of the past. What girl has not wanted to marry a Prince, and be a Princess at some point?
This story at its heart is about a lot of people, all producing layers of information that can be brought together to tell a whole story, that society can relate to. And like most projects there was probably a whole lot of leg work done by enthusiasts well before the archaeologists, University and tv companies got involved.
But once they did get involved…well this is my interpretation of the Royal scientific synthesis recipe used in the finding of King Rich:
Before you start the mixing:
Do your reading, know the story, further the research, then locate a skeleton from under a car park in Leicester;
1. record the size, profile and position of the grave cut
2. draw the position of the skeleton and any other burial elements (coffin nails, shrouds etc)
3. discuss the fit of the skeleton in the grave cut, and the condition (even neatness) of the grave itself
4. conclude on who did it and how the body would have been buried.
1. Record the detail in the bones (were missing body parts contemporary with the life of the person or occur post burial, aging and gender evidence etc)
2. Record evidence of physical stress and disease/illness on the bone, like scoliosis
3. Compare the historic documents/images of potential candidates with the information from the skeleton
4. Discuss, discuss, discuss
5. Conclude on the person/family the skeleton is most likely to originate from
1. Sample the skeleton, in this case the teeth and femur
2. Trace possible direct descendants, using peerage information, and the female lines (for the mitochondrial DNA)
3. Sample the DNA of the possible descendant
4. DNA analysis……
1. Report the findings….
2. Give a face to the person (through facial reconstruction techniques for example)
3. Allow time for critique, positive and negative to occur
4. Wait to see if there is an increase in funding available for DNA analysis to connect with people today, an increase in media attention given to archaeology and an increase in tourist visitors to the associated places.
Report the findings in a peer reviewed journal – confirmation to critics and peers the i’s were dotted and t’s crossed.
Use the information and the story to maintain PART 4, point 4 above into the future.
If the story of Richard the III invigorates the interest of society, funders, institutions and next LOTTO winner in heritage projects then that makes for a very tasty outcome to me!
You can hear some of my thoughts on this on Radio NZ <iframe src=”http://www.radionz.co.nz/audio/remote-player?id=2545744″ width=”100%” frameborder=”0″ height=”62px”></iframe>