The car-park king’s hasty burial

The unearthed skeleton of England's King Richard III

The unearthed skeleton of England's King Richard III

Thu, May 30, 2013, 01:00

Earlier this year archaeologists announced they had discovered the remains of England’s King Richard III buried under what is now a Leicester City Council car park. The story made media headlines around the world, and now a peer-reviewed paper is out that details results of the excavation. Based on the state and position of his skeleton, the new study fleshes out the details of a rather inglorious burial for the monarch, who was killed in 1485.

“According to contemporary accounts, Richard III was buried without any pomp or solemn funeral,” write the study authors from the University of Leicester in the journal Antiquity. “The archaeology of the grave, and the position of the body in it, reflect this. The body appears to have been placed in the grave with minimal reverence.”

The grave itself was “an untidy lozenge shape” and too short for the dead king’s body. “Only a little extra effort by the grave-diggers to tidy the grave ends would have made this grave long enough to receive the body conventionally,” states the paper. “That they did not, instead placing the body on one side of the grave, its torso crammed against the northern side, may suggest haste or little respect for the deceased.”

While it seems someone may have stood in the grave to receive his body, it appears they didn’t put too much effort into settling the corpse in place, note the researchers. “The haste may partially be explained by the fact that Richard’s damaged body had already been on public display for several days in the height of summer, and was thus in poor condition.”

Hardy plants found under a glacier
Next time you feel a little chilly outside, spare a thought for some hardy plants that spent hundreds of years under a glacier but could still manage to muster some growth.

Researchers from the University of Alberta looked closely at bryophytes – a group of plants that includes liverworts and mosses – that had been under the Teardrop Glacier on Ellesmere Island in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago.

Spurred on by observations that plants exposed by the retreating ice there seemed to be in good condition and even showed signs of new growth, they exhumed bryophytes from under the ice, dated them and sought to grow them in lab experiments.

Radiocarbon analysis showed the plants were between 400 and 600 years old.

And of 24 sub-glacial samples taken back to the lab for culturing the researchers were able to regenerate four species from the parent material, they say.

“Our results include a unique successful regeneration of subglacial bryophytes following 400 y of ice entombment,” write the authors in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“We know that bryophytes can remain dormant for many years (for example, in deserts) and then are reactivated, but nobody expected them to rejuvenate after nearly 400 years beneath a glacier,” says study author Catherine La Farge.