LONDON –- Archaeologists searching for the tomb of Richard III are being given an extra week to excavate in light of promising findings of their dig beneath a parking lot in central England.
The medieval king made famous as a villain in Shakespeare’s play was buried in the city of Leicester after his death in battle against his successor, Henry VII, at Bosworth Field in 1485. Franciscan brothers interred Richard without ceremony in a friary whose location has been lost over the
But based on a recent analysis of old maps, experts began looking for the site beneath a small municipal parking lot in downtown Leicester two weeks ago. The dig was scheduled to wrap up Sunday, but lead archaeologist Richard Buckley said city officials had granted a week’s extension.
"Things are going extremely well, and we are now confident that we have located the east end of the church, so identifying the quire is becoming a real possibility,” said Buckley, referring to an area near the church’s likely altar.
He and other scholars speculate that Richard would have been entombed close to the altar in homage to his exalted status.
[Updated 12:52 p.m. Sept. 9: So far, Buckley's team has discovered the ruins of what could be the walls of the old friary, the fragments of a frame that might have contained the east window, some medieval floor tiles and a silver coin from that era.
After digging three 6-foot-deep trenches, archaeologists also found vestiges of the garden of a manor house that stood on the site after the friary was demolished. Records show that a pillar in the garden once marked the spot where Richard was thought to be buried.]
Finding his bones would lay to rest a mystery surrounding what became of the remains of the last English king to die in battle. The usurpation of Richard III ushered in the Tudor dynasty and eventually led to Shakespeare’s indelible –- some say wildly inaccurate -– portrayal of Richard as a ruthless fiend
who ordered his innocent young nephews killed in the Tower of London so that he could take the throne.
Two years ago, scholars announced that they had identified the site of Bosworth Field, where Richard lost his crown and his life on Aug. 22, 1485. After the battle, the slain king’s broken body was paraded through Leicester, then buried by the Franciscans.
-- Henry Chu
Photo: An archaeologist prepares to excavate at a parking lot in the central English city of Leicester, where King Richard III is believed to be buried, as actors dressed as knights look on. Credit: Rui Vieira / Associated Press