I have to declare a personal involvement in this story. I went to school in Leicester, Alderman Newton’s in Grey Friars, and one of my great successes there was to become “Bicycle Monitor”. I patrolled the play-ground catching little first-year boys smoking behind the bike sheds. Now the playground is a car-park and the bike sheds are demolished, even excavated by a group of archaeologists.
That spot is now famous because the human remains that have been exhumed from beneath contain DNA similar to a living relative of King Richard III. This has been shown by a technique devised two miles away in the 1970s by Alec Jeffreys at Leicester University.
Leicester is also famous for having had the first UK traffic wardens.
Small bits of DNA on some of the human chromosomes have familiar molecular patterns. These can be detected and are unique for individuals and their close relatives. They also characterise species and are used to measure relationships between them. This is how evolutionary trees are built up and compared to evidence from anatomy and geography.
These patterns were obtained by the latest version of Jeffrey’s technique of analysis, magnifying the original molecules with a simple chain reaction, and noticing the similarities between Richard’s DNA and that of his relatives.
This month three other graves have been excavated at the same site. That shown below has a limestone coffin and inside is a second coffin made of lead, as yet unopened.