a diagram of a strand of DNA with colour coded bases


When a skeleton was found under a car park in Leicester, how was it proved beyond reasonable doubt to be that of King Richard III?

Fortunately, Leicester University was equipped to carry out a range of scientific tests to do just this.

DNA analysis of the skeleton was carried out by Dr Turi King. Here she is talking about this analysis in a TEDx talk.

You can look up information about the structure of DNA in any A level textbook.

What A level does not tell you much about is mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) which is inherited only from mothers. This means that whilst a male will have the same mtDNA as his mother, he cannot pass this on to his own children. 

However, an unbroken line of female descendants will carry the same mtDNA.

So the challenge with identifying the skeleton was to find living descendants of close female relatives of Richard III tracing back over 500 years. Remarkably this was achieved by Dr John Ashdown-Hill and is described in this link to The Ricardian 16 (2006) and this later paper

A detailed description of how this discovery was used to identify the skeleton of Richard III is in Nature Communications 2014.

You can read more about mtDNA in Nature Education

two medieval doctors examining a naked patient, one holding a bottle of urine
A patient with doctors, from a manuscript made for Edward IV (1482) British Library MS Royal 15 E II f. 77
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