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Greyfriars’ Coffin

A Twist in the Tale of the Greyfriars’ Coffin


Back in July we reported on a mysterious stone coffin found at the ruins of the 12 th century Greyfriars church in Leicester, England, the site where King Richard III was discovered last year. Archaeologists were perplexed when they opened the coffin, only to find another coffin inside made of lead, indicative of someone of very high status. Now results on the skeleton inside the 600-year-old metal casket have revealed something even more surprising. 

The initial finding of the coffin was considered highly significant as it was the only intact coffin found during all the excavations of medieval sites in Leicester.  The coffin was removed from the dig site in August and taken on Leicester Royal Infirmary to test for any preserved organic tissue. This would enable a DNA test to be conducted. However, when an endoscope camera was inserted into a small gap in the coffin it showed that only the skeleton had survived.

The skeleton was taken back to the university where it was opened and the skeleton removed where experts on osteology would complete a full analysis.

Archaeologists predicted the occupant of the coffin is either the medieval knight, Sir William de Moton, or one of two high-status friars – Peter Swynsfeld, who died in 1272, or William of Nottingham, who died in 1330. However, the results of the initial analysis surprised researchers who revealed the skeleton is likely to be female.

According to Richard Buckley, lead archaeologist from University of Leicester Archaeological Services, the identity of the body might never be discovered, despite new evidence of the friary's burial records. "There is a list of names which gives more information about who it could be," said Buckley. "We're looking at those at the minute and it's too early to say anything about it. But assuming we had the name of everyone buried at Greyfriars, we would then need to exhume every set of remains and go about matching names to the skeletons, which would be very difficult."

The complete analysis will be released at the end of this year or early next year.

By April Holloway

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April Holloway is a Co-Owner, Editor and Writer of Ancient Origins. For privacy reasons, she has previously written on Ancient Origins under the pen name April Holloway, but is now choosing to use her real name, Joanna Gillan.

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