Roman Cemetery Discovered Beneath Parking Lot
University of Leicester
The Roman cemetery unearthed in Leicester, England, included pagan and Christian burials. Here, a Christian burial being excavated.
Sept. 16, 2012 --
The remains of Richard III, the monarch immortalized as a villainous hunchback by William Shakespeare and the last English king to die in battle, might have been discovered in a parking lot in Leicester. DNA analysis is still needed to confirm the findings, and that could take up to 12 weeks, according to researchers at the University of Leicester. While we wait, let's look at other royals known to have vanished from history.
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Edward V and Richard, Duke of York Before Richard III assumed the throne, there was only one person standing in his way: his nephew, Edward V. Only a boy at 12 years old, Edward V was unprepared for the responsibilities of the crown left to him by his father, Edward IV, who entrusted Richard as Protector until the boy came of age. The future king Richard III in short order imprisoned Edward V in the Tower of London, along with his younger brother, Richard, Duke of York. The uncle then declared Edward IV's marriage invalid, and therefore his heirs were illegitimate. Richard III assumed the throne and the two boys disappeared from history shortly thereafter. Although remains belonging to two children were discovered in the 17th century by workers renovating a section of the Tower, the bones were never conclusively identified as belonging to the two boys.
Harold II Even though Harold II might have had one of the most famous deaths of any monarch in English history, his final resting place is unknown. Harold II assumed the throne in 1066. That same year, William the Conqueror led an army of Norman invaders into England. The armies of William and Harold met at the Battle of Hastings in October. After hours of fighting, with victory within his grasp, Harold was, according to legend, either shot in the eye or stabbed with a sword. His body was then mutilated and dismembered. Although the site of Harold's death is known, what followed after is a matter of some speculation. According to popular accounts, William had Harold's body buried in secret, even though Harold's mother offered a sum to claim the body.
Henry I When Henry VIII was engaged in his campaign against Catholicism, he seized church lands and raided monasteries. In the process, his men disturbed and even destroyed the final resting places of the monarchs who came before him. In fact, Henry VIII even likely caused the destruction of the tomb of his namesake: Henry I. Henry I was the son of William the Conqueror, and reigned for nearly 30 years from 1106 to 1135. Although he crowned himself king in 1100, his reign was disputed by his older brother, Robert, who had been away fighting in the Crusades. Henry initially was able to buy Robert off, but the two later came into conflict again, which was only resolved in 1106 with Henry's army capturing Robert in battle and imprisoning him for life. Henry spent much of his time away from England, often frequenting Normandy. In order to rule in his absence, he created a bureaucracy that would efficiently govern and run the affairs of state, the most important duty of which was to collect taxes. Following the death of his son, Henry was left with only one legitimate heir, his daughter. When Henry died in 1135, his daughter's rule was rejected by the English nobility and civil war ensued.
Pharaoh Userkare If famous kings who died within the last 1,000 years are difficult to find, then an obscure pharaoh that lived some 4,300 years ago must be close to impossible. The reign of Userkare, the second pharaoh of the Sixth Dynasty, has been shrouded in mystery, partly due to the fact that his tomb had not been discovered. In 2010, Giulio Magli, professor of archaeoastronomy at Milan's Polytechnic University, suggested a possible final resting place for the pharaoh. as reported by Discovery News' Rossella Lorenzi. The search, however, is still ongoing.
WATCH VIDEO: Find out what it's like hunting down ancient Egyptian treasures.
Queen Nefertiti Obscure royals are bound to escape history's notice. But when the ones who really left their mark manage to elude discovery, that's another story entirely. Ancient Egypt's Queen Nefertiti might be the most sought-after royal yet undiscovered. She died over 3,300 years ago, but was made famous in the modern era following the discovery of the 19-inch limestone, painted bust of her, seen here. Nefertiti was, in the words of Discovery News' Rossella Lorenzi, "the royal wife of the 'heretic' pharaoh Akhenaton, who initiated a new monotheistic religion that involved the worship the sun god Aton." Despite pursuits to find her tomb, including one such expedition funded by the Discovery Channel, no archaeologist has yet found where Nefertiti is buried.
READ MORE: Tracking Nefertiti: Egypt Guide
Emperor Jianwen When you're emperor of a nation as large as China, you'd think someone would notice your disappearance. Emperor Jianwen (1377-1402) was the second emperor of the Ming Dynasty, and nearly led it to ruin. Failed efforts to gain greater control over territory within his empire, which was governed by his uncles, led to the outbreak of civil war. When troops belonging to one of Jianwen's uncles attacked Nanjing, then the capital under the Ming Dynasty, the imperial palace caught fire, supposedly killing Jianwen and his concubines. However, an alternate version of events suggests Jianwen secretly escaped in the midst of the battle and took refuge in a monastery, where he lived out the rest of his days.
Anastasia Nikolaevna Although no longer missing, the final resting place of Anastasia Nikolaevna, daughter of tsar Nicholas II, the last monarch of Russia, was a nearly century-long mystery that ended in 2009. Along the way, false reports, witnesses and impostors claiming to be the deceased grand duchess turned up. The idea that somehow Nikolaevna had escaped execution gripped popular imagination, including an animated film in 1997. In 1991, speculation that Nikolaevna survived the massacre that claimed her family was bolstered by the discovery of a mass grave. Buried there were the remains of the tsar, his wife and three of their daughters. Traces of the two remaining children, a son and another daughter, were not at the site. In 2007, a grave in Yekaterinburg, Russia, proved to be the final resting place of the two remaining children. Two years later, researchers announced that DNA analysis confirmed that the remains were of the two young royals.
Hidden beneath a parking lot in Leicester, England, archaeologists have discovered a 1,700-year-old Roman cemetery that seemed to show no religious bias.
The new discovery, found at the junction of Newarke and Oxford Streets, includes numerous burials and skeletal remains from 13 individuals, both male and female of various ages. The cemetery is estimated to date back to around A.D. 300, according to University of Leicester archaeologists who led the dig.
"We have literally only just finished the excavation and the finds are currently in the process of being cleaned and catalogued so that they can then be analyzed by the various specialists," John Thomas, archaeological project officer, told LiveScience in an email. [See Images of the Ancient Roman Cemetery]
Parking lots seem to be great places to look for bones these days. In February, archaeologists announced that bones excavated from underneath a parking lot in Leicester, "beyond reasonable doubt," belong to the lost and vilified English king Richard III. More recently, the skeletal remains of a medieval knight and possibly his family crypt were unearthed from beneath a parking lot in Scotland.
Previous to the new discovery, scientists had excavated burials on Newarke Street, located to the east and north of the present site where the Roman cemetery was uncovered; these burials seemed to follow Christian traditions, in which the bodies were buried in a supine position, facing east with little or no goods buried alongside them, the researchers said.
The Roman cemetery unearthed in Leicester, England, included pagan and Christian burials, Here, a Christian burial being excavated.University of Leicester
"Unusually the 13 burials found during the recent excavations, of mixed age and sex, displayed a variety of burial traditions, including east to west and north to south-oriented graves," said Thomas, "many with personal items such as finger rings, hairpins, buckles and hob-nailed shoes."
For instance, in paganlike tradition one grave was facing north-south with the body positioned on its side in a semi-fetal position. The head had been removed and placed near the feet alongside two pottery jars, likely for offerings for the journey to the afterlife, Thomas said. "This would seem to be a very pagan burial," he said.
Nearby was a Christian burial in which the individual was facing east and wearing a polished finger ring made of jet on the left hand. The design etched onto the ring, "IX," may have been an artistic design or could represent an early Christian symbol taken from the initials of Jesus Christ in Greek, known as Iota-Chi, or IX. "If so this would represent rare evidence for a personal statement of belief from this period," Thomas said in a statement.
From the mix of burial types, Thomas said it's possible "that the cemetery catered for a range of beliefs that would have been important to people living in Leicester at this time."
Studying the bones
Archaeologists also discovered a 17th-century ditch running alongside Newarke Street, something that would have been part of the town's defenses during the English Civil War.
The project is ongoing and the archaeologists and other scientists will analyze the human bones to determine age, sex and the likely cause of death, Thomas wrote.
"It is possible that study of the bones will also enlighten us to patterns in the individuals' diet, and wear and tear on the bones may shed light on their lifestyle or the stress put on their bodies through work," Thomas wrote. "We have also taken soil samples from the stomach area of the bodies to look for gut parasites."
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