Digging up the Past

by Clare Langley-Hawthorne

Being a wee bit of a history nerd, I greeted the news confirming that Richard III’s bones had been dug up in a parking lot in Leicester with great excitement. I mean how often do we get to rehabilitate one of history’s greatest (and many argue much maligned) villains? No doubt we will soon see a rash of new books, both fiction and non-fiction, on dear old Richard and there’s even talk (no surprise) of a movie. 

What I love most about the ‘mythology’ surrounding Richard III is the passion it raises. For me that’s what makes history come to life – real people and real questions over what they did or did not do (always more interesting when allegations of murder are thrown into the pot as well!). From Josephine Tey’s Daughter of Time to Sharon Penman’s Sunne in Splendour and Anne Easter Smith’s A Rose for the Crown, I’ve always loved reading interpretations of Richard III’s life. 

Who knows what other new evidence will come to light now we literally have his bones to study (for instance, they have already put together a facial reconstruction of what he would have looked like and confirmed Richard did indeed have curvature of the spine). The next logical step in the possible ‘rehabilitation’ of Richard III would be to locate the bones of the princes he supposedly had murdered (rumoured to lie beneath Westminster Abbey).

I just love this kind of stuff! 

So what would you like to see as the next ‘coolest grave’ to be discovered? How about Genghis Khan as some have suggested? Rumor has it British archaeologists have their sights of uncovering the remains of both Alfred the Great and Henry I but I’m not sure how much public excitement either of these ‘finds’ would generate. 

What famous bones would you like to see unearthed?


13 thoughts on “Digging up the Past

  1. Personally I’d love to have more discoveries of Alfred the Great, a great and wise King as far as my reading has taken me.

    One of the stories I am gradually working on is an historical fiction that ties several elements I’d love to see discovered. Namely, what happened to the Ark of the Covenant in Jerusalem. It was never captured and never mentioned by enemies nor in the Bible after Babylon captured the city in 586 BC. Also, strange connections between certain aspects of Irish history and the prophet Jeremiah in Bible lead me to believe that some Hebrews may have been sent that direction after 586.

    Likewise there are several Chinese tribes that followed ancient Judaic customs and the law of Moses in spite of the fact that they were Chinese not Hebrews and none had a memory of where those laws came from, they just were always there. Coincidences all?

    Moving East: To discover more about Genghis Khan would be very interesting indeed. I also want to know just who were these Caucasian mummies found in the Gobi Dessert?

    Another thing I’d love to be discovered is in Gyeonju South Korea. There are a series of mounds that were long thought to be ancient burial mounds and therefore left undisturbed for well over 1500 years. No one knows who many of these Kings were exactly, but there are very wealthy as was learned in excavations in the 70s.

    While the book I am working on is not a Dan Brown type Religio-Political conspiracy theory story, all of these subjects do tie into it and weave through each other. How exactly? Well…I guess I need to discover that as I finish the story.

    • Wow, Basil that’s quite a list of cool options for discovery. Wouldn’t it be be amazing if they did find the Ark of the Covenant – though after Raiders of the Lost Ark who knows if it’s isn’t already in a warehouse somewhere LOL…I reckon Genghis Khan would be a pretty neat discovery. Can’t wait to hear more about your book!

    • Amelia Earhart would be cool – didn’t they think they had found her? In the dim recesses of my mind I thought maybe they had found some remains on an island and it looked like she had been alive for a while there and not perished in the crash…though given my imagination, I could have dreamt thins or made it up. Anyone else remember this story?

    • There is a recent news story I heard that a new better funded investigation is happening, but I don’t remember the deets. It’s a great mystery.

  2. I agree with all the names of missing or lost persons mentioned in the preceding comments. Didn’t you just love the gentle, reconstructed face of Richard III? And no withered arm as Shakespeare would have us believe. I’ve read Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time, but not the other novels.

    I recall that the supposed remains of Amelia Earhart were found and immediately lost. How convenient.

    I have always dreamed that someone would find the remains of Cleopatra. I suspect that will never happen since her palace is under water, but nevertheless, perhaps one day.

    • Ooh, Cleo that would be a fun find. I did enjoy seeing the facial reconstruction for Richard III – he looked very refined and not at all like a monster (though looks can always be deceiving I guess!)

  3. I’m down with Genghis Khan, especially is they got a tooth or something else with viable DNA so they could positively confirm that a ridiculous number of us are descended from him.

    Or as the Smithsonian says, “Bret Michaels got with every chick on the love bus. Genghis Khan got with so many chicks there’s a .5% chance you’re related to him.”

    Yes on Cleopatra as well! And other strong women from history.

  4. I love history but I would suggest to leave the bones to their sleep. I sincerely hope we will not find the graves that do not wish to be found. I suppose that we should pay more respect to the deceased ones. If they ordered their graves to be well hidden, they probably didn’t want to have their rest disturbed.

    It’s sad that a king rested under a parking lot but maybe worse is to have his bones measured and scrutinized, his wounds catalogued and assessed, his DNA taken and examined. In none of the articles I have read about the find the further fate of his remains was discussed. But I suppose they will end up bare in a museum. Not a glorious end for a king and most likely not something that he would have chosen for himself.

    It’s just my personal opinion. Please don’t take me wrong. I like archeology but in its less nosy and invasive form. Personally, I’m fascinated with what our ancestors threw in cesspools. Such exhibits in museums are intriguing and fun and reveal almost as much about the life in a certain period as excavations of graves do. And nobody gets robbed of his/ her bones and belongings 🙂

    • Ciaran – it was sad that Richard was found beneath a parking lot and now there is likely to be a very un-regal fight between Leicester and York for who will get to have the remains. I fear we will be seeing lots of memorabilia – Richard III tea towels and coaster sets no doubt…

    • Clare, I fear the same and would so much appreciate if they simply buried the remains again but it is not likely. *sigh*

      Though I suppose things would change if people considered a possibility that it could be let’s say their grandmother going to have her bones exhibited in a museum. Suddenly it wouldn’t be so cool and perhaps they would allow the king to have his rest in respectable conditions.


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