It's Him: Richard III Is the Oldest Successful DNA Identification Case
Image: University of Leicester​

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It's Him: Richard III Is the Oldest Successful DNA Identification Case

The DNA also "cannot prove a lover" as there's a break in his male-lineage.
December 2, 2014, 5:05pm

It sure looked like they had found Richard III's remains ​under a car park in Leicester—the skeleton was the right age, from the right time, and had evidently been killed in battle. There was even evidence of scoliosis, which would have made one shoulder higher than the other.

But to really be sure they had their man, researchers from the department of genetics at the University of Leicester wanted to analyze the skeleton's DNA. Whoever they found, though, had been buried there for 527 years, making it the oldest attempt at DNA identification of an individual to date.

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The results are in, and now is the winter wherein scientists are content: it's Richard III.

The researchers looked at the complete mitochondrial DNA sequence from the skeleton's teeth and femur and compared it with Richard III's living relative—his cousin 21 generations removed—and found a perfect match. Granted, the Y-chromosome haplotype doesn't match the male-line relatives of the king, but as ​the paper published in Nature Communications notes, "this is not remarkable given that a false-paternity event could have occurred in any of the intervening generations…false-maternity is, for obvious reasons, much less likely."

One wonders if the living relative, a woman named Wendy Duldig, was already aware of a "false-paternity event" some time in the last 21 generations of her family and how the researchers brought it up. The researchers knew, going in,  ​that it was a​ possibility.

As Turi King, a lecturer in genetics and archeology explained, the combination of the research done on the skeleton already, with the circumstances in which it was found, and now the DNA, makes it a lock.

"You can add the radiocarbon data to this and the DNA analysis and you can bring all those strands together and do what's known as a Bayesian analysis, to put a sort of statistical number on how likely this is to be who you think it is," she said. "We've done just that, and we've calculated a probability of these being the remains of Richard III, at their most conservative, being 99.999 percent. The evidence is overwhelming."

The DNA predicted hair and eye color matches those of portraits of Richard III as well, which is cool, but not quite the lock you might imagine, as there aren't any surviving portraits painted of the king while he was alive, only those painted years after his death. If anything, now the accuracy of the portraits can be tested.

"Given the 527 years that had elapsed since Richard's death at Bosworth, this case is of special interest in that it is the oldest DNA identification case of a known individual to date," the paper states. "This report is the first that draws all such available strands together and estimates the statistical support for the skeletal remains discovered in 2012 being those of the last Plantagenet king, Richard III."