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Scientists use modern forensics to find out which gory wound killed this English king

Three of his injuries had the potential to cause death quickly – two to the skull and one to the pelvis.

Image: The Lancet

SCIENTISTS IN THE UK have used modern forensic analysis methods to identify the most likely cause of King Richard III’s death in the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485.

Analysis of his skeletal remains reveals that three of his injuries had the potential to cause death quickly – to to the skull and one to the pelvis.

Richard III was the last English monarch to die in battle and his remains were found under a car park in Leicester in 2012. A forensic imaging team, working with the Forensic Pathology Unit and the Department of Engineering at the University of Leicester, used whole body CT scans and micro-CT imaging of injured bones to analyse trauma to the 500-year-old skeleton carefully, and to determine which of the King’s wounds might have proved fatal.

They also analysed tool marks on bone to identify the medieval weapons potentially responsible for his injuries.

The results, which were published in The Lancet, show that Richard’s skeleton sustained 11 wounds at or near the time of his death – nine of them to the skull, clearly inflicted in battle and suggesting he had removed or lost his helmet, and two to the postcranial skeleton.

This suggests he sustained an attack by several assailants with weapons from the later medieval period.

The investigators, led by Dr Jo Appleby of the University of Leicester School of Archaeology and Ancient History, surmise that the postcranial injuries, including the potentially fatal one to the pelvis, might have been inflicted after Richard’s death, on the basis that had he been alive he would have been wearing a specific type of armour worn in the late 15th century that would have prevented such wounds.

“The most likely injuries to have caused the King’s death are the two to the inferior aspect of the skull—a large sharp force trauma possibly from a sword or staff weapon, such as a halberd or bill, and a penetrating injury from the tip of an edged weapon,” commented study co-author Professor Guy Rutty.

“Richard’s head injuries are consistent with some near-contemporary accounts of the battle, which suggest that Richard abandoned his horse after it became stuck in a mire and was killed while fighting his enemies.”

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