A new study conducted by the British Geological Survey, in association with researchers at the University of Leicester, has explored the bone and tooth chemistry of King Richard III and unveiled fascinating new details about the life and diet of Britain’s last Plantagenet King. The study, published in Elsevier’s Journal of Archaeological Science indicated a change in diet and location in his early childhood, and in later life, a diet comprising of expensive, high status food and drink. This forensic study, the most complete study to have been conducted on a medieval monarch, has been featured in a documentary, Richard III: The New Evidence, which aired on Channel 4 on Sunday 17th August at 9pm.
Isotope analysis of bone and tooth material from King Richard III has revealed new details of his early life and the change in his diet when he became king two years and two months before his death at the Battle of Bosworth. The research examines the changes in chemistry found in the teeth, the femur and the rib; all of which develop and rebuild at different stages of life.
Isotope measurements that relate to geographical location, pollution and diet (strontium, nitrogen, oxygen, carbon and lead) were analysed in three locations on the skeleton of Richard III. The teeth, which form in childhood, confirmed that Richard had relocated from Fotheringay castle in eastern England by the age of seven. The data suggests that during this time he was in an area of higher rainfall, older rocks and with a changed diet relative to his birthplace of Northamptonshire. Through examination of the femur, which represents an average of the 15 years before his death, researchers showed that Richard moved back to eastern England as an adolescent or young adult, and had a diet that matched the highest aristocracy.
The third location, the rib, renews itself fairly quickly, so it only represents between 2 and 5 years of life before his death. Data from the isotopes in this bone indicate the greatest change in diet. Although an alteration in the chemistry between the femur and the rib of Richard III could indicate relocation, historical records display that Richard did not relocate from the east of England prior to his death when he was King. As such, this chemical change is more likely to represent a change in diet relating to his period as King. The difference implies an increase in the consumption of freshwater fish and birds, which were popular additions to royal banquets at the time and included birds such as swan, crane, heron and egret. As well as this, the bone chemistry suggests his consumption of wine increased during his short rein and reinforces the notion that food and drink were strongly linked to social status in Medieval England.
Dr Angela Lamb, Isotope Geochemist and lead author of the paper says, “The chemistry of Richard III’s teeth and bones reveal changes in his geographical movements, diet and social status throughout his life.”
Richard Buckley from the University of Leicester Archaeological Services and lead archaeologist in the Richard III dig, said, “This cutting edge research has provided a unique opportunity to shed new light on the diet and environment of a major historical figure –Richard III. It is very rare indeed in archaeology to be able to identify a named individual with precise dates and a documented life. This has enabled the stable-isotope analysis to show how his environment changed at different times in his life and, perhaps most significantly, identified marked changes in his diet when he became king in 1483.”
The Dig for Richard III was led by the University of Leicester, working alongside Leicester City Council and in association with the Richard III Society. The originator of the Search project was Philippa Langley of the Richard III Society.
Contributing Source: Elsevier
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