More on lead coffin found at Greyfriars dig

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The mysterious lead coffin found yards from the grave of Richard III has delivered another twist in the tale of the Greyfriars excavation.

More on lead coffin found at Greyfriars dig
Archaeologists expose the lead casket found inside a stone coffin at
Greyfriars [Credit: This is Leicestershire]

Archaeologists had thought the 600-year-old metal casket, which was found in a stone tomb at Greyfriars in August, might belong to knight Sir William de Moton.

The University of Leicester team – which uncovered Richard III a year earlier – also identified two other potential candidates, in Peter Swynsfeld, who died in 1272, and William of Nottingham, who died in 1330 – both former leaders of the Franciscan friars.

However, recent analysis by the university has revealed the skeleton is likely to be female.

Lead archaeologist, Richard Buckley, from University of Leicester Archaeological Services, said: “Early analysis has shown the skeleton could be female, but before we have carried out a more thorough examination we can’t say for sure.

“If it is female – and I’m not an expert on osteology, this is just what I’ve been told – then it’s likely it’s a local benefactress.

“A lead coffin is a very high status thing.”

He said the heavy lead coffin could also indicate the person had been transported from elsewhere in the county, as it would protect the remains.

The coffin was removed from the New Street dig site in August and taken to Leicester Royal Infirmary to see if any organic tissue was preserved. An endoscope camera was inserted into a small opening in the foot of the coffin and showed that only bone and hair had survived.

Mr Buckley said: “We took it to the infirmary in case there was any organic material left, but we found that it was just a skeleton.”

The coffin was then taken back to the university, where it was opened and the skeleton removed.

“Now we’re waiting on the osteology,” said Mr Buckley.

“But, to be honest, the project is on the back-burner for a while and we won’t start examining the remains properly until the winter.”

He said the identity of the body might never be discovered, despite new evidence of the friary’s burial records.

“There is a list of names which gives more information about who it could be,” he said.

“We’re looking at those at the minute and it’s too early to say anything about it.

“But assuming we had the name of everyone buried at Greyfriars, we would then need to exhume every set of remains and go about matching names to the skeletons, which would be very difficult.”

Author: Peter Warzynski | Source: This is Leicestershire [October 17, 2013]

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