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Lead coffin leads to no results?

by Bruno Van de Casteele

October 20, 2013

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Donate A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the first scientific publication on finding the tomb of King Richard III, in Leicester, England. The main purpose of the dig was to find his final resting place. This is logical, as the dig was in part financed by the Richard III society for exactly that purpose. But it was also a "normal" dig in the sense that the work continued on the Friars site even after the remains of the king were found.

The dig lasted in total four weeks in July this year. As reported by the University of Leicester archeologists themselves on their blog, near the end of that period a quite amazing find was uncovered. An intact stone coffin was found, with in it a coffin made of lead. Two coffins are unusual, but a lead coffin clearly indicates that a person with high status was buried there.

There were no indications on the coffins of who that person could be, and the entire thing was removed from the site for further analysis. It could have been a knight by the name of Sir William de Moton, based on historical records linking him to the Grey Friars, or maybe important leaders of the Friars themselves.

A couple of months later, the team has come to an intermediate conclusion. Surprisingly - but perhaps not in a field as sparse with material like archeology - that conclusion is that we might never know. The coffin was opened and the skeleton contained in it belongs probably to a woman. No other material has been found (or has survived). In all probability, this is probably a benefactress, a wealthy woman supporting the Friars. As the linked article indicates, it wouldn't necessarily be a local person, as the lead coffin could indicate that her remains was brought in from elsewhere. As the researchers indicate, even if full records of all burials were available, it might be impossible to find out who was buried in this coffin.

Disappointed as one may be that there might no probable, let alone definite answer, this is how most of history and archeology works. Instead of being sad about what we cannot ever know, we should focus on those things we can be proud of. We can find out certain things about our ancestors, and maybe, as I wrote elsewhere, use what we find to imagine how they lived. That is why I like archeology so much.


by Bruno Van de Casteele

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