Have the remains of Alfred the Great been discovered?
Some say it is unlikely, even after discovery of Richard III
Archaeologists are hoping that they have found the remains of Alfred the Great, a highly significant historical figure who championed fearlessly for the preservation of the English language and setting up the footholds of Christianity in ancient Britain.
A favorite legend of Alfred the Great was that he once took shelter in a woman's home, who did not know who he was. Asked to watch the bread as it cooked in the oven, Alfred was so occupied with his embattled nation, he let the bread burn.
The recent excavation was undertaken under great secrecy. A team exhumed an unmarked grave in a churchyard in Winchester named in ancient documents as the king's burial place.
After an intensive 10-hour operation this week, human skeletal remains were unearthed in the churchyard of St. Bartholomew's in the Hyde area of London, and taken for storage at an undisclosed location.
Alfred the Great was the heralded Anglo-Saxon king who fought off the Vikings and established the foundations of British law codes and justice system. Historians agree that Alfred, who died in the year 899 after a distinguished 28-year reign had a great impact on western life as it is lived today with his safeguarding of the English language and Christian religion.
Archaeologists have admitted discovering him would be a very long shot as Alfred's bones were moved at least twice. Archaeologist Katie Tucker who is leading the search admitted it would be difficult to prove any remains are his. She still holds out the hope that they can still carbon date the skeleton.
"If the bones are from around the 10th century then that is proof they are Alfred and his family, because Hyde Abbey was not built until the 12th Century, and there is no reason for any other bones from the 10th Century to be there," she says.
How Alfred the Great died remains a mystery, but he was buried in the Old Minster, the Anglo-Saxon cathedral in Winchester. Alfred is the only English monarch to be known as "the Great" and was the first to consider himself King of the Anglo-Saxons.
Popular depictions show Alfred depicts him as a great warrior. However, he was not physically strong and is believed to have suffered poor health for most of his life.
Alfred was born in 849 and died on October 26, 899. He had been King of Wessex from 871 until his death. Buried temporarily in the Old Minster in Winchester, his remains were then moved to the New Minster.
Alfred's body was transferred to Hyde Abbey in 1110. Soon after the dissolution of the abbey in 1539, during the reign of Henry VIII, the church was demolished, but the graves were left intact.
"Even if they do radio-carbon dating on the bones which reveals they are from the tenth century, we do not know if it is Alfred," Dr. Helen Foxhall Forbes, a lecturer in early medieval history at Exeter University says.
"As a historian I would love it if they found him but it would be an extremely long shot, I would be very dubious if they said they had found Alfred the Great."
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