Have the remains of legendary King Alfred the Great been found in a museum?
Discovery would overshadow recent discovery of Richard III's remains
It's been an exciting time for Royal archaeology after centuries of speculations, the remains of two legendary British kings suddenly become available at the same time. The remains of Richard III were found under a car park in Leicester a year ago - now, archaeologists now think they've found a piece of a pelvis that could belong to Alfred the Great.
King Alfred, who died in 899, held back the Viking invaders, established the foundations of our law codes and justice system, and safeguarded the English language and Christian religion.
The pelvis bone (right) of King Alfred the Great (illustrated left) is believed to have been found in a box stored in a museum, and not buried in an unmarked grave as previously thought.
The fragment was originally disregarded as it was found near other remains which were hundreds of years younger. Carbon dating has proved that the bone dates from 895-1017 AD. Scientists believe this makes it unlikely to have come from anyone apart from the father or the son.
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King Alfred, who died in 899, held back the Viking invaders, established the foundations of our law codes and justice system, and safeguarded the English language and Christian religion. He is most famously known among school children as a ruler, so preoccupied with military maneuvers, as burning cakes intended for his troops.
His son Edward the Elder, who ruled until 924, continued his work, driving the Danes north and unifying the kingdoms of Wessex, Mercia and East Anglia.
King Alfred's body was known to have been moved at least once after New Minster in Winchester, his first burial place, was demolished in the early 12th century. His remains have been highly coveted by researchers.
Alfred and his successors' remains were moved to Hyde Abbey in 1110. That building was demolished during Henry VIII's dissolution of the monasteries and the graves were dug up when a prison was built on the site in 1788.
Three headstones mark the spot of the former Hyde Abbey, where a pelvic bone that could potentially belong to King Alfred the Great was found. Although the bone was discovered during an excavation in 1999, it is only recently that tests have led researchers to make a link between the bone and King Alfred and his son.
Convicts building the prison looted royal jewelry from the coffins and stole the lead lining, before smashing up the bones and flinging them around the site.
Complicated by false leads, the search for his remains suggests that they were buried in an unmarked grave at nearby St Bartholomew's Church.
Three headstones mark the spot of the former Hyde Abbey, where a pelvic bone that could potentially belong to King Alfred the Great was found.
Historians who opened the grave last year found that the remains of six bodies inside, including at least one skull, dated from 1100 to 1500 AD, which was much later than Alfred's reign.
Human osteology researcher Katie Tucker demonstrates the size of the pelvic bone which tests have discovered could potentially belong to King Alfred the Great or his son.
Researcher at the University of Winchester, Dr. Katie Tucker went back to bones stored in the city museum to seek other leads. She discovered to her astonishment that one bone was much older than those around it.
Tucker said that it might be possible to extract DNA from the pelvic bone but said the problem was finding another DNA source to check it with.
"There's a good chance of extracting DNA and comparing it to Alfred's granddaughter who is buried in Germany but they did try to get a DNA sample from her grave but were not able to because it was not so well preserved so we need to find someone else to compare them with," she said.
Alfred the Great ruled from 871 to 899 and is remembered for his social and educational reforms, military victories against the Vikings and of course his legendarily bad cooking skills where he burned cakes.
While it may be theoretically possible to check against a living ancestor, as had been done with Richard III, identifying a definite descendant poses a problem.
"We have had quite a number of individuals who have been contacting us, sending us their family trees, and saying they are descendants of Alfred.
"This is a path that may be worth pursuing but it's a very long way to go back, an extra 500 years to go back than Richard III, it's always going to be more of a difficult task to find a descendant," she says.
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