A Royal Parking Lot: The Discovery of King Richard III

by Lindsay Shapka in , ,

In the fall of 2012, a team of archeologists from the University of Leicester discovered a skeleton under one of the town's parking lots. Shockingly, the skeleton turned out to be the lost remains in King Richard III who had been killed in battle in 1485!

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending a lecture by Dr Jo Appleby (an expert in Osteoarchaeology aka the scientific study of human remains from archeology sites aka Bones from the TV show Bones) — the archeologist who helped discover, excavate and identify the bones.


So why should this discovery interest you? Because discoveries like this almost NEVER happen... EVER...

According to Dr Appleby, as a rule in archeology, you never go looking for something in particular. You dig and find what you find, but an actual search for something specific (like in Indiana Jones) is fruitless and not scientifically realistic. SO to attempt a search for something as specific as the remains of Richard III was laughable (in fact one of her colleagues told her that he would eat his hat if they actually found the skeleton).

BUT she did it anyway... and it’s a good thing she did! 

After extensive research through historical sources, the team believed that they had identified the former location of the Greyfriars Friary, which was where it was believed that the King had been buried.

The problem? The assumed location was under asphalt parking lots and the city's council buildings. (In case you haven’t caught on yet, excavating under a building is not really a possibility.)

The solution? They started digging trenches in the lots hoping to find something — they did. Not only did they find walls, and relics, but they found a skeleton. Yup, you guessed it, that skeleton — the FIRST they found only a few centimeters below the pavement — was none other then King Richard III. 

Now you might be wondering how they know he was Richard III. This is where it gets interesting.

First of all, the skeleton was found in a shallow, hastily dug grave, which is the type of treatment the king would have received having been killed in a war that was won by his enemy.

Second of all, the spine had a distinctive curve. Now, if you aren't aware, King Richard III was infamous for having a hunchback. Exactly what the skeleton was showing.

Thirdly, the wounds on the body matched those that would have occurred from weapons used in warfare during the king’s reign. 

Radiocarbon dating also placed the bones in the right century, and a 3D model of the skull with muscles and skin was created that shows a striking likeness to known portraits of the former king.

But, none of this really confirmed anything until the DNA test. Yes, even though he was killed in 1485, mitochondrial DNA was still present in the teeth of the remains!

Through more extensive research into the bloodlines of this former king and his family members, 2 people from separate bloodlines were found who were thought to be his descendents. They agreed to take the test and IT WAS A MATCH — indisputable evidence that the remains found buried in a 'car park' in Leicester, England were none other than King Richard III.

Who says history is only in the past... 

UPDATE: On Thursday, March 26, the remains of King Richard III was buried with pomp and dignity in the Leicester Cathedral. The service was attended by royalty, religious leaders, archeologists, actor Benedict Cumberbatch (?!), and other curious Britons. Thousands came to view his coffin in the days before his service, which was televised live. It was an amazing conclusion to the incredible saga of this ruler from life to death to rediscovery. 

He Is Not Dead, He Is Just Away: Exploring A Canadian Cemetery in Italy

by Lindsay Shapka in , ,

The night before had been one of those rare, unforgettable nights that had ended with falling asleep (passing out) fully clothed and waking up with case of the disoriented giggles, and a blood alcohol level higher than what would allow me to legally drive.

Luckily I didn’t have to drive. Unluckily, I still had to sit on a bus that was going to travel on a VERY twisty, windy, bumpy road for FIVE hours.

Yup, didn’t plan that well.

It was 2004, and I was heading to the east coast town of Ortona, Italy on a fieldtrip with other students from our university program. The small seaside town was the home of some very important battles during WWII and, according to my History of Warfare professor, still contained destroyed buildings from those battles that were worth seeing.

The town was beautiful, the buildings quite shocking (as shocking as it could be to my numbed senses), but to be honest, all that I could think about after that VERY painful bus ride was finding a large glass of water, some greasy food and somewhere to lay down.

By the time we got back on the bus, I had managed to find only the water and could feel the headache of the century coming on. Trying to ignore the world, I leaned my head against the seat in front of me and tried to block out my Prof who was going on about something (probably important but I didn’t care) at the front of the bus.

Ten minutes later, the bus suddenly pulled to a stop and people started getting off. We only had one stop scheduled, so I was a bit confused, but like a good, hung-over sheep, I followed the other students off the bus.

Blinking against the harsh light, I dragged myself to the front of the group to try and hear what the Prof was saying and that’s when I saw where we were.

On a large white marble stone, sitting in front of row upon row of neat white headstones, were the words: MORO RIVER CANADIAN WAR CEMETERY

I had never felt so sober.

  Moro River Canadian War Cemetery in Ortona, Italy 

Moro River Canadian War Cemetery in Ortona, Italy 

Perched near the coast, high above the Adriatic Sea the Moro Cemetery holds the graves of 1376 Canadians that were killed near the area during WWII.

In the winter of 1943, the Germans were holding a line that reached across the country from Ortona to just north of Naples. The Allies made a plan to break this line to take Rome back, and on December 6, 1943 the Canadians crossed the Moro River and launched an attack. Two weeks later, they advanced on, and took, Ortona. It is considered to be one of the bitterest battles in the war — 8 days of incredibly violent house-to-house battles that ended in a huge loss of life.

I had never been to a Canadian War Cemetery before, and the mix of seeing the Canadian flag, headstones that contained last names of close friends back at home, and my pure exhaustion caused a reaction that I was not expecting.

I started weeping.

Uncontrollable, non-stop tears ran down my cheeks as I walked slowly back and forth between the headstones, pausing to read the familiar names of the incredibly young people that were buried there.

 The gravestone of Private W. Harrington Age 24  "We cannot say and we will not say that he is dead he is just away" 

The gravestone of Private W. Harrington Age 24 "We cannot say and we will not say that he is dead he is just away" 

The incredible loss that comes with war had never seemed to real for me as it was in that moment — and I have NEVER felt so homesick.

NOTE: Every year on November 11, I find myself remembering this moment and am SO thankful for the people who have protected my freedoms around the world in the past wars and in the present ones. They have kept my brother, my best friend, my father, and myself from being buried in places like Moro River. 

Are Unsolved Mysteries Really Mysteries? The Answers May Be Found in Oral Histories

by Lindsay Shapka in , ,

I have been sick for the last few weeks and have been passing the time by reading everything that I can get my hands on. One of those things is National Geographic's 100 Greatest Mysteries Revealed, which is filled with intriguing tidbits about ancient civilizations (will we ever find El Dorado?), myth (where is the holy grail?), and more.

While fascinating, this list has gotten me wondering — are these "unsolved" mysteries really mysteries, or are we just not listening to the people who know the answers? 

Let me explain... 

When I was in University, I took a class called The History of Africa from an extremely eccentric professor who had recently returned to Canada after spending a year with a tribe in Zimbabwe. One of the things that he was doing there was recording the oral history of the tribe that had been passed down from person to person for hundreds of years. Because the tribe was fairly isolated, they did not trust outsiders, and it had taken him months to even get any sort of conversation going with them.   

Oral history has long been considered to be unreliable by historians, and so is an inaccurate source of information in the western world. This means that people who transmit knowledge through stories and song (which is a VERY large portion of the world's population) are not accounted for in written history.That is A LOT of information that can not be Googled or found in textbooks, and can potentially be lost forever if a group dies out, or is assimilated into western culture.

If you don't believe that oral histories are important or relevant, think of your own family. The stories that you heard from you grandparents, or even your parents are stories that you will tell your own children, or people that you know. They may not solve any mysteries, but they give you a sense of place in the world and help you to understand where you came from.

Now imagine that those histories transmitted thousands of years of knowledge, and that is the knowledge that is potentially locked away in the minds of aboriginal peoples all over the globe. 

Why don't scientists and archeologists just ask?  

Great question, and one that has a very complex answer.

First of all, most of the people who might know the answers don't speak English. Secondly, these histories are often sacred and only passed down to certain people in the group. And, to be honest, why should they tell outsiders anything? The explorers who "discovered" mysterious monuments like the Mayan ruins weren't exactly kind to the people they met. They killed them, treated them like slaves, and took their land. With a history like that, would you be forthcoming with your culture's secrets? I wouldn't be. 

With all of the people in the world, and all of the knowledge that is out there, I have NO doubt in my mind that there are people who know how the Easter Island monuments were placed where they are, what happened to the Indus Valley Civilization, and how the Great Pyramid was built.

We just have to start listening.  

Exploring The Covered Passages in Paris

by Lindsay Shapka in , , ,

If you are anything like me, one of your favourite things about travelling is finding those spots that transport you back in time, and for just a moment you can pretend that you are part of the era that gave birth to artistic genius, architectural marvels, or mysterious cultures.

The passages couverts (covered shopping passageways) in Paris, France are one of those spots. These shopping arcades emerged in the 19th century, post-Napoleon era, during a time of relative peace, prosperity and the rise of the industrial class. Paris was notorious at this time for being overcrowded and not having any sort of sewage, drainage or walkways. These passages were the first places that allowed shoppers the ability to stroll from store to store, blissfully apart from the filth and noise of the street.

These passages soon became a top attraction in the city and were THE destination for those visiting from the surrounding provinces. At the peak of their popularity, there were more than 150 of these covered shopping and entertainment Meccas — shopping was not the only reason to pay these spots a visit. 

Those with money in their pockets would have NO problem spending it drinking, dining, bathing (there were public baths in every passage), theatre, and activities of an... ahem,,, questionable nature (prostitutes frequented the area at night). 

Sadly, it was the opening of the city's first department store in the mid 1800s that caused a sudden drop in popularity of these once bustling destinations and now there are only a few dozen left. They are completely worth visiting however, as they showcase some fantastic architecture and take you on a quiet, off-the-beaten-path-tour through some pretty cool parts of the city. Some of them are completely deserted, some still have shops, cafes, and even hotels in them, but all evoke images of 19th century men in tailored jackets and women with parasols shopping, socializing and being fabulous Parisians! 

Nefertiti: The Most Beautiful Woman In Ancient Egypt

by Lindsay Shapka in , ,

A copy of the famous bust of Queen Nefertiti found in the Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin, Germany 

Egypt's second most famous queen, after Cleopatra, Queen Nefertiti was the wife of Akhenaten (formally Amenhotep IV) who came to the throne in 1352 BCE and reigned for 17 years. These two rulers radically changed the political, spiritual and cultural life of Egyptians, founding a new religion that worshiped only one god — the life-giving sun deity Aten. Akhenaten acted as the high priest of this new religion, making Nefertiti the high priestess.  

The famous bust of this beautiful queen (that the bust in the photo above was modeled after) was discovered amongst drawings, and other art related to the royal family,  in the studio of the sculptor Thutmose at Akhetaten—the capital city during her husband's rule. The discovery was made in 1912 during excavations by the German-Orient-Association, which is why the current home of this beautiful piece of history is the National Museum of Berlin. (Though Egypt is constantly trying to get this piece back...)


What makes this 50 cm tall sculpture so unique is the fact bust portraits consisting of ONLY the head and shoulders were extremely rare during this period. Some scholars believe that this piece may have simply been a model for the artist to follow in order to complete other paintings, carvings, or full body sculptures of the beautiful queen. (Ironically what may have been a basic artist's 'sketch' has become one of the most copied pieces of ancient Egyptian art.) 

The colors used in painting the piece, the perfect symmetry of her features, and the fact that the bust was discovered in almost perfect condition also made this an unbelievable find for archeologists. 

Whether or not her beauty was exaggerated is something that can never really be proven definitively, but writing by her subjects referring to her as "Fair of Face" and "Endowed With Love" have been found supporting the artists vision. 

In The News: An Egyptian Curse In Manchester

by Lindsay Shapka in ,

On Saturday, June 22 the Manchester Museum announced that a 10-inch ancient Egyptian statue — dating back to 1,800 BC — spooked staffers after it was caught on tape "inexplicably rotating in its display cabinet." WHAT?!

You may be thinking what I originally thought when i heard this story... HOAX... 

But, the security video that was captured clearly shows the figure rotating in a locked cabinet without — here's the kicker — being touched...  

The story, originally reported by  The Manchester Evening News quickly gained traction and international TV crews (and a WHOLE lot of visitors) have descended on the museum to see the statue for themselves. 

The museum has also been  "inundated with calls from paranormal investigators" and others that believe that figure has a curse that was bestowed on its original owner (the statue was found in a mummy's tomb). 

A more likely scenario being thrown around is that the statue moved due to vibrations caused by people walking by the cabinet. Though a lot easier to believe than a 'curse' this scenario does not account for the fact that this has never happened before (the museum has had the statue for a few years), nor does it explain why the statue turned in a perfect circle.

The curator has invited anyone with a real theory to the museum to help solve this intriguing mystery! Do you have a theory?

In The News: Archaeologists Discover Lost City In Cambodian Jungle!

by Lindsay Shapka in ,

According to the The Age (an Australian newspaper) a team of Australian archaeologists have discovered an ancient city in Cambodia that has been hidden for more than a millennium!

Hidden by the dense jungle, in an area littered with landmines left behind by the Khmer Rouge, this 1200-year-old city (called Mahendraparvata — say that ten times fast) predates the Angkor Wat temple complex by 350 years! Angkor was thought to be the beginning, the capital and the heart of the Khmer empire, but this new discovery may prove otherwise. 

The entrance gate leading in to the heart of Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia

According to the article, the discovery was made using a "remote-sensing technology" called LIDAR that showed the scientists the outline of the ancient city.   

The coolest part?  

It seems that for some reason, the area has never been looted. It was deserted, overgrown with jungle, forgotten, and not rediscovered until now! 

Even more exciting is the fact that they STILL don't know how big the city actually was, and there is still much more area to cover and more history to uncover!  

To read the original article, click here