Richard III: DNA analysis

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Update: for an account of how DNA analysis confirmed the identity of Richard III, see our short article by Dr Turi King, who led this aspect of the research.


The recently-discovered skeletal remains thought to be a ‘prime candidate’ for Richard III are to undergo DNA analysis in order to confirm their identity.

This  laboratory analysis will be led by  Dr Turi King from the University of Leicester’s Department of Genetics.  In a press conference earlier today (12 September), Dr King spoke of plans to extract ancient DNA from the remains, and use mitochondrial DNA to establish whether they are those of Richard III.  DNA taken from archaeological samples is often referred to as Ancient DNA (aDNA).

Mitochondrial DNA
There are two types of DNA in a cell – mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) and nuclear DNA.  Samples taken for analysis from archaeological bones or teeth often have no    nuclear DNA left in the cells.  However, mitochondrial DNA tends to survive far more readily in archaeological samples.

Mitochondrial DNA is passed down through the maternal line, from mother to child.  As there is usually no change in mtDNA from parent to child, it is therefore a direct copy and is particularly useful in trying to track an individual’s ancestry.

Dr King will aim to extract mitochondrial DNA from  samples of bone and teeth taken from the remains thought to be those of Richard III. Because of the good preservation of the remains, it is hopeful that mtDNA will be successfully recovered from the skeleton and suitable for analysis.

Once this DNA has been processed, this will be compared to a sample taken from Michael Ibsen, a British Canadian who has been identified by genealogist Dr. John Ashdown-Hill  as Richard III’s 17th-generation nephew.  As a direct descendent through the female line from Richard III’s sister, Anne of York, this makes mtDNA useful.

The analysis is expected to take 12 weeks to complete.

You can read the full story of this discovery in CA 272.

For more information on the Greyfriars excavation, click here

Click here to read more about the discovery of the body

Click here to read more about the possible battle wounds identified  


  1. I’ve participated in a family genealogy DNA project so I know a little about this field.

    I have a question. Is the Ibsen 17th generation connection proved through DNA sampling? Or, is the connection evidenced using conventional methods?

    Unless the Ibsen family connection is through DNA, I would be very skeptical of any conclusions here. Approximately five to ten percent of children world-wide are born out of wedlock. And other extra-paternal events can occur.

    Thank you for letting me express these ideas. I hope someone can answer this for me too.

    Martin Mallary

    • Hi Martin,

      The family connection was traced through genealogical research rather than DNA – however, ULAS are confident that the Ibsen link is reliable because they are looking at mitochondrial DNA, which is passed down from mother to daughter.

      This means that paternity really doesn’t matter – short of swapping babies at birth (not impossible, granted, but I’m sure you’ll agree that’s rather more unlikely than a baby’s paternity being in question), it should be fairly straightforward to identify the mother in each case, so the family connection is much more secure.

      Thank you for your interest!

      Carly Hilts (CA Editorial Assistant)

  2. I am wondering IF the remains prove to bee Richard 111, where will they be intered?
    Westminster? Windsor? Leicester? OR maybe Arundel, as the Duke of Norfolk was Richard’s “Beloved Cousin” and was given the title from Richard Could they possibly go there?

  3. Where ever he is intered, it must be remembered that his remains need to remain safe and that his grave shouldn’t be able to be interfered with.

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