Scientists hunt for Alfred the Great

Feb. 9, 2013 at 3:56 PM
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WINCHESTER, England, Feb. 9 (UPI) -- British archaeologists are searching for the remains of King Alfred the Great, believed to be buried at a church in Winchester.

The announcement comes after news that a skeleton found underneath a parking lot in Leicester is that of King Richard III, killed at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485, the Daily Mirror reported.

Alfred, king of the West Saxons, is generally regarded as the first English king. He reigned for almost 30 years before his death at Winchester in 899 at age 50.

The search for Alfred's bones will be conducted this spring and summer at St. Bartholomew's Church. He was buried at the old minster in the city, and then moved to Hyde Abbey, where his remains lay with those of his wife and sons.

The bones are believed to have been stolen after the abbey was destroyed in the 16th century and purchased in the 18th century by a vicar of St. Bartholomew, who interred them in the churchyard.

Katie Tucker, a University of Winchester archeologist, said any bones found in the churchyard cannot be confirmed as Alfred's. Richard was identified through DNA comparison with a Canadian descended through the female line from his sister, but with six more centuries involved family linkages are almost impossible to trace.

The bones presumed to be at St. Bartholomew's are also likely to be from more than one person. DNA is also less likely to be found in bones that old.

Tucker said what can be done is to use radio-carbon dating on the bones.

"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," Tucker said.

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