Bones thought to be King Alfred the Great to be tested

Aug. 10, 2013 at 1:32 AM
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WINCHESTER, England, Aug. 10 (UPI) -- The Church of England has given permission for testing on bones believed to be those of King Alfred the Great and his family.

Hyde900, which was set up in 2010 to mark the 900th anniversary of the founding of Hyde Abbey, Alfred's burial place, expects to start work soon, the BBC reported. Rosemary Burns, a member of the group's executive committee, said tests will include DNA, carbon dating, and isotope and oxygen testing.

Alfred, the only English king to be known as "the great," died in 899 at 50, after 28 years as king of the West Saxons. He was buried first at the Old Minster in Winchester and then, about 200 years later, his body and those of his wife and children were transferred to Hyde Abbey, north of the city.

The bones to be tested, including five skulls, were exhumed at St. Bartholomew's Church in Winchester in March. Experts say the royal remains may have been re-buried there after a prison was built on the Hyde site.

In February, in a major coup for DNA testing, scientists announced that a skeleton buried under a Leicester car park had been identified as that of King Richard III, killed in battle in 1485. Mitochondrial DNA from the remains was compared to a sample given by Michael Ibsen, a Canadian cabinet maker descended in the female line from Richard's older sister.

Hyde900 has said it does not expect that kind of identification with the Winchester remains, given that Alfred died 600 years before Richard. But testing can show how old the bones are and possibly shed light on family relationships and on how the people involved lived.

The bones remain in the custody of the Diocese of Winchester and will eventually be reburied.

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