Is This the Face of Richard III?

Scientists release 3D reconstruction as some doubt skeleton is really his

By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff

Posted Feb 5, 2013 7:44 AM CST

(Newser) – Once scientists had Richard III's skeleton, they quickly set about reconstructing his face, and a 3D model of the reconstruction was unveiled today, Fast Company reports. Philippa Langley, a Richard III Society member who played a large role in the search for his body, noted that "it doesn't look like the face of a tyrant. ... He's very handsome." The reconstruction is important since all existing portraits of the king were painted after his death; the BBC reports that the reconstruction is indeed similar to those portraits. (Compare for yourself in the gallery.)

But is the skeleton found in a parking lot really Richard III? Scientists are expressing their doubts:

  • Mitochondrial DNA, which is what researchers used to establish "beyond a reasonable doubt" that they had in fact found the king, isn't actually all that great at determining identity, one expert tells the New Scientist. "I could have the same mitochondrial DNA as Richard III and not be related to him," he points out. And if the two living descendants are too closely related (and thus their DNA is too close), that will also cast doubt on the findings.
  • Other scientists point out that DNA analysis can easily be contaminated, LiveScience reports. One calls the DNA results "weak," and many think a more in-depth analysis—or perhaps a peer review of the findings and methods—is called for.
  • One thing to look out for when the findings are published: Just how rare is Richard III's DNA? "If Richard III had a very common type of mitochondrial DNA, then there will be plenty of people in the country that have got the same," an expert tells the Guardian. If his DNA is rare, however, there will be less doubt.
Click for more on the search for Richard III.

Philippa Langley, originator of the 'Looking for Richard III' project, looks at the facial reconstruction of Richard III, unveiled to the media at the Society of Antiquaries, London Feb. 5, 2013.
Philippa Langley, originator of the 'Looking for Richard III' project, looks at the facial reconstruction of Richard III, unveiled to the media at the Society of Antiquaries, London Feb. 5, 2013.   (AP Photo/PA, Gareth Fuller)
The facial reconstruction of Richard III is unveiled to the media at the Society of Antiquaries, London, Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2013.
The facial reconstruction of Richard III is unveiled to the media at the Society of Antiquaries, London, Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2013.   (AP Photo/PA, Gareth Fuller)
Undated photo made available by the University of Leicester, England, Monday Feb. 4, 2013 of the earliest surviving portrait of Richard III.
Undated photo made available by the University of Leicester, England, Monday Feb. 4, 2013 of the earliest surviving portrait of Richard III.   (AP Photo/ University of Leicester)
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