How I found Richard III underneath a Leicester car park: archaeologist to address Hong Kong Science Museum

Dr Turi King to deliver lecture on how she identified Richard III and his unlikely grave

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 11 March, 2014, 3:29am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 11 March, 2014, 4:39am

It sounds like the plot line of a TV show: archaeologists find the remains of a man under a car park and use DNA to piece together his identity.

But it's a real-life endeavour by scientist Dr Turi King, who helped identify the remains of the British monarch Richard III last year. King is in town to deliver a lecture today on how she and the team pieced together the identity of the skeleton.

"Thirty years ago we wouldn't have had the technology. In 30 to 40 years, there would have been no living descendents. Michael and Wendy don't have any kids and probably won't, so it was the perfect window of opportunity," said King, who is a lecturer in genetics and archaeology at the University of Leicester.

It was a group effort on the part of historians, molecular geneticists, genealogists, anthropologists and others to determine the skeleton was indeed the monarch so vilified in history. The last of the Plantagenet dynasty was often portrayed as a malformed murderous despot by the Tudor dynasty that followed.

The DNA analysis conducted by King involved obtaining the mitochondrial DNA from living descendants of Richard III's sister, and isolating the DNA from the skeleton.

"All you have to do is breathe on it and a tonne of your DNA will contaminate the sample," said King. "I had to go in all gloved up, masked and everything - the whole kind of CSI suit," she said.

King's lecture is part of the 21-year-old Science Alive programme organised by the British Council that kicked off this weekend at the Hong Kong Science Museum. The theme of this year's event, The Code of Life, celebrates the 60th anniversary of the discovery of DNA last year.

King is joined by Christopher See, a professor at the University of Hong Kong, who will speak about the biology of superheroes, Nathalie Pettorelli, an expert on climate change, and Marcus du Sautoy, who will speak on how maths can predict the future.

The Science Museum has expanded its public education programme this year with the HK SciFest - 47 programmes that include interactive lectures, field visits and Science Alive. The Science Alive programme's several-thousand-dollar budget has been increased by 20 per cent.

Whether it's policies on climate change, waste management or air pollution, "it's hard to make the right decision without scientific knowledge", said Sophia Chan-Combrink, head of education and society at the British Council.

Science Alive runs until March 21. King will speak twice in the afternoon, at 2.15pm-3.30pm and 4pm-5.15pm.