England

King Alfred the Great 'find': Is this the new Richard III?

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Media captionThe fragment was found at a previous dig at Hyde Abbey and has been dated to 895-1017 - the era the king died

After academics said they may have identified a piece of pelvis belonging to King Alfred the Great, comparisons were drawn to the discovery of Richard III. But what are the differences between the finds and why do they fascinate so many?

At first, it seemed almost fanciful.

A skeleton found beneath a Leicester car park was said to be that of Richard III.

But after a painstaking excavation in 2012, DNA evidence proved beyond "reasonable doubt" the bones matched descendants of the monarch's family.

On Friday, the University of Winchester said it may have found bones belonging to King Alfred the Great or his son, Edward the Elder.

It could be some time, however, before any certainty can be attached to the latest announcement.

Dr Katie Tucker, whose examination of the bones will feature in a BBC documentary, accepts it will be more difficult to prove a royal link.

For one, Alfred the Great died in 899, well before Richard III was killed on the battlefield in 1485.

"We have had quite a number of individuals who have been contacting us, sending us their family trees, saying they are descendants of Alfred," Dr Tucker said.

"This is a path that may be worth pursuing but it's a very long way to go back, an extra 500 years to go back than Richard III. It's always going to be more of a difficult task to find a descendant."

Dr Hugh Willmott, senior lecturer in Archaeology at the University of Sheffield, said he was "most intrigued" as to how the Alfred the Great connection could be proven.

"He died 1,114 years ago," he said. "His body has been moved at least twice in the past. All that moving around could cause problems.

Dr Willmott said the coverage of the Richard III find had generated lots of interest in archaeology.

"The impact was very significant in the short term, particularly since Time Team ended as there hasn't been so much archaeology on television.

"On the flip side it's a bit disappointing if all the focus is on finding specific figures rather than trying to provide more context about the significance of historical events."

There is also, he adds, a "finite number of kings".

Image caption The fragment of pelvis dates back to the period in history when King Alfred died

Richard Buckley, co-director of the University of Leicester's archaeology services, led the dig for Richard III.

He said the discovery provoked so much interest because of the Shakespeare play based on Richard III and the fact he was a "very controversial character who polarises opinion".

"People also love a mystery, and the thought that he may be underneath a car park drew people in."

Professor Philip Schwyzer, of the University of Exeter's English department, said the excitement surrounding the remains was different from the "contemporary fascination with the Royal family"

He said: "Richard III is notorious and Alfred is celebrated in a much more positive way.

"There's a sense that they both belong to us and that we all should have a say over what happens to them."

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