The Stone Coffin at the Greyfriars dig site

Archeologists Uncover a Coffin within a Coffin at Grey Friars Dig Site

The Stone Coffin at the Greyfriars dig site
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"Archeologists Uncover a Coffin within a Coffin at Grey Friars Dig Site"
Caption: The Stone Coffin at the Greyfriars dig site
Image by: Credit: University of Leicester
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Archeologists working at the Grey Friars dig site in Leicester have made a mysterious discovery. The team found a medieval stone coffin, which when opened they found an inner lead coffin.

This is the site where the remains of Richard III were found in September 2012. It is believed these remains were buried about a century before the king was laid in his final resting place.

Researchers have said while several remains have been found, this is the first intact coffin experts have uncovered on this project, according to a University of Leicester press release.

At this time the identity of the remains are not clear, but researchers believe the burial was a high-status one. They also speculate it may contain one of the monastery's founders or a medieval monk.

There is a hole in the casket and feet can be seen.

"Archaeologists have taken the inner lead coffin to the University’s School of Archaeology and Ancient History, and will carry out tests to find the safest way of opening it without damaging the remains within. It took eight people to carefully remove the stone lid from the outer coffin – which is 2.12 metres long, 0.6 metres wide at the “head” end, 0.3 metres wide at the “foot” end and 0.3 metres deep," wrote the University.

The lead coffin's lid was decorated with a cross and in remarkable condition. It was described as a far more elaborate burial than that of Richard III.

"[He] had to have been someone of fairly high status to have merited a burial like this," said Richard Buckley, director of the University of Leicester Archaeological Services who has overseen this project, according to National Geographic.

Theories of the identity have been made based on records that have been kept. Researchers say it could be Peter Swynsfeld, who died in 1272, William of Nottingham, who died in 1330 or a 14th century knight named Sir William de Moton of Peckleton who died during the time frame of 1356 and 1362.

All three have been known to have been buried at Grey Friars.

Researchers acknowledge these are just conjecture and that even after examining the contents, they may not ever be able to determine who is inside the mysterious coffin within a coffin.

"We can see feet bones inside," said Buckley. "If there are more organic remains or clothing preserved inside, we could get some very interesting clues. If, say, we find the remains of a gray monastic cloak inside, we could be pretty sure it was one of the friars."

The team plans to work on the coffin over the next several months under carefully controlled conditions.

The study of artifacts, and features of the former friary, found at the archeological site at Grey Friars has been ongoing since the remains of Richard III were confirmed earlier this year. Richard III, the last Plantagenet king, was killed during the Battle of Bosworth in 1485.

The team is currently wrapping up the second dig at the city car park where Richard III's remains were found last year. The monastery had been torn down by Henry VIII in 1538. Over the centuries, the exact location of it had believed to have been lost to history. However when additional information emerged, the project commenced with the hope Richard III would be found, along with the lost friary. And while experts initially said finding Grey Friars was a probability, finding Richard III was thought to be a long shot. The grave's finding captured headlines around the world.

The sealed lead coffin is described by experts as a "bonus".

Researchers recently published their first peer-reviewed paper on the project.

More about this author: Leigh Goessl

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