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The King’s Spine

June 25, 2014

England’s King Richard III wasn’t a hunchback, as depicted by Shakespeare, but he did have scoliosis.

Transcript

BOB HIRSHON (host):

Diagnosing a long-dead king.  I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Richard_III_earliest_surviving_portrait

Earliest surviving portrait of Richard III, circa 1520. (Society of Antiquaries, London)

Among William Shakespeare’s best-known historical plays is Richard III, which depicted the king as severely hunchbacked.  Now, scientists studying the recently unearthed bones of the actual king have revised that diagnosis.  Biological anthropologist Piers Mitchell says the king had scoliosis, a curvature of the spine commonly screened for today in elementary schools.

PIERS MITCHELL (University of Leicester):

And we’ve been able to put those bones together to reconstruct that spine, and to confirm that the only way that those bones could fit together during life would be in the form of a scoliosis.

HIRSHON:

Mitchell’s team says the scoliosis would have raised one shoulder higher than the other, and reduced the king’s apparent height.  But it wouldn’t have been as obvious as it’s usually depicted on stage, and may even have gone unnoticed with well-designed clothes or armor.  I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the Science Society.