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Richard III and a Roman rabbit: Finds of the decade

Richard III’s coffin at Leicester Cathedral before the Plantagenet king was reburied there in 2015. Photograph: Andy Rain/EPA
Richard III’s coffin at Leicester Cathedral before the Plantagenet king was reburied there in 2015. Photograph: Andy Rain/EPA

Britain’s first rabbit, the ruins of London’s first successful Elizabethan playhouse and a famous shipwreck are among the most important archaeological discoveries of the past decade.

The public body had stories “that helped change our understanding of how the people who came before us lived their lives” unearthed in the past 10 years.

Duncan Wilson, chief executive of Historic England, said: “this has been a truly remarkable decade of landmark archaeological discoveries. The past never stops surprising us. Over the past 10 years archaeologists have learned where Richard III would rest, what kind of food our Bronze Age ancestors in the Fens ate, and how medieval villagers in Yorkshire hid corpses to prevent them from rising from the dead. There is always more to learn, and I can’t wait for the next 10 years of spectacular discoveries. ”

In 2012, researchers and archaeologists found the skeleton of Richard III, King of Plantagenet, who was killed at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485. They found his remains under a car park in Leicester.

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His work also uncovered Greyfriars, which had been missing for more than 400 years, the Franciscan Friary where the King was buried. In 2017, Greyfriars was given protection as a scheduled monument, considered “one of the most important landmarks in our national history”.

According to Historic England, among the most notable events of the decade was the discovery of a Bronze Age settlement at Must Farm in Cambridgeshire. A major excavation in 2015 uncovered the remains of the settlement, which was extremely intact and contained wooden round houses erected on piles.

Another discovery was the Elizabethan play known as the theatre, where Shakespeare’s Hamlet was premiered, built in 1576-7, and the earliest known example of a polygonal Playhouse in London.

Between 2014 and 2015, the wreckage of London, which exploded in 1655 from Southend-on-Sea, was excavated and a range of items ranging from musket balls to leather shoes were found. A rare and well-preserved wooden gun carrier was also brought to the surface.

More unusual findings over the past decade include Britain’s oldest rabbit found in Sussex. MS 1 at Fishbourne Roman Palace. a piece of rabbit bone believed to date from the century has been identified. Rabbits are native to Spain and France and were thought to be a medieval introduction to England, but new discovery showed they arrived 1,000 years ago.

In 2016, archaeologists in Norfolk discovered an Anglo-Saxon burial site containing more than 80 rare wooden coffins preserved on wet ground in Great Ryburgh.


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