The King In The Car Park

How Graph Theory Helped Discover a King of England

Keith McNulty
5 min readAug 25


One morning in August 2012 in a car park in Leicester in the English midlands, a mechanical digger was starting to cut into the concrete surface. A number of interested spectators were present, hoping against hope that something amazing but highly improbable might occur.

Some rugged detective work had led a group of amateur and professional historians to believe that this may be the area where Richard III — the stooped, crooked-backed English king who met a brutal end at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485 — had been unceremoniously dumped over 500 years ago. Bolstered by donations and crowdfunding, they raised enough money and gained approval for a limited archaeological dig in the car park of the local council building. They were excited beyond measure. Everyone else, including the academic and professional archaeologists present, were sceptical.

The skeleton of King Richard III discovered in Leicester in 2012

The first cut was made in an area of the car park marked with a mysterious-looking letter R. Presumably this indicated that the parking space was reserved for someone important, but in truth, nobody could explain why that R was there and what it meant.

Within hours, immediately below that letter R, they found a skeleton with a crooked back.

It was to be the beginning of one of the most amazing archaeological discoveries of modern times. But how could they prove that this skeleton, which clearly showed a lifetime suffering from the debilitating spinal condition scoliosis — something long associated with historical descriptions of King Richard III — was without a doubt King Richard III?

Subsequent analysis of the skeleton showed it to date from the late 1400s and to have enjoyed a rich diet of meat and fish, all of which increased the chance that this was the King. But they needed one more thing to complete the proof: DNA.

To use DNA to prove that this was Richard III was going to be a major challenge. Only mitochondrial DNA or mtDNA, which is passed down through maternal lines in families, remains unchanged from generation to generation. Therefore in order to find proof, a living descendent of the sister of Richard III who could only be traced through a 500 year old line of females needed to be found…



Keith McNulty

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