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STEAM in action – Richard III

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The bones of Richard the Third were uncovered in a Leicester carpark excavation back in 2012. It was an exciting find, even if the ex-king was missing his feet. But more important than the historical significance was the practical application of an interdisciplinary team to collect information on the monarch’s remains.

In an article for BBC History Magazine, Dan Jones, author of The Hollow Crown: The Wars of the Roses and the Rise of the Tudors (Faber and Faber, 2014), says that the excavation was “a great interdisciplinary study” (historyextra.com).

More importantly, for teachers of STEAM, Francis Pryor (historyextra.com) in the same article states that:

The project showed well how modern archaeology can bridge the divide between the worlds of art and science better than any other academic subject.

The most obvious evidence gathering came from the archaeologists in dating the earthworks and analysing the position and location of the bones and artefacts around the body.

The role of scientists in carbon-dating the body and extracting DNA evidence from the bones is also a well-known aspect of the find.

The Historian presents evidence as to the known location of Richard, his physical characteristics and events in his life that would have shaped his appearance in death.

Did you know, however, that his skeleton has been digitised and 3D printed in high definition so that his body could be interred with the respect that the king deserved? Computer modelling of the skeleton also allowed us to reconstruct a facsimile of his features. This is application of Technology at its finest.

More importantly for researchers, technology allowed archaeologists to use a process called Photogrammetry to make a 3D representation of the dig site from “points of commonality in overlapping photographs” (sciencedaily.com). Photogrammetry is used in the movie and gaming industries, but in this case allowed researchers to show that Richard the Third was buried with very little respect.

Art has been the sole source of information on Richard III until these technological and scientific breakthroughs. The two main sources for information on Richard III were the works of Shakespeare and portraits of the king. Most of our conceptions of Richard come from Shakespeare’s depiction of the hunchbacked king, with lines such as “I am determined to prove a villain” and “Now is the winter of our discontent”. For me, it’s Arnold Rimmer in Red Dwarf saying “You know that famous ‘Now’ speech. Nowwwww something something. Very powerful stuff.”

And you could probably describe Richard from memory, the iconic image of the narrow face, thin fingers and long brown hair etched in your mind from the painting that is pulled out any time someone mentions the unfortunate king.

This groundbreaking (ahem) project epitomises the way STEAM can be used in schools across the curriculum. Allowing students with different skillsets to work together to solve a common problem from disparate entry points allows for the sort of real world collaboration that a good teacher longs for and a good employer desires.

Linking theatre, paintings and sculptures, 3D printing and programming, archaeology, forensics, Historical research and pop culture is something we should all aim for.

Image: University of Leicester

References
Elton, Matt, (2015) “What has the discovery of Richard III's remains taught us?”. History Extra http://www.historyextra.com/article/richard-iii/what-has-discovery-richard-iiis-remains-taught-us
Marooned. Red Dwarf/Series III. BBC2. 21 November 1989 University of Leicester, “Micro-CT Scan of Richard III’s Skull”, Accessed 29/8/2017.
http://www.le.ac.uk/richardiii/multimedia/videos/ct-scan.html University of Leicester. "Archaeologists create 3D interactive digital reconstruction of King Richard III’s grave found under a car park." ScienceDaily, 22 March 2016. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/03/160322082152.htm


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