3-D Scan of Richard III’s Spine Sets His Image Straight

By Gemma Tarlach | May 29, 2014 6:00 pm
Richard III's spine and ribs

Richard III’s spine and ribs laid out on a special foam mount. Image courtesy University of Leicester

Scientists have done what Shakespeare could not: provide a realistic picture of the much-maligned Richard III.

Researchers studying a 15th century skeleton discovered in August 2012 and identified in February 2013 as the infamous English king have now created a 3-D image of the royal backbone.

The new analysis of the spine, compiled from CT scans and 3-D-printed bones based on the data, confirms the initial diagnosis made during a physical examination: Richard III had scoliosis, or curvature of the spine.

But the king’s case was a moderate one, according to researchers, and would have been barely noticeable. What’s more, the condition likely did not impair physical activity.

Scroll side-to-side to see a 3-D reconstruction of the king’s spine:

Bad Alignment

Richard III has been portrayed by some historians and artists — including a certain bard from Avon — as being “crook-backed” and “hump-backed” and walking with a limp. Some experts theorized that his condition might have made physical exercise difficult.

The new scans, however, are evidence that the monarch was the victim of Tudor propaganda that was later perpetuated by Shakespeare. At the time of Richard III’s reign (1483-1485), physical deformity was considered to be a sign of an evil nature. The spin doctors of his day likely played up the king’s mild mis-alignment to encourage a villainous image.

The researcher’s analysis was published today as a Case Report in the British medical journal The Lancet.


Animation copyright University of Leicester

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MORE ABOUT: archaeology

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