Richard III: Debunking the myth with the bonesMore Info
Sheffield — Perhaps it’s fitting that October is Archeology Month in Massachusetts what with Halloween and dancing bones being the order of the day. Begun in 1992 as Archaeology Week, Massachusetts Archaeology Month is a celebration of archaeology in Massachusetts and around the world. Museums, libraries, and archaeologists are hosting a wide variety of events for adults, children, and teachers to promote history through archeology.
There are many sites to visit in New England that celebrate local archeological exploration all year round; our own W.E.B. DuBois birth site is a wonderful example of the use that history can make of good archeological exploration. Up until a few years ago the site, located just south of Great Barrington on Route 23, was a field of scrub pines; but with the assistance of trained archeologists from UMass, the Massachusetts Historical Commission, and the National Parks Service, this site has been reclaimed and its history brought to light thanks to the untiring efforts of the local W.E.B. Du Bois Society.
To celebrate archeology month this year, the Egremont Historical Commission in partnership with the Sheffield Historical Commission and the Sheffield Historical Society is promoting one of the more spectacular archeological finds of the century for your enjoyment. Sally B. Keil, membership chair of the American branch of the Richard III Society, will give an illustrated presentation on the discovery of the bones of England’s King Richard III in a parking lot in Leicester England two years ago. The Car Park King, as the media called him then, was killed in battle on the fields of Bosworth in 1485 during the War of the Roses. The winner, Henry VII, was from the same family that has fascinated us in their own TV series, the Tudors. Henry attempted to destroy all record of Richard’s family by killing all his relatives. William Shakespeare, who wrote under the Tudor Queen, Elizabeth, naturally treated Richard pretty poorly in his play by that name, and history, because the records were so few and far between, has continued to treat him poorly as well. Richard III has been portrayed as an evil hunchback who murdered his nephews and took the throne by duplicity and murder. Until now. The discovery of the bones of Richard III, thought lost for 700 years, has re-invigorated the debate about his actions during his reign, and the actions of the winner, Henry VII.
The use of archeology as a tool to understand history is actually a relatively recent event. Ancient written texts were the primary source used by the educated for centuries to understand and explain the past. Archeological sites and physical items such as coins, and statuary were collected, in very undisciplined ways I might add, for their aesthetic value and rarely explored for what they could tell us about the times in which they were made, and how they functioned. That would not begin in any meaningful way until the late 17th century and the Age of Reason. The need for a careful and methodical approach during the discovery and removal of objects from an historic site is still unfortunately not fully appreciated. In New England, old farm foundations, barns, outbuildings and wells, and Indian sites can still be found. The fun of doing it with an historian and learning this amazing skill of archeology should always be followed if you do have a site you are aware of that you would like to explore. This gives history an opportunity through archeology to re-evaluate, revise, and reflect a more balanced and accurate portrayal; in this case, restoring a King of England who was thought to be, at one time, evil incarnate.
Come hear about the daunting adventures of the Richard hunters, who spent years tracking down the truth. How a DNA sample, recently taken from Richard’s last living descendant was able to prove the bones to be his. Hear the difficulties of the hunt, and see the glory of Richard’s interment in the Cathedral at Leicester.
Join us at 1 p.m. at Dewey Hall on Main Street in Sheffield on Saturday, October 3rd, to hear Sally B. Keil speak about one of the major archeological discoveries of this century, the bones of Richard III.