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Richard III's spine
Drag the spine in different directions to examine the King's scoliosis
Credit: University of Leicester
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University of Leicester
Gary Johnstone of Darlow Smithson Productions filming Piers Mitchell and Bruno Morgan discussing the 3D model of Richard III’s spine
But I, that am not shaped for sportive tricks,
Nor made to court an amorous looking glass;
I, that am rudely stamped and want love’s majesty
To strut before a wanton ambling nymph;
I, that am curtailed of this fair proportion,
Cheated of feature by dissembling nature,
Deformed, unfinished, sent before my time
Into this breathing world, scarce half made up,
And that so lamely and unfashionable
That dogs bark at me as I halt by them—
Why, I, in this weak piping time of peace,
Have no delight to pass away the time,
Unless to see my shadow in the sun
And descant on mine own deformity.
Those are the William Shakespeare’s words for the opening Act of Richard III, later on he goes on to describe the king as a “poisonous bunch-backed toad”. Ever since those words we’ve presumed that the last Plantagenet King was a man with a hunchback. 3D printing has helped to prove that claim is as fictitious as A Midsummer Night’s Dream’s Bottom.
The King in the Car Park will forever be intrinsically linked with 3D printing as the technology has helped the researchers immensely; the technology was used to reconstruct the skull so as researchers from various institutes can inspect an exact replica and now it has helped deconstruct the Quasimodo myth spun by the Bard.
Using CT scans taken of the 15th Century skeleton retrieved from a car park retrieved from the car park in Leicester in 2013, University of Leicester scientists were able to print each vertebrae in polymer form and piece back together to give a more accurate representation of the King’s spine.
What is true is the king had a curvature of the spine that may have made him appear shorter than his 5ft 8 inch frame. Lecturer in Human Bioarchaeology at the University of Leicester, Jo Appleby explains why:
“The arthritis in the spine meant it could only be reconstructed in a specific way, meaning that we can get a very accurate idea of the shape of the curve. It’s really good to be able to produce this 3D reconstruction rather than a 2D picture, as you get a good sense of how the spine would have actually appeared.”
“Although the scoliosis looks dramatic, it probably did not cause a major physical deformity. This is because he had a well-balanced curve. The condition would have meant that his trunk was short in comparison to the length of his limbs, and his right shoulder would have been slightly higher than the left, but this could have been disguised by custom-made armour and by having a good tailor.”
“A curve of 65-85 would not have prevented Richard from being an active individual, and there is no evidence that Richard had a limp as his curve was well balanced and his leg bones were normal and symmetric.”
The life-size replica of the spine produced on a 3D printer will go on display to the general public at at Leicester’s £4 million Richard III visitor centre when it opens in July along with the skull, which was 3D printed with the help of Materialise's Mimics Innovation Suite.
For now you can see an interactive replica of the skull embedded into the page above.