Features News

Top 10 Medieval News Stories of 2013

Richard III skeletal remains

The year 2013 has shown how science and technology can be a huge asset for medieval studies. Not only did it reveal the identity of a person buried over five hundred years ago, but it is also helping us read through manuscripts that were before unreadable, and allow us to walk through medieval buildings that are now ruins. We can now even determine what the eye colour of a person from the Middle Ages was!

For this year, we were interviewed on the Medieval Archives podcast to discuss the top 10 stories of 2013 – you can listen to it here



1. It is Richard III: ‘beyond reasonable doubt’

To top story for 2013 is a repeat of 2012 – the discovery of Richard III, King of England, who died in 1485. When 2012 finished, archaeologists had believed that they had found his remains, but scientific tests were still being done to determine to confirm his identity. In February the University of Leicester announced to the world’s media that it was indeed Richard III. We also learned more about Richard’s body and was even able to reconstruct his face.

The story of Richard III is not yet over – in 2014 the former king will be buried, although where he will be buried is still in dispute. Those who want him to be buried in York instead of Leicester have gone to court to resolve the issue, and a judgment is expected in early 2014.


2. Syrian Civil War threatens historical treasures

The civil war in Syria has been a terrible humanitarian tragedy, which has left around 120,000 people dead and over two million refugees. The fighting, which has gone on for almost three years, is also destroying much of the country, including its historical treasures. Aleppo, which has been heavily fought over, has lost of many buildings, while in the west of the country, the fortress Crac des Chevaliers has been bombed. There are also fears that the archaeological sites and museums are being looted, as was done in Iraq in 2003.

3. Massive volcanic explosion from 1257 took place on Indonesian island, researchers find

In an article published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, scientists reveal that when Samalas Volcano, located on Lombok Island in Indonesia, exploded sometime between May and October 1257, it was the largest blast the earth had seen in 7000 years.

4. Designer of the Bayeux Tapestry identified

New research has identified the man who designed the Bayeux Tapestry, one of the most important artworks of the Middle Ages. Historian Howard B. Clarke believes that this was Scolland, the abbot of St.Augustine’s monastery in Canterbury, and that it was made around the year 1075.


5. New DNA test can determine eye and hair colour from people who lived in the Middle Ages

A team of researchers from Poland and the Netherlands have developed a system that is able to answer what the hair and eye colour is from individuals who lived over 800 years ago. The HIrisPlex DNA analysis system was recently recreated for modern forensic research, but the researchers have now shown that this system is sufficiently robust to successfully work on older and more degraded samples from human remains such as teeth and bones. The system looks at 24 DNA polymorphisms (naturally occurring variations) which can be used to predict eye and hair colour.


6. Reading the unreadable: New X-ray technology can now read rolled-up scrolls

Old parchment is often extremely dry and liable to crack and crumble if any attempt is made to physically unroll or unfold it. This new technology, however, eliminates the need to do so by enabling parchment to be unrolled or unfolded ‘virtually’ and the contents displayed on a computer screen.

7. Scientists reveal ancient texts in medieval manuscripts

Using advanced multispectral imaging methods, the Palamedes project was able to scan medieval documents and uncover new fragments by Euripides and an unknown ancient commentary on Aristotle.

2013 medieval year in review

8. Take a (Virtual) Tour of St.Andrew’s Cathedral in the year 1318

An Open Virtual Worlds project is allowing people in 2013 to go back nearly seven hundred years to explore one of Scotland’s most important medieval cathedrals. They have created a two-minute video that shows how the cathedral would have looked like in 1318, the year it was consecrated.


9. The Fall of Arthur by J.R.R. Tolkien

Fans of J.R.R. Tolkien have another new book to read, nearly forty years after the author passed away. The Fall of Arthur is an unfinished poem of 1000 verses retelling the Arthurian legend. The poem, using Old English alliterative meter and written in modern English recounts how Arthur was a British military leader fighting the Saxon invasion, and includes characters such as Guinevere, Lancelot and Mordred.

10. New TV series – Vikings

Over seven million people tuned in the United States and Canada to watch the premiere episode of Vikings, a tv series that looks at the Norse attacks against the British Isles at the end of the eighth century. The first season, which ran nine episodes continued to get strong ratings and good reviews.  Season 2 will begin airing at the end of February in 2014.

Click here to listen to our interview about the the stories of 2013 on the Medieval Archives podcast

See also the Top 10 Medieval News Stories of 2012