Sunday, 22 March 2015

Grave Issues

When the coffin with the remains of King Richard III was borne out of the front door of the University of Leicester old building today en route for the ceremonies for his reburial, I wondered if Sir David Attenborough was there.

He was certainly doing a kind of ancestry over the weekend in the Midlands, visiting the Attenborough Borough Nature Centre in Nottinghamshire up the road.

He is very familiar with the front door in question in that as a youngster his father was Principal of the then University College of Leicester and living on the job.  The back door of the building led directly into the school he attended, Wyggeston Boys Grammar where he did Science and rugger among other things.

There would have been a little history done although what period is not known.  Whether or not he visited the Greyfriars car park in which the remains of King Richard III were found is not certain.  This was then County Council property and not City; as I knew when I parked my Vespa Scooter on the King's grave over fifty years ago.

If David was anything of a cyclist he may well have biked out to Market Bosworth and the field of battle.  It was an easy ride in the days when cars were rare, lorries even more so and when white van drivers were simply a nightmare of the future.

David is a naturalist, a scientist and a formidable thinker in terms of what is happening to the earth and its beings and the dangers we are creating for ourselves.  In the days of the pious King Richard III if "natural philosophers" and "alchemists" came up with ideas that the high clergy did not like or were inconvenient to them such men might well be burned at stakes.

In this period the March of Science was less a triumphal event than a furtive scribbling and secret meetings among men for whom discretion was necessary and fear a reality.  Going into print was a high risk and major challenge to not just the present but the eternal future.  The sun and universe went round the earth and you had better believe it.

But were it not for the most advanced techniques in the science of genetics and ground breaking work that is changing the basis of science, medicinal knowledge and our thinking about the past we would not know that the bones that were found were those of King Richard III or able to judge the collateral evidence.  It is all about the DNA.

By one of those twists in the story, my connection to this business is not simply where I parked my scooter but the same people did my own DNA which was volunteered for a research project a little time ago.  This did not work out as well as they hoped.  But it led them to improve the science and ability to identify.

As we go back through the generations we have more and more ancestors in each generation.  The result is not only wider and wider direct lines but connections as well.  A consequence will be that among the UK population will be very large numbers who descend from cousins  of King Richard III.  Estimates can vary but the numbers are still big.

David currently is under something of a cloud in that he is one of those who believes that one of the major problems facing Earth is humanity.  The extraordinary growth in our population he thinks is doing a lot of damage.  Given, for example the amount of damage that the Plantagenet's did to each other, this is not surprising.

What is intriguing here is not so long ago these views were part of the general debate about world population.  Yet suddenly this has been pushed out of the public arena.  Instead of population limits it is now driving up population figures that is the aim of major parties.  The issue of sustainability is out, rapid population increase to drive economic growth is in.

The awkward question about whether the economic growth will be more than or a lot less than population growth is ignored.  This has been buried and left to a later generation to discover.


  1. The real problem with population may turn out to be the people who think they have the answer.

  2. Do spammers all learn their English at the same school?