A LEADING academic has cast doubt on the search for the remains of King Alfred the Great in Hampshire, saying that results are likely to prove inconclusive.
A BBC2 documentary is attempting to identify bones exhumed from an unmarked Winchester grave. A programme is due to be broadcast. It is due to be shown on Tuesday January 21 on BBC2 at 9pm.
The search for the remains of the Anglo-Saxon king comes after a Channel 4 documentary featured the discovery of Richard III’s remains beneath a Leicester car park.
Edward Fennell, who is involved in the Alfred project with the Hyde900 community group, said that the documentary was not jumping on a bandwagon.
“We commenced the search for Alfred a long time before the publicity about Richard III hit,” he told BBC’s Radio Times.
“Some people in the area had done research and were emotionally convinced [that the remains were Alfred’s]. Circumstantial evidence said it might be possible...it was definitely worth investigating,” said Mr Fennell, of Egbert Road, Hyde.
Those involved in the exhumation have signed non-disclosure contracts, meaning that they cannot reveal whether the bones dug up really are those of the ninth century monarch. Neither are they allowed to publicly discuss the issue with the Hampshire Chronicle.
But academic Dr Charles West, a lecturer in medieval history at the University of Sheffield, was sceptical that DNA testing would provide a conclusive result. “Alfred is buried with his son Edward and I don’t think they will be able to distinguish between their bones,” he told the magazine.
“Furthermore, even if a living descendent came forward to help corroborate the find – as in the case of Richard III – it would be difficult to prove a genetic link.
“Alfred died such a long time ago that even if they did prove descent, we’re all likely to be related in one way or another. Even if they could prove it was Alfred, it really wouldn’t change anything about him or the period.”
The Chronicle reported in August how the Diocese of Winchester had granted permission for Hyde900 to examine bones believed to be those of King Alfred.
The bones were removed from an unmarked grave at St Bartholomew’s Church, Hyde, last March, and were moved to a secret location.Hyde900 had been beavering away for three years to gain permission, but the huge media interest brought about by the Richard III discovery is thought to have hastened the process.
It comes as Winchester Cathedral is also preparing to examine the bones of ancient kings in its six mortuary chests, including King Canute who famously got his feet wet in Southampton.