Searching for a medieval king who had been lost for 527 years always looked like a long shot.
In a discovery worthy of a Hollywood film, however, archaeologists have announced that they had unearthed what appear to be the remains of Richard III.
Using historic maps, they traced a friary where he was rumoured to have been buried after being killed in battle - underneath a social services department car park in Leicester.
And after only three weeks of digging, to their astonishment they found the skeleton of an adult male who was well-built and clearly of noble descent.
His injuries - a metal arrowhead embedded in his back, and a severe blow to the head - are consistent with the king's death at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485.
Even more persuasive is the fact that the man has a severely curved spine; Richard was famously nicknamed Crookback.
The revelation that the skeleton, exhumed on September 4, had severe scoliosis provoked a gasp at the packed press conference in Leicester's Tudor-era Guildhall building.
He was not a hunchback, the archaeologists said, but his right shoulder was higher than his left - consistent with accounts of Richard's appearance.
As any scholar of Shakespeare will know, the king was famously ridiculed as a hunchback in the Bard's play, described as "rudely stamp'd, deformed, unfinish'd".
Experts stress that the remains must be subjected to rigorous DNA testing, to be undertaken over the next three months, to be sure if it is him. But they say the discovery is a potentially "historic moment".
"This search has at times resembled a Dan Brown novel in its twists and turns," said Richard Taylor of Leicester University. "We have all been witness to a powerful and historic story unfolding before our eyes."
Richard III, the last monarch of the Plantagenet family, ruled for only two years before dying in battle in 1485 when he was 32.
It marked the end of the Wars of the Roses and the victory of Henry Tudor, the first of the new dynasty.
Under the new regime, Richard was portrayed as a hunchback and a power-mad child-killer said to have slaughtered his two young nephews to seize the throne. Historians say that the find could help settle a five-century-long controversy over whether the king was the villain of legend, or a victim of malicious propaganda.
Richard III was thought to be buried at Grey Friars, a Franciscan friary destroyed during Henry VIII's Dissolution of the Monasteries, but it was later claimed his body was thrown into a river.
In the early 1600s the site of Grey Friars was bought by the mayor of Leicester, Alderman Robert Herrick, and used as his garden.
In 1612 Christopher Wren, father of the famous architect, recorded seeing a 0.9m stone pillar in the garden inscribed: "Here lies the body of Richard III, sometime King of England".
The site was bought by Leicester City Council in 1914.
"We were very lucky it was a car park, and the remains, at the entrance to the choir, were just under the trench we dug, when there were several buildings at the friary.
"He's a prime candidate. I'd be very surprised if someone else was buried at this same spot with critical injuries."
The university intends for the body, if it is proven to be Richard, to be buried in the city's cathedral.
As for the social workers, the academics said, it will be "quite some time" before they get their car park back.
- DAILY MAIL