A pair of lion skulls found at royal British palace the Tower of London originated in north-west Africa.

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Genetic research show the cats – which were kept by the British Royal Family during medieval times – had the same make-up as the north African Barbary Lion.

Experts believe the animals were given to English monarchs in the 13th and 14th centuries, a time when the Barbary Lion roamed across Africa. The skulls were recovered during excavations of the moat at the Tower of London in 1937. They have been radiocarbon dated to AD 1280-1385 and AD 1420-1480.

The Barbary Lion is a subspecies of lion that is now extinct in the wild. There are about 40 in captivity in Europe, with less than a hundred in zoos around the world. It formerly lived in North Africa from Morocco to Egypt.

Dr. Richard Sabin, Curator of Mammals at London’s Natural History Museum, said the results were the first genetic evidence to clearly confirm that lions found during excavations at the Tower of London originated in north Africa.

He said: “Although we have one of the best mammal collections in the world here at the Natural History Museum, few physical remains survive of the Royal Menagerie.

“Direct animal trade between Europe and sub-Saharan Africa was not developed until the 18th Century, so our results provide new insights into the patterns of historic animal trafficking.”