Two lion skulls unearthed at the Tower of London have been dated to Medieval times, shedding light on the lost institution of the "Royal Menagerie". It also shows the relationship between England's early monarchs and the "king of beasts" was not just a symbolic one. The lions may have been among the first to turn up in Northern Europe since the big cats went extinct in the region at the end of the last Ice Age. The menagerie was a popular tourist attraction, hosting exotic animals. The project is a collaboration between scientists from Liverpool John Moores University and London's Natural History Museum. The menagerie was established by King John, who reigned in England from 1199-1216, and is known to have held lions and bears. It was finally closed in 1835, on the orders of the Duke of Wellington.
The end of the Royal Menagerie was the start of London Zoo. There is a semi-circular structure known as the Lion Tower, built in the south west corner of the Tower of London in 1276-7 by Edward I, which housed the menagerie. Dead animals were dumped into the moat. The lion skulls were found in the 1930s and have been in storage at the Natural History Museum.