DNA identifies bones of last tsar's missing children
DNA identifies bones of last tsar's missing children
Published Date: 01 May 2008
By Catrina Stewart
SCIENTISTS have confirmed that the remains of two
bodies dug up in Russia last year belong to two
children of Tsar Nicholas II, who was
assassinated along with his family in 1918,
bringing to a close one of the most intriguing
chapters in 20th-century Russian history.
Until last year, the bodies of Crown Prince
Alexei, the tsarevich, and Grand Duchess Maria
were the only two remaining members of the
Russian royal family still to be discovered.
"We received full confirmation that (the remains]
do belong to the tsar's children," Eduard Rossel,
the governor of the Sverdlovsk region, said at a press briefing on Wednesday.
"We have now found the whole family," he said,
adding that the forensic tests on their DNA were
carried out in the United States.
The bodies of Alexei, who was 13 at the time of
his death, and his sister Maria, 19, were
recovered at a site near Yekaterinburg, the
regional capital of Sverdlovsk, last summer.
Regional officials said at the time that the
remains consisted of 44 fragments, lending
credibility to the theory that they were the two
missing Romanov children, murdered by the
Bolsheviks along with the rest of their family in 1918.
Archaeologists also found seven teeth, three
bullets and a fragment of clothing.
The Bolsheviks seized power in 1917 during the
Russian Revolution and imprisoned the Imperial Family.
The following July, Bolshevik guards shot Tsar
Nicholas, Empress Alexandra Fedorovna and their
five children in Yekaterinburg on Lenin's orders.
For decades, the remains of the Romanovs were
undiscovered. It was not until 1991 that a mass
grave was uncovered near Yekaterinburg,
containing nine bodies, five of which were
believed to be the remains of the Romanov family.
The other four were said to be servants and the family doctor.
DNA testing later confirmed that the remains were
those of the Romanovs, although some scientists
have questioned the conclusions.
The bodies of the tsar, the tsarina and three of
their children Anastasia, Olga and Tatiana
were given a state burial in the imperial crypt
of the Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral in 1998.
But the absence of two of the family members led
to speculation that they may have survived the executions.
One of the most intriguing mysteries surrounding
the Romanov family was the fate of Anastasia, the
tsar's youngest daughter. Rumours that she might
have escaped in 1918 were further fuelled by
eyewitness reports that secret police had made
house and train searches for an Anastasia Romanov after the murders.
Decades later, the rumour gained currency after
reports that two sets of remains were missing from the first mass grave.
Several people have come forward claiming to be
Anastasia, including the late Anna Anderson, who
asserted until her death in 1984 that she was the
daughter of the last tsar. Subsequent DNA testing
on Ms Anderson's tissue proved her claims to be false.
But experts warned that it was premature to
accept the scientists' results as definitive. The
US and Russian researchers have yet to make their
final report, while parallel studies are being
carried out in Innsbruck, Austria, and in a military institute in the US.
"There has been a lot of difficulty with these
bones," said Peter Sarandaniki, the president and
founder of Search, a US-based foundation
dedicated to investigating the fates of the
Romanov children. "Some of them were burnt and work is still being done."
"We can't confirm (these results] until all the
independent labs have completed testing," Mr Sarandaniki said.
The final results are expected to be made public late this month or early June.
"If positive, we will have determined that we
have the remains of the royal family and
hopefully close a very sad chapter in Russian history," said Mr Sarandaniki.
The Russian Orthodox Church, which played down
its role in the 1998 state burials, has refrained
from recognising the findings as long as scientists are divided on the issue.
The discoveries last summer refuelled the debate
among scientists and the Church over whether the
bones found earlier are the genuine remains of
the Romanov family. The Church has been cautious
in accepting the latest findings, the preliminary
conclusions of which were first made public in
January. "I hope the Church will participate in
the process (of confirming the identities] and
give them the honourable burial they deserve," Mr Sarandaniki added.
A representative for Grand Duchess Maria
Vladimirovna, the self-declared heir to Russia's
throne, said she would not make a judgment on the
authenticity of the new remains until the Church made its position clear.
Orthodox clerics in Yekaterinburg said they were
not ready to make a decision on the remains. "The
position of the head of Grand Duchess Maria
Vladimirovna is that the last word must be with
the head of the Russian Orthodox Church," said
Alexander Zakatov, the head of the chancellery of
Russia's self-styled Imperial House.
He added: "It is essential to be very careful so
that the results are understandable to the whole of society."
CROWN PRINCE DOOMED BY GENETIC CONDITION
THE Tsarevich the heir apparent of Russia,
Alexei Nikolaevich Romanov, was one of the more
tragic figures of Russian history.
The youngest child and only son of Tsar Nicholas
II, Alexei suffered from haemophilia, the genetic
condition that impairs the body's ability to control blood clotting.
The disorder was widespread among European
royalty descended from Queen Victoria Alexei's great-grandmother.
In desperation to treat his illness, his mother
turned to the religious mystic Grigori Rasputin,
a move which some historians contend helped bring
about the end of the Russian royal house.
In 1905, Alexei sustained a bruise after falling
off a horse and suffered internal bleeding for
days. Rasputin was summoned to help.
His prayers and advice seemed to work and
Rasputin became a powerful influence over the
Romanovs, to the extent that he regulated access to the Tsar himself.
Rasputin's influence over the royal family was
used against him and the Romanovs by politicians
and journalists who wanted to weaken the dynasty.
Case closed: Last of Romanovs died at Yekaterinburg
By Shaun Walker in Moscow
Thursday, 1 May 2008
DNA tests have confirmed that remains found last
year are those of two of the last Tsar's
children, executed by a firing squad in 1918.
The announcement by the Russian authorities puts
an end to decades of speculation about the
possible escape of one or more of Nicholas II's
children, and should close the final chapter of
the Romanov dynasty, which ruled Russia from 1613
until the February Revolution of 1917.
Eduard Rossel, the governor of Sverdlovsk region,
where the royal family was killed, said that bone
fragments found in the region last summer had
been examined by a US-based laboratory, and the
results gave "full confirmation" that the remains
came from Prince Alexei and the Grand Duchess
Maria. "Now we have the whole family," he told
journalists in the city of Yekaterinburg.
The Tsar and his family were held under house
arrest after the Bolshevik Revolution, and were
executed on 17 July 1918, as the Russian Civil
War raged and the Bolshevik forces feared that a
living tsar gave the counter-revolutionary Whites
a rallying point. The bodies were doused in acid and buried in a pit.
The family was demonised and then forgotten
during the Soviet period, but interest rekindled
after the Soviet Union fell. In 1991, excavations
uncovered the bodies of Nicholas II, the last
tsar, his wife Alexandra, and three of their four
daughters. They were buried in a ceremony at the
Peter and Paul Fortress in St Petersburg in 1998,
80 years after their execution.
At that time, the bodies of Alexei, the Tsar's
haemophiliac son and the heir to the Russian
throne, and his sister Maria were not found,
leading to further theories about one or more of
the Tsar's children managing to escape.
Several women came forward in the 20th century
claiming to be the Tsar's daughter, Grand Duchess
Anastasia Nikolaevna, who has now been confirmed
among the dead family members. But now that all
the bodies have been found, it seems that the
only debate left is over the historical legacy of
the tsarist regime. Many historians have claimed
that Nicholas's ineffective leadership and the
bizarre personality of his wife contributed to the downfall of his dynasty.
The Empress Alexandra was born in Germany and was
a granddaughter of Queen Victoria. She became
unpopular among the Russian people, partly
because of her German origins and her closeness
to the notorious "mad monk", Grigory Rasputin.
But the tsarist system has undergone a partial
rehabilitation in recent years, with the Russian
Orthodox Church canonising Nicholas II and his
family in 2000. Building work has started on the
first church to be named after Prince Alexei, in
the southern Russian town of Gorodovikovsk. The
local archbishop said at the blessing of new
church's foundation stone, that the young prince
had been killed "godlessly and mercilessly".
A ceremony will be held in Russia to mark the 90th anniversary of the deaths.