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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Archaeologists Claim Last Romanovs Found

APAndrei Sidikov, a local villager, squatting on Friday where what might be the remains of Tsarevich Alexei and his sister Maria were found near Yekaterinburg.
Claims published Friday by archaeologists that they have found the remains of two of the children of the last tsar, Nicholas II, have brought the controversy surrounding the fate of the royal family's remains to the surface again.

Almost 90 years after they were shot by the Bolsheviks in the basement of the Yekaterinburg building where they were being held, the news that the remains of Tsarevich Alexei, Nicholas' son and former heir to the throne, and his sister Maria may have been discovered near the city has led prosecutors to reopen the investigation into the circumstances of the shootings.

Scientific officials from the Sverdlovsk region, where Yekaterinburg is located, and representatives of the Romanov family and the Russian Orthodox Church over the weekend voiced extreme caution at the findings.

"This set of facts, the location ... and the results of the anthropological analysis make it possible to conclude that the ... remains of members of the Romanov imperial family, Tsarevich Alexei and his sister, Grand Duchess Maria, hidden by revolutionaries in 1918, have been found," Sergei Pogorelov, an archaeologist from the Sverdlovsk regional administration, said in a statement posted on the web site.

Pogorelov said an analysis of the remains discovered during an anthropological dig in July and August showed that they were those of a male aged 10 to 13 and a female aged 18 to 23.

The bodies of Alexei, 13 years old at the time of his death, and of his sister Maria, who was 19, were not among those discovered in 1991 and given a state burial in the imperial crypt of the Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral in 1998.

The announcement is likely to rekindle the disagreements among scientists, historians, the state and the church that accompanied those events. The Orthodox Church and members of the Romanov family still question the authenticity of the remains discovered earlier, maintaining there is no clear proof and that results from DNA tests were contradictory.

DNA testing of the new bones, which Pogorelov said were badly shattered, has yet to be carried out.

In an apparent rebuff to Pogorelov's claim, made first on NTV television Thursday night, officials at a news conference in Yekaterinburg refused Friday to offer any suggestions as to the identity of the remains, Interfax reported. Dmitry Razhev, a senior historian with the local branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, merely said the bones belonged to two young people, one of whom was a teenager.

"Initial findings reveal that they were buried some decades ago," Razhev said.

Nikolai Nevolin, head of forensics for the Sverdlovsk region, told reporters that the male remains would be genetically tested for hemophilia, the life-threatening disease that was passed to him by his grandmother, Britain's Queen Victoria. He said he hoped DNA testing would be finished by the end of the year.

Nevolin said the remains consisted of 44 bone fragments, from a few millimeters to a few centimeters long, Interfax reported. Also found were seven teeth, three bullets and a fragment of a piece of clothing.

"The remains have been exposed to extreme heat, and the bullets were found close to the bones and must have hit the victims' bodies," Nevolin said.

Nicholas II and Alexei sawing wood in this photograph taken at the house where they were ultimately shot in 1918.
For some, this description provided enough evidence that the last two members of the ill-fated royal family had been found.

Peter Sarandinaki, president and founder of SEARCH, a U.S.-based foundation dedicated to investigating the fates of the Romanov children, said the discovery was absolutely credible because it matched a report by Yakov Yurovsky, the Bolshevik official in charge of the 1918 execution.

The report, first published at the end of the Soviet era, describes how the perpetrators buried the remains while moving the bodies of Nicholas II, his wife, Alexandra, their five children, their doctor and three servants from the mine shaft where they had first been hidden.

Fearing the remains would be discovered, they decided to move them again, Sarandinaki said in a telephone interview from Oakland, New Jersey. But when their truck got stuck in mud seven kilometers from the mine shaft, they decided to bury the bodies right there.

"They took two bodies aside and buried them separately to confuse the White Army, which would be searching for eleven victims," Sarandinaki said.

This, Sarandinaki said, explains why the remains of only nine people were discovered in 1991.

A merchant marine captain who says he is the great-grandson of Sergei Rozanov, the general in charge of the White Army troops that took Yekaterinburg from the Bolsheviks just days after the murders on July 17, 1918, Sarandinaki says the fire the Bolsheviks started at the mine shaft explains the evidence of exposure to heat.

"According to the archive reports, the killers tried to burn at least four of the bodies, but settled on burning just two. After the bodies were moved ... nine were dumped in a mud-hole covered with railway-sleepers with their faces horribly disfigured by rifle butts and acid," he said. "The killers continued to burn the two smallest bodies and thus buried them separately."

But skeptics remained unconvinced.

"These latest remains do not have any relation to the Romanovs, just the same as those buried in Petersburg," said Vadim Viner, head of the Sverdlovsk Region Tourist Information Center and a self-styled historian who runs a center that studies the fate of the dynasty.

Viner said he believed that all of the remains were victims of a Stalinist purge in 1946.

"They are 50 years old, not 80," he said in a telephone interview from Yekaterinburg. As proof, he cited DNA tests conducted in Japan and the United States that found no link between the bones interred in St. Petersburg and the Romanov family.

Viner also pointed to a controversy over the body of Grand Duchess Anastasia, said to be reburied in 1998: "Skeleton No. 5 is 171 centimeters tall, but the Grand Duchess measured only 158 centimeters," he said. "So this is not Anastasia."

Alexander Zakatov, a spokesman for the Romanov family in Russia, said Friday that it was too early to make any definite statements on the identities of the remains.

The Orthodox Church, however, did not immediately refute the findings.

"They must be carefully examined both by independent experts and scholars close to the Church," Vsevolod Chaplin, spokesman for the Moscow Patriarchate, said in a telephone interview Sunday.

Chaplin said there were also concerns surrounding the credibility of Yurovsky's report.

"That report should not be trusted, because it was prepared under Soviet control, under an oppressive power infamous for imposing its own interpretation of history," Chaplin said.

He also said the latest discovery had to be treated as separate from that in 1991, and that the church was still not satisfied with the procedure used to identify those remains.

The Church canonized Nicholas, Alexandra, Alexei and his four sisters as martyrs in 2000. But it had cited the two missing corpses as one reason it scaled down its participation in the 1998 burial ceremony.

Sarandinaki said, however, that he remained hopeful the royal family would finally be "brought together" in St. Petersburg.

"My wish is that this will be done quickly so that we can put an end to that chapter of history," he said.