DNA testing identifies nine bone fragments found in an unmarked grave in a Siberian forest near Ekaterinburg as those of Nicholas II -- the last czar of Russia -- and members of his family.
The identification, made by British scientists working with Russian colleagues, ended a 75-year mystery surrounding the whereabouts of the Romanovs, the last ruling family
before the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the birth of the Soviet Union.
Drs. Peter Gill and Kevin Sullivan of the British Forensic Science Service in Birmingham were able to establish with near certainty that the remains found in the Koptyaki Forest indeed belonged to Nicholas, the Czarina Alexandra, four of their five children (the remains of Prince Alexei were not recovered), the family's personal physician and three servants.
Despite some subsequent criticism
of the scientific methodology employed in the nuclear- and mitochondrial-DNA testing, the 1993 findings are considered to be accurate.
Nicholas and his family were arrested by the Bolsheviks, who were then engaged in a struggle with the Mensheviks, or Whites, for control of Russia following the country's collapse during World War I.
Although the Bolsheviks originally planned to put Nicholas on trial for crimes against the Russian people, the sudden approach of White troops caused the Red Guard to panic. Fearful that the czar might be rescued, the guard commander, with Lenin's approval, executed the Romanovs on July 17, 1918, in the basement of the Iptiev House, the Ekaterinburg mansion that served as their makeshift prison.
As the lab tests eventually determined, the bodies were taken to Koptyaki and buried in a mass grave. Further testing in Great Britain established the mitochondrial-DNA haplogroup and sequences
for the Romanov family line.
The Soviet Union kept mum about the family's fate until finally admitting, in 1926, that they were dead. Although two Russians -- a movie producer and an ethnographer -- claimed to have discovered the grave
in 1976, the burial site remained a closely guarded state secret until the USSR itself ceased to exist in 1991.
The mystery remained fixed in the popular consciousness throughout most of the 20th century, and there was no shortage of crackpots and frauds emerging from obscurity claiming to be Princess Anastasia or some other down-at-the-heels member of the czar's family.
Once the remains were examined, tested and identified, they were laid to rest in the imperial crypt in Sts. Peter and Paul Cathedral in St. Petersburg on July 17, 1998, exactly 80 years after the Romanovs' execution. The Russian Orthodox Church canonized the czar and his family in 2000.
Complete closure came earlier this year when DNA testing on some newly unearthed bone shards
identified Prince Alexei, the last missing Romanov.
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