If you’ve ever met me in person, you’ll learn sooner rather than later of my passion for all things Russian. My passion for Russian history and culture sprang out in 1998, when the remains of the last Russian tsar and his family were buried in Saint Petersburg. Well, not all of them.
Nicholas II, who abdicated the Russian throne in March 1917, had been kept a prisoner by the Provisional government first, and by the Bolsheviks later, until July 1918. During that time, he, his wife Alexandra, his four daughters Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia, and his son Alexey and a handful of servants were kept locked away from the outside world, with little knowledge of what the future had planned for them. Then, in the night of July 16th/17th 1918 the ex Tsar and his family, accompanied by a maid, the family doctor, a cook and a valet, were shot in the basement of the Ipatiev House, in Yekaterinburg (Siberia). Their bodies were later buried in a shallow pit, dug up, partially burnt and again reburied in a shallow grave in a forest. It was not until 1979 that the bones were clandestinely found, and in 1989 the discovery was made public. However, out of the whole 11 victims, only 9 skeletons were found. That of the tsar, his wife, three daughters and four servants. What became of the other two? Where was the son? Which of the daughters was missing?
For decades the West has been fascinated by stories of survival. The fact that a young girl of royal blood can escape her family’s massacre and travel half way across Europe to prove her identity so she can claim her throne -and fortune- is very appealing to us. But it’s still a fantasy. A legend. No one survived the shower of bullets and the subsequent beating up and bayonetting. According to the head guard who was responsible for the execution, two bodies had to be quickly disposed of in order to hurry the burrying.
Scientific experts had many problems when establishing which of the daughters was missing. They all agreed that Olga and Tatiana’s remains had been found. But who was the other? Plump, pretty Maria, or tomboy Anastasia? The close age-range between them (one 19, the other 17) did not help matters much. American scientists thought the missing body to be Anastasia because none of the female skeletons showed the evidence of immaturity, such as an immature collarbone, undescended wisdom teeth, or immature vertebrae in the back, that they would have expected to find in the seventeen-year-old Anastasia. In 1998, when the bodies of the Imperial Family were finally interred, a body
measuring approximately 5 feet 7 inches was buried under the name of Anastasia. Photographs taken of the four sisters up until six months before the murders demonstrate that Maria was several inches taller than Anastasia and was also taller than her sister Olga. However, the heights of the skeletons had to be estimated because some of the bones had been cut and portions of the skeletons were missing. Since teeth and large portions of the jaw were missing in several of the skeletons, the Russian scientists’ assertion that Anastasia’s remains rather than those of Maria were in the grave because none of the skeletons had a gap between the front teeth also appeared questionable to American scientists.
However, in August 2007, a Russian archaeologist announced the discovery of two burned, partial skeletons at a bonfire site near Yekaterinburg that appeared to match the site described in Yurovsky’s memoirs. The archaeologists said the bones are from a boy who was roughly between the ages of ten and thirteen years at the time of his death and of a young woman who was roughly between the ages of eighteen and twenty-three years old. Maria was nineteen years, one month old at the time of the assassinations while her sister Anastasia was seventeen years, one month old and her brother Alexei was two weeks shy of his fourteenth birthday. Maria’s elder sisters Olga and Tatiana were twenty-two and twenty-one years old at the time of the assassinations. Along with the remains of the two bodies, archaeologists found “shards of a container of sulfuric acid, nails, metal strips from a wooden box, and bullets of various caliber.” In April 2008 Russian forensic scientists announced that DNA testing proves that the remains belong to the Tsarevich Alexei and to a young woman the Russians continue to identify as Maria. Eduard Rossel, governor of the region 900 miles east of Moscow, said tests done by a U.S. laboratory had identified the shards as those of Alexei and Maria. In March 2009, results of the DNA testing were published, confirming that the two bodies discovered in 2007 were those of Alexey and one of his sister’s.