Moscow Prosecutors announced Friday that they have reopened an investigation into the deaths of the last Russian czar and his family nearly 90 years ago after an archaeologist reported that he may have found the missing remains of Nicholas II's son and heir to the throne.
The announcement of the reopened investigation signaled the government might be taking seriously the claims made Thursday by Yekaterinburg researcher Sergei Pogorelov.
In comments broadcast on NTV, Pogorelov said bones found in a burned area of ground near Yekaterinburg belong to a boy and a young woman roughly the ages of Nicholas' 13-year-old hemophiliac son, Alexei, and a daughter whose remains also never have been found.
Yekaterinburg is the Urals Mountain city where Czar Nicholas II, his wife, Alexandra, and their five children were held prisoner by the communists and then shot in 1918.
If confirmed, the find would fill in a missing chapter in the story of the doomed Romanovs, whose reign was ended by the violent 1917 Bolshevik Revolution that ushered in more than 70 years of Communist Party rule.
The find comes almost a decade after remains identified as those of Nicholas and Alexandra and three of their daughters were reburied in a ceremony in the imperial-era capital of St. Petersburg.
That ceremony, however, was shadowed by questions raised by the Russian Orthodox Church and others about the authenticity of the remains.
On Friday, a church official voiced what appeared to be skepticism about the latest find.
"I have quite serious doubts about these remains. As of today, the most likely (scenario) is that the remains of the czar's family were destroyed by the Bolsheviks," Bishop Mark, of Yegoryevsk, deputy head of the Moscow Patriarchate's External Church Relations department, said on Channel One television.
Pogorelov, an archaeologist at a regional center for the preservation of historical and cultural monuments in Yekaterinburg, said the spot where the remains were found appears to correspond to a site in a written description by Yakov Yurovsky, leader of the family's killers.
"An anthropologist has determined that the bones belong to two young individuals - a young male he found was aged roughly 10-13 and a young woman about 18-23," he told NTV television by telephone.
Nicholas II abdicated in 1917 as revolutionary fervor swept Russia, and he and his family were detained. The next year, they were sent to Yekaterinburg, where a Bolshevik firing squad executed them July 17, 1918.
Historians say guards shot the royal family and four attendants in the basement of a nobleman's house. The bodies were then loaded onto a truck and initially dumped in a mine shaft but were later moved, according to most accounts.
The Bolsheviks mutilated and hid the bodies because they did not want the remains to become a shrine or rallying point for anti-Bolshevik forces.