LONDON -- A snip of hair, a drop of the royal blood from the Duke of Edinburgh, and one of the great mysteries of the century is solved for good: Today the world knows "virtually beyond doubt" what happened to the last Russian czar.
British scientists said yesterday that they had determined that bones found in the Russian city of Ekaterinburg two years ago were those of Czar Nicholas II, his wife, Alexandra, and three of their five children. The discovery was facilitated by a new form of DNA fingerprinting.
"The evidence is that they are the remains of the Romanovs," said Dr. Peter Gill of the Forensic Science Service of the Home Office, which did the work and set the probability that they are Romanov bones at "almost 99 percent."
The findings confirm what had long been believed -- that the Russian royals were killed July 16, 1918, by the Bolsheviks in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution of 1917.
Russian anthropologists had reached the same conclusion shortly after the bones were dug up in 1991. To be certain, the Russian government asked the British forensic scientists to make the tests and shipped the remains here in September.
Dr. Gill led the forensic team, assisted by a Russian biologist, Dr. Pavel Ivanov.
Among those who supplied blood samples to the inquiry was the Duke of Edinburgh, also known as Prince Philip, husband of Queen Elizabeth II. Prince Philip's maternal grandmother, Princess Victoria of Hesse, was the sister of Czarina Alexandra.
Using a technique that traces a maternally inherited DNA, the Home Office scientists said they achieved a "complete match" between the duke and the czarina and her eldest children, Olga, Maria and Tatyana.
Living members of the Romanov family contributed blood and hair samples to help in the tests.
In addition to the remains of the five Romanovs, the bodies of four other people found in the same grave were examined and thought to be those of servants and possibly the imperial family physician.
The grave site was discovered in 1979, and kept a secret, by Soviet writer Geli Ryabov. He located it by interviewing one of the Bolsheviks who was present at the killing.
The bodies of Czar Nicholas' heir, Alexei, and the czar's youngest daughter, Anastasia, were not found. A woman named Anna Anderson emerged in 1920 in Berlin asserting that she was Anastasia, and she spent the rest of her life trying to prove it to a skeptical world. A film was made of her life and numerous books and articles written.
She died in 1984 in Virginia, having never been able to establish her claim legally. According to Dr. Janet Thompson, director of the Forensic Science Service, the forensic office has a sample of her hair.
A surviving member of the Romanovs, who works as a banker in London, said he felt "a great deal of relief" at the determination by the scientists.
Prince Rostislav Romanov said he would like to see the remains buried in Ekaterinburg rather than in the Romanov capital, St. Petersburg, a more likely venue.