Forensic Anthropology: The Romanov Case

During the last Imperial ruling in Soviet Union Russia, the last family Romanov was murdered without any alarm or cause. The Romanov family consisted of five children, Olga who was twenty-two, Tatiana who was twenty-one, Anastasia who was seventeen, and Alexei who was only thirteen at this time. Their loyal servants such as their family doctor Mr. E. Botkin who was sixty-one at the time, their housemaid, Ms. A. Demidova who was only twenty, the cook I. Kharitonov who was forty-eight and their valet A.

Trupp who was sixty-two. And of course, Mr. Tsar Nicolay II who was Fifty and his wife Alexandra who was forty-seven all lost their lives in 1918 by the murderers who were called the white government. The white government was a group of individuals who fought for democracy against communism during the Russian Civil War that took place from 1918 to 1921 (Trueman, 2015). As the family being murdered in a basement at the house where they were being held at before their bodies were exhumed and thrown down the Four Brother’s Mine.

Where grenades were thrown in on the bodies to collapse the mine entrance (although it failed, because they had to remove the bodies into their final resting place) and sulfuric acid that was supposed to be dropped on them as well to help get rid of the bodies (Brennan, 2008).

The murder and disappearance of the last Imperial family were a mystery for over 5o some years, it was a huge problem for Russia’s history not knowing the location.

Get quality help now
Sweet V

Proficient in: Forensic Anthropology

4.9 (984)

“ Ok, let me say I’m extremely satisfy with the result while it was a last minute thing. I really enjoy the effort put in. ”

+84 relevant experts are online
Hire writer

It wasn’t until the mid-1970’s when an amateur archeologist (which will later be determined to be Dr. Alexander Avdonin further in this paper) who discovered the mass grave found within the forest near Ekaterinburg (Kolesnikov et al., 2001) but kept it a secret until the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. Although the family and loyal servants were discovered in that mass grave in the forest near Ekaterinburg, there were still two remaining children who weren’t in that mass grave. Their skeletal remains were found in another grave near the old Koptyaki Road in Ekaterinburg, commonly called Pig’s Meadow now, in 2007. That was when the re-analysis of the skeletal remains and the use of DNA testing was used to determine if in fact, the skeletal remains were the lost Imperial Romanov family in the late 1990s to early 200’s.

There was an abundance of forensic specialists mentioned during the Romanov Case. They all played an important part, and it was broken up into two groups. Before I mention the two different teams who took apart in this case, the main people that will be discussed are Dr. Maple, Dr. Peter Gill, Dr. Pavel Ivanov, and Dr. Alexander Avdonin. The first team that will be talked about first is what will be called the “field team” and then the second team is the “lavatory team”. The team that was out in the field was Dr. A. Avdonin, who is a Geologist, Dr. Sergey Nikitin, who is the medical examiner from Moscow, and the Kremlin archeologist, Dr. Tatiana Panova. The Lavatory team (who will be discussed later) consisted of Dr. P. Gill who (at the time) is a part of the Forensic Science Service (FSS) in the United Kingdom, Dr. P. Ivanov the Russian Geneticists, and Dr. Erica Hagelberg from the University of Cambridge who was invited to replicate the findings.

The field team consisted of three primitive searches, where Dr. A. Avdonin and his team of geologists, archeologists, botanist, a forensic criminal investigator, physicists, a forensic medical examiner from Moscow, and archeology students from a local Ekaterinburg University (Sarandinaki, 1999) were in the process of finding not only the Romanov family and the two missing children, Alexei and Maria, who were later found in 2007. Field mapping and pinpointing locations of the secondary burials were no easy tasks basing it off of the murderer, General Dterikh notes that he left about the locations and how they killed the family. At the first site, Four Brothers Mine off of Koptyaki Road, 200 meters were squared off and marked by stakes at every 2 meters during this particular search (Sarandinaki, 1999). During the first search, they located many different items during their search. With the use of much different reconnaissance method and archeological methods, i.e. drainage trenches, and ground penetration tools, they were able to find articles of clothing such as a blouse pin, bullets, nails, a small rare stone that was a necklace, ceramic vessel, iron angles at the first burn pit and of course 50 bone fragments that were later determined to be animal and not human at the second burn pit. Yet in the third and final search at Pigs Meadow was where they found the two missing children which were nearby to the first location, at Four Brothers Mine (Sarandinaki, 1999).

In the lavatory team, who was Dr. P. Gill and Dr. P. Ivanov, was where the major results were found and determined. Conducting a DNA analysis to determine who or what the remains that were found by Dr. A. Avdonin. With bones being buried for nearly 70 years, the DNA becomes difficult to extract out due to its deuterates over some time (Knight et al., 2004). With this being known, they created a strict protocol while dealing with the chain of evidence. When they extracted the DNA from the bones, they only found a small strand or what is considered to be half a dozen cells of DNA within each sample that they did. Using the small strands of DNA that they found and compared it to living descendants of the Romanov family, and conducting PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) and mtDNA (Mitochondrial DNA) testing concluded that by DNA standards they were able to determine that they were indeed the missing Romanov family (Gill, n.d.).

Along with PCR, STR and mtDNA testing, with the skulls that were found within the burn pits were another way that Dr. P. Gill and Dr. P. Ivanov were able to conclude it was the missing Romanov family (Coble et. al., 2009). Due to the period when the Romanov family was alive, records were few and far between and merely not trustworthy stomatological data that could be relied on. But with the few pictures that were found of the family members, grouping was the main way that Dr. Gill and Dr. Ivanov were able to determine the family by grouping them into sex, age, height, and even ancestry as well. Although, when the mass grave was unearthed by Dr. Avdonin and his team, the bones were scattered in a manner that proved the claims from the murderers were indeed true. But with the sketches, identifying and osteological methods, both teams (lavatory and in the field) were able to determine that all the remains found, which was 900 plus or minus found within the grave, where the missing Romanov family (Kolesnikov et al., 2001).

As stated previously, each family member of the Romanov family was brutally murdered. With being brutally murdered it’s coherent on what the antemortem state would be for the forensic anthropologist who is discovering them. Antemortem is the state of which the remains of bodies are before postmortem occurs (Steadman, 2016). From different recalls of what people have written over the murder of the Romanov family is how the forensic anthropologist determine what happened before the death of the family. The Romanov family were executed in a firing squad type format and then thrown down into a mile shaft with grenades being thrown in to help enclose the said, Four Brothers Mine until the bodies were re-exhumed before finally being piled into a mass grave a short distance away from the mine shaft. The most common area of the bullets was located in the chest area for all the members of the Romanov family. Through trauma left on the bones, it suggested a rough ending to their life. Along with writings from the murderers who attended and took part in the murder of the Romanov family. During the postmortem analysis only, the skeletal remains were left to determine any cause of trauma conflicted with the bodies. Being subjected and documented as a mass murder victim, as an execution-style, the bones showed that there was evidence of projectile trauma. One had evidence of such trauma to the chest, another to the side of the skull and back of the skull, and the rest in random locations such as the jaw and thigh. Whereas, one family member was multiply stabbed which indicates the cutting trauma that was told. The son had a disease within his knee that made it where he couldn’t walk without pain which leads him to be crippled (Rappaport, 2010) but that isn’t what killed him it was the projectile to the skull that ultimately did him in like his family (Brennan, 2008).

For the time of the analysis of the Romanov case circa. 1990’s – 2007, the use of the novel method i.e. STR, mtDNA testing, and the use of PCR (polymerase chain reaction) for more complex samples. Autosomal short tandem repeat (STR) which is used as a sorting tool to distinguish each skeleton & show the family relation if there is any among the remains. mtDNA is the mitochondrial DNA to test the skeletons matrilineal (Coble, 2011). The morphological method was another novel method used in this case. The morphological method is the use of scanning the skull or photographic image into the computer to get a comparison basis (Kolesnikov et al., 2001).

Both America and Russia to join teams and work on a cold case that altered Russia’s history. With the Romanov family having such historical importance within the Russian’s history it was coherent that the cold case mystery is solved. During the time of the case being solved (circa. 1990-2007) it provided the forensic science aspect to be furthered into existence and use by showcasing the importance and significance it can make within a case. Although it didn’t create any new technologies within the forensic anthropology world, it helped emphasize the tests and tools used within a forensic field search and lavatory analysis to determine a missing person. Which made it come to light with common citizens that this has importance and can be used to successfully identify missing persons or cold cases such as the Romanov case. Although the Romanov family has been missing and murdered back in 1918 and all that could be determined of who they are, and how they died from off their skeletal remains and written confessions of what happened to the family, with the aid of forensic science developing it brought the case to a long-overdue close.

None of the scientists that worked this cold case were called into a courtroom or be subjected to further questioning, there was one group who did not believe their findings. The orthodox church in Russia who provides and renders the funeral rights to the Romanov family didn’t believe that the last two children who were missing are the missing family members. They had wanted “further evidence” to prove it is them. Although that the entire case lasted from 1977 when the first mass grave was discovered to the exhuming them in the 1990s to 1996 and finding the last two children of the family in 2007, the advancement in the forensic anthropology world helped chisel this cold case into being answered. As stated by Coble, 2011 the initial work from 1993 to 1996 was a watershed moment for DNA testing and the forensic field. The results founded within the Romanov Case will stand the test of time throughout the scientific advances.

Cite this page

Forensic Anthropology: The Romanov Case. (2022, Apr 22). Retrieved from

Let’s chat?  We're online 24/7