Tsar Nicholas abdicated in 1917 and he and
his family were shot a year later 
Russian prosecutors have reopened an investigation into the deaths of the last tsar and his family, after archaeologists claimed to have discovered the remains of the tsar's son and heir.

The remains could end speculation that Alexi, the tsar's haemophiliac eldest son, and Maria, the tsar's daughter, survived while the rest of their family were killed on July 17, 1918.

The reopening of the investigation into the matter may signal that the government is taking the recent find seriously.

According to Sergei Pogorelov, an archaeologist at a regional centre for the preservation of historical and cultural monuments in Yekaterinburg, the area where the tsar and his family were shot dead, said that the spot where the remains were found appeared to correspond to a site described by Yakov Yurovsky, the leader of the family's killers.

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Watch Richard Martin's report on the discovery of the possible remains of Tsar Nicholas II's children

An anthropologist has determined that the bones belong to a boy aged about 10 to 13 years old and a woman aged about between 18 and 23, he told NTV television.

Dmitry Razhev, a senior researcher at the Urals Institute of History and Archeology under Russian Academy of Sciences, said that bullets had been found with the remains.

"In the course of the excavation, all the bullets were found in close proximity to bone fragments. Accordingly, we can reasonably suppose that they ended up in the softer parts of their bodies."

Alexei was a haemophiliac and scientists hope this will help identify the remains.

Nikolai Nevolin, the director of the regional forensic medical examinations bureau, said: "It will be extremely interesting to establish the presence of the haemophilia gene which the tsar's heir, Alexei, suffered from."

Russian revolution

Bullets had been found along with the remains
Forced to abdicate following the Bolshevik revolution of 1917, the Tsar and his family were executed by firing squad in the Ural Mountain city of Yekaterinburg.

Historians say guards lined up and shot Tsar Nicholas; his wife, Alexandra; their five children and four attendants in the basement of a nobleman's house.

The bodies were loaded on to a truck and initially dumped in a mine shaft but were later moved, according to most accounts.

But the remains of Alexei, the tsar's eldest son and heir, and of Maria, his daughter, have never been discovered, fuelling rumours that they had survived.

The tsar's remains, though, along with those of his wife and three of the five children, were discovered in 1991 and were reburied in the imperial-era capital of St Petersburg, though the ceremony was overshadowed by statements of doubt, coming mainly from the Russian Orthodox Church, about the remains' authenticity.
 
The church has also voiced scepticism about the most recent find.

"I would like to hope that the examination will be more thorough and detailed than the examination of the so-called 'Yekaterinburg remains,' [of the tsar and his children]" Bishop Mark of Yegoryevsk, deputy head of the Moscow Patriarchate's External Church Relations department, was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying.

"I have quite serious doubts about these remains," he said on Channel One television. "As of today, the most likely [scenario] is that the remains of the tsar's family were destroyed by the Bolsheviks."

Nikolai Romanov, a representative of the royal family whose dynasty was ended by the Russian revolution, said: "I will be deeply happy if the remains of [Alexei] and Maria have really been found, but it is always necessary to treat such epochal events with caution."

But if DNA tests do confirm the bone fragments are those of the missing children, it will lay to rest years of rumour and doubt, and complete the tale of a doomed family that once ruled imperial Russia.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies