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Offline Helen_Azar

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New study questions identity of Romanov bones
« on: September 18, 2004, 07:32:10 PM »
I am not sure if this topic has been posted already, I haven't seen it, but if it has been, please let me know. I recently came across a news article that claims that a new scientific study was performed and found some problems with the DNA results of the Ekaterinburg bones. This study was published earlier this year. Of course my fist thought was "here we go again!" and "where are they getting this from". But I have investigated this farther and have more info, if anyone is interested. In the meantime, here is a copy of this news article:

THE DAILY TELEGRAPH(LONDON)

July 12, 2004, Monday

SECTION: News; International: Pg. 09

LENGTH: 851 words

HEADLINE: Scientists reopen the Romanov mystery An American team challenges DNA-based British research that bodies in a mass grave are the tsar's family, writes Roger Highfield.

BYLINE: by Roger Highfield

BODY:
THE fate of the Russian royal family was plunged into renewed controversy yesterday after scientists cast doubt over British DNA tests on bones recovered from a mass grave.

One of the most riveting detective stories of the past century supposedly ended in 1998, when the Russian government formally declared that the bones were those of the Romanovs, who were executed by the Bolsheviks in 1918.

But in a paper for the seventh International Ancient DNA Conference in Brisbane, a team from Stanford University near San Francisco will this week question tests by Home Office forensic scientists.

Dr Peter Gill and his team at the Forensic Science Service used genetic testing with the help of five cubic centimetres of blood from Prince Philip and other relatives of the Romanovs to announce in 1993 that they
had proved "virtually beyond doubt" that broken bones found in a grave in Yekaterinburg in July 1991 were those of Tsar Nicholas II and members of his family.

The remains were brought to Britain by Dr Pavel Ivanov of the Russian Academy of Sciences and Dr Gill concluded that there was almost a 99 percent probability that five of the nine skeletons were those of the tsar, the tsarina and three of their daughters.

But Dr A. Knight, who conducted the study with colleagues at Stanford, the Russian Academy of Sciences, Eastern Michigan University and Los
Alamos National Laboratory, claimed: "Our team has what appears to be overwhelming evidence to reject the conclusion of the identity of the remains as those of the Russian royal family."

Dr Knight and his team questioned the results, raised "forensic irregularities" and conducted an independent DNA analysis of the preserved finger of the late Grand Duchess Elisabeth - sister of Tsarina Alexandra, one of the 1918 victims.

Since the 1982 opening of Elisabeth's coffin in Jerusalem, the finger had been preserved in a reliquary at the New York home of Bishop Anthony Grabbe, the president of the now-disbanded Orthodox Palestine Society. Crucially, tests on the finger failed to match the tsarina's DNA reported by Dr Gill.

Though Dr Knight's trip was funded by the Russian Expert Commission Abroad - a group of scholars who challenge the assertion that the bones are royal
- he maintains that his experiments were unbiased.

"The commission didn't support the DNA tests or do the science," he said. "They just bought me the plane ticket and got me the sample. They had no control over the work."

Dr Knight argues that the Home Office results were too good to be true and doubts the researchers could have obtained such long stretches of DNA from old bones, particularly those that had spent more than 70 years in a shallow, wet earthen grave.

"Based on what we know now, those bones were contaminated," Dr Knight said, citing strong evidence that the bone samples were tarnished with fresh, less-degraded DNA - from an individual who handled the samples, a claim that is disputed by Dr Gill.

Experts are divided on the issue of DNA preservation. Dr Peter de Knijff, head of the Forensic Laboratory for DNA Research at Leiden University in the Netherlands, agrees that the Gill-Ivanov study was "unrealistically
solid".

But Dr Tom Parsons of the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory in Rockville, Maryland, has found that larger DNA fragments can survive.

Dr Knight said: "We have uncovered irregularities and inconsistencies (and very strange goings-on) in the case, and the results claimed by the DNA tests are essentially impossible.

"We are not questioning the integrity of Dr Gill or Dr Parsons but rather the actions of those in Russia who had control of all the samples, concluded at the outset that they were the royal family, acted with secrecy and deception, distributed the samples to the labs in other
countries, participated in the analyses, wrote a report concluding identity, and then voted on acceptance of that report."

Dr Kevin Sullivan, a casework standards manager at the Forensic Science Service, another of the Home Office team, said: "We have every confidence in our results which have been reproduced and independently confirmed by two other world-renowned DNA laboratories.

"We were able to conclude that the remains were those of the Romanovs because they match the DNA of known living maternal relatives of the tsar and tsarina, including Prince Philip, all of which were analysed after the results were generated from the bones." He added: "The DNA result generated from the shrivelled finger is different to that of Prince Philip and therefore could not have come from the Grand Duchess Elisabeth or any other maternal relative."

The Stanford team's initial findings were reported in the January-February issue of the Annals of Human Biology but were dismissed at the time by Dr Gill, who told the journal Science that Dr Knight's research "comes across
as vindictive and political".

But Dr Knight said the case against the original analysis had strengthened since the paper in the Annals. "Calling us names, as Dr Gill has done, will not help their fatally flawed position."

LOAD-DATE: July 12, 2004


I was wondering if anyone else has heard about this and what your thoughts are, and I can later share more about this...

Helen
« Last Edit: December 31, 1969, 06:00:00 PM by helenazar »

Dashkova

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Re: New study questions identity of Romanov bones
« Reply #1 on: September 18, 2004, 07:51:52 PM »
Oh yeah, this story has been out for a while. Interesting, but one of the obvious concerns is that a member of the "team of scholars" is actually a Romanov claimant, with a very specific agenda (he wants to be Tsar).

The fact that certain scientists allowed such a claimant to add his name to their journal article is interesting, also.  Kind of taints the whole project.

Offline Helen_Azar

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Re: New study questions identity of Romanov bones
« Reply #2 on: September 18, 2004, 08:08:04 PM »
"Interesting, but one of the obvious concerns is that a member of the "team of scholars" is actually a Romanov claimant, with a very specific agenda (he wants to be Tsar). "  That is very interesting,  Dashkova, I didn't know that! How did you find that information out?
I was very interested to find out what this was all about, and after reading his scientific paper, I wrote to Dr Knight, the guy who did this study, questioning his assertions very thoroughly. Below is the email I sent him... He did reply and I can post that later because I think this post will get truncated otherwise...

Helen


Dear Dr Knight,

Thank you very much for your reply and the paper attachment. I read it and have a few questions that I hope you will take the time to answer.  
First, I would like to say that you have a valid point when you question the length of the mtDNA segments recovered by Peter Gill's lab. But might there be another explanation for this result besides the contamination theory? I realize that finding such large segments would be unusual with older DNA, but is it completely impossible? Is it not possible that Gill retrieved his samples from a desiccated portion of the remains where longer pieces of DNA might have survived? Perhaps Gill himself has a good explanation for this result and I was wondering if you spoke to him about this before you published your work? I will write to him as well and inquire about this.  
The reason I am questioning the contamination theory is because, in my opinion it is extremely hard to believe that the contaminated DNA sequence would match the Duke of Edinburgh's mtDNA exactly, I just don't think this can happen from random contamination. Yes, mtDNA is not as precise as nuclear DNA, but chances are extremely slim that a "random someone" with the same mtDNA as Prince Philip accidentally contaminated these samples while handling them. So if contamination is the culprit here, the only logical explanation would be that the samples were deliberately contaminated with known "fresh" DNA that belonged to someone whose DNA sequence is identical to Prince Philip's. And if this was the case, wouldn't Peter Gill have realized that these results were not the ones you would expect to get with ancient DNA? Or do you suspect that Gill was aware of this and ignored it, or was actually a part of the deliberate contamination?  These scenarios sound so far fetched, and this is why I think that there has to be another explanation than the one you offer.
The second point I wish to raise is that a major part of your argument against the Ekaterinburg bones is based on your finding that the DNA extracted from the finger, presumed to be Grand Duchess Elizabeth's, did not match the Gill DNA sequence. First, I was wondering if this finger was actually attached to the body that was presumed to belong to Elizabeth when it was recovered from the mineshaft, or was it just found next to it and was assumed to belong to the body? Also, which finger was it, was it from the left or the right hand, and was that consistent with the hands on the body? Is there any scientific proof that the finger belongs to the Grand Duchess Elizabeth? I know that various church members testified as to its authenticity but, while I respect the church members' beliefs, I would like to know if there is any scientific proof that this identification was genuine? Humans make mistakes all the time, as you are well aware. It seems that you are making the assumption that the initial identification and the subsequent chain of custody f Elizabeth's body was absolutely unquestionable, but I am not sure that this assumption is valid. I don't think I can accept the icon around the neck as sufficient proof of the body’s identification as Elizabeth.  If the finger really belongs to the Grand Duchess, wouldn't the mtDNA extracted from this finger match that of Prince Philip? How do you explain the fact that it doesn't? You don’t refer to the Duke of Edinburgh’s mtDNA at all in your paper, why? In my opinion, it is one of the most relevant pieces of evidence here.  Is it possible that the Grand Duchess’s body was misidentified initially and it really belongs to the other woman who died alongside the Grand Duchess, the convent novice Varvara Yakovleva? If this finger was not actually attached to the body when it was recovered, can another part of the body presumed to be Elizabeth’s be tested? Where are Varvara’s remains at present time and can they be tested, as they may actually be those of GD Elizabeth.
Lastly, I am sure that you are aware that DNA tests were also done on the bones that presumably belong to Nicholas II, and these results were compared to the DNA of the tsar's exhumed brother, Grand Duke George. The DNA sequences matched exactly, both sets even exhibited the same heteroplasmy. Are these results being questioned as well, or is the contention that Nicholas's remains are genuine but the rest of the bones in the Ekaterinburg grave belonged to random victims other than the former imperial family?
Dr Knight, your technical expertese in the lab is thorough and rigorous, but it seems that your paper has many selective omissions of any and all information that goes against your own theory about the Ekaterinburg bones. When these bones were identified as belonging to the Romanov family ten years ago, this judgment was not made solely upon Peter Gill's DNA evidence, although that was a big part of it. Many other things were taken into consideration including historical, anthropological, sociological and biological aspects. Arriving at a multi-disciplined, consistent scenario is the only way to approach something like this. I understand that your main concern here is with the molecular aspects, but even so, your own research has not provided sufficient scientific proof (or I should say disproof) from that angle, in fact, it invoked even more serious questions. If you have suitable explanations to my three main questions, I am prepared to accept your conclusions, but as it stands right now, I am more than a little skeptical.
In conclusion, I would like to ask what you think the next logical step in this research should be?
Thank you again for your time and I look forward to your reply.
Sincerely,

Helen A

« Last Edit: December 31, 1969, 06:00:00 PM by helenazar »

Dashkova

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Re: New study questions identity of Romanov bones
« Reply #3 on: September 18, 2004, 09:29:44 PM »
Hi Helen,

If you'd like to talk about this, send me a private message.

Ditto for anyone else who is interested.

rskkiya

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Re: New study questions identity of Romanov bones
« Reply #4 on: September 19, 2004, 11:12:34 AM »
 I cannot believe that Dr Gill would call anyone "names" -he is too much of a gentleman for that sort of thing!

R.

Offline AGRBear

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Re: New study questions identity of Romanov bones
« Reply #5 on: September 19, 2004, 03:03:34 PM »
I for one am interested in what Dr. Knight replied.

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Offline Michelle

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Re: New study questions identity of Romanov bones
« Reply #6 on: September 19, 2004, 05:35:31 PM »
Me too! :D

Offline LisaDavidson

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Re: New study questions identity of Romanov bones
« Reply #7 on: September 19, 2004, 07:24:16 PM »
I agree with Michelle - and I daresay all interested in the case would be interested in Dr. Knight's response. Is it possible to post this? I'd also like to ask him why he permitted a claimant with an agenda on his team? To me, it really taints the whole objectivity of the paper, no?

Offline Belochka

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Re: New study questions identity of Romanov bones
« Reply #8 on: September 19, 2004, 11:57:07 PM »
Quote
"
The second point I wish to raise is that a major part of your argument against the Ekaterinburg bones is based on your finding that the DNA extracted from the finger, presumed to be Grand Duchess Elizabeth's, did not match the Gill DNA sequence. ... Is there any scientific proof that the finger belongs to the Grand Duchess Elizabeth?

Is it possible that the Grand Duchess’s body was misidentified initially and it really belongs to the other woman who died alongside the Grand Duchess, the convent novice Varvara Yakovleva?
Helen A

 


helen,

These are interesting developments indeed!

After reading the original Knight paper, the most glaring question which I posed to myself related to the authenticity of G. D. Elizabeth's remains. Thanks for bringing up this issue in the manner in which you did.

If there are surviving relatives from Varvara Yakovleva's family who would be willing to participate in having a DNA profile undertaken, we would have at least drawn one unexpected conclusion, while opening the door to another ...

It would certainly go a long way to explain why Knight was unable to achieve any compatibility with 'his' sample.

If it was possible, I would welcome reading any reply Knight has made regarding your e-mail to him. Thanks in anticipation. :D

To have a 'claimant' on Knight's team certainly raises the question of how much impartiality was involved in achieving the interpretations he reached. Not a wise move ...  :o
 


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Offline Olga

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Re: New study questions identity of Romanov bones
« Reply #9 on: September 20, 2004, 03:55:32 AM »
Quote
I'd also like to ask him why he permitted a claimant with an agenda on his team? To me, it really taints the whole objectivity of the paper, no?


I agree. Makes the whole exercise seem shady and biased.
« Last Edit: December 31, 1969, 06:00:00 PM by olga »

Offline JonC

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Re: New study questions identity of Romanov bones
« Reply #10 on: September 20, 2004, 10:24:17 AM »
Hold on to your horses everyone...true, there seems 'something' wrong with having a claimant on the Knight team yes! But is there any indication that Dr. Knight's research was biased? Are the results phony?, wrong?, or untrue? I don't think we can say that just yet.

His criticism/study of Dr. Gill's work may have been initiated by partison inclinations  nevertheless his conclusions..i.e. 'Fresh Blood added to Dr. Gill's study in order to achieve perfect results' has been upheld by other well known geneticists....I don't remember their names but I'm sure I could find out if necessary.

Offline Martyn

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Re: New study questions identity of Romanov bones
« Reply #11 on: September 20, 2004, 12:45:44 PM »
This controversy looks set to run and run.  Might I just ask this question - what will happen if they prove that the bones that have been buried with all due solemnity are not in fact those of the IF?
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Offline Merrique

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Re: New study questions identity of Romanov bones
« Reply #12 on: September 20, 2004, 12:56:22 PM »
Quote
This controversy looks set to run and run.  Might I just ask this question - what will happen if they prove that the bones that have been buried with all due solemnity are not in fact those of the IF?



That is a very interesting question,I was wondering the same thing.I am also very interested in Dr. Knight's response.
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Re: New study questions identity of Romanov bones
« Reply #13 on: September 20, 2004, 01:13:50 PM »
Now, don't also forget there is a third option here. Gill's testing "may" have been indeed bad, BUT the remains are still the IF, and there is other evidence. Bad work by Gill does not per se exclude these remains as genuine, it just means the tests were bad.

Now, I know y'all are going to ask, BUT don't, we really cannot go into detail, but this is appearing to be the case. Our source is impeccible, and someone known to Greg, Penny, Peter, Lisa etc as reliable...but I can not nor will not reveal more as we were instructed not to at this time.

Just keep this thought in mind.

Offline Merrique

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Re: New study questions identity of Romanov bones
« Reply #14 on: September 20, 2004, 01:22:38 PM »
Ooooh FA you shouldn't have done that. :D
Now we will all be waiting impatiently until you are able to spill what you know and who you learned it from.I guess I can wait patiently,but man it's gonna be hard.
:) ;D :D ;)
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