Russia exhumes bones of murdered Czar Nicholas II and his wife

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Here's Why Russia Had to Exhume Its Last Czar

The remains of Russia's last imperial family may soon be reunited, but there are skeptics who have to be satisfied first.

On Wednesday, Russian investigators reportedly exhumed the body of Czar Nicholas Romanov II and his wife Alexandra. It's part of an investigation into the family's death in 1918 and into confirming the remains really belong to the czar and his wife.

Ever since some of the family's remains were tested in the early '90s, scientists have been pretty confident that it's really them. But they haven't been able to convince the Russian Orthodox Church.

See photos of the Czar and his wife:

14 PHOTOS
Czar Nicholas II and Alexandra of Russia
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Russia exhumes bones of murdered Czar Nicholas II and his wife
Portrait of Nicholas II, czar of Russia, in 'Le Petit Journal', 1894, Russia. (Photo by: Photo12/UIG via Getty Images)
ITALY - OCTOBER 26: Nicholas II Romanov (Tsarskoye Selo, 1868-Ekaterinburg, 1918), czar of Russia (1894-1917), son of Alexander III and Maria Fedorovna, image from Italian L'Illustration Italiana, November 5, 1905. (Photo by DeAgostini/Getty Images)
The ex-emperor of Russia, Nicholas II, sitting on a tree trunk in Tankoe-Selo, guarded by two soldiers, 20th, Russia. (Photo by: Photo12/UIG via Getty Images)
Nicholas II Alexandrovich, (Tsarskoye Selo, 1868 - Iekaterinburg, 1918), Son of Alexander III, Tsar of Russia from 1894 to 1917, Married in 1894 to Alexandra Feodorovna. (Photo by: Photo12/UIG via Getty Images)
Alexander II Nikolaievich, (Moscow, 1818 - Saint Petersburg, 1881), Son of Nicholas I, Tsar of Russia from 1855 to 1881, Died during a terrorist attack directed by Sofia Lvovna Perovskaya, revolutionary. (Photo by: Photo12/UIG via Getty Images)
'The Little Father Czar'. Nicholas II and the old men of Kharkof, July 1904, Russia. (Photo by: Photo12/UIG via Getty Images)
Celebration in the honour of the Tsar Nicholas II entering Compiègne, 1901, France. (Photo by: Photo12/UIG via Getty Images)
Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, 1915. Nicholas (1868-1918) succeeded his father, Alexander III, as Emperor of Russia in 1894. He was forced to abdicate after the Russian Revolution in 1917 and, together with the rest of the Russian imperial family, was murder (Photo by Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images)
'Portrait of Emperor Nicholas II', 1915-1916. Detail. Nicholas (1868-1918) succeeded his father, Alexander III, as Emperor of Russia in 1894. He was forced to abdicate after the Russian Revolution in 1917 and, together with the rest of the Russian imperial family, was murdered by Communists at Ekaterinburg in 1918. Found in the collection of The Hermitage, St Petersburg. (Photo by The Art Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images)
Photograph of Alexandra Fedorovna, Empress of Russia (1872-1918) wife of Nicholas II and the last Empress of Russia. Dated 1917. (Photo by: Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images)
(GERMANY OUT) Nicholas II. Tsar of Russia *18.05.1868-17.07.1918+ Last Emperor of Russia (1894-1917) Vintage property of ullstein bild (subsequently colored) - in the 1910s (Photo by ullstein bild/ullstein bild via Getty Images)
Undated photo of Czarina Alexandra Feodorovna, Consort of Czar Nicholas II of Russia in her state costume. No other caption information available. (AP Photo)
The last Tsar of Russia, Nicholas II in 1910. (Photo by: Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images)
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Church officials haven't come out with their exact reasons for doubt. There's been some discussion on the fact that the Romanov family has been canonized, making the remains holy relics, so that could play a role. But in general church leaders say they just aren't convinced, and their approval is important for bringing the family's remains together.

The remains that were excavated in the '90s are said to have included the czar, his wife, three of their children and several servants. Two of their children, Alexei and Maria, were unaccounted for.

The church somewhat reluctantly allowed the family's remains to be interred in the Peter and Paul Cathedral in St. Petersburg. Most of Russia's other czars are also buried there. But the church still hasn't officially accepted the family's identities, even after several rounds of DNA testing.

Then, another burial site was found in 2007 containing the remains of a young man and a young woman. More DNA testing confirmed they belonged to Alexei and Maria.

But those remains are reportedly sitting on a shelf, because the Russian Orthodox church has balked at the idea of adding them to the family tomb.

The church says it believes the family's remains were destroyed completely, and won't change its position until it's 100 percent sure.

U.S. armed forces geneticist Michael Coble, who worked on identifying the 2007 remains, wrote a thorough chronicle of all the testing that's been done so far, dismissing some other scientists' "feeble attempts to discredit these studies with contaminated data" and concluding, "It is now time to put this controversy to rest."

That was four years ago, and the controversy is still going. There was a plan to bury Alexei and Maria's remains in the Romanov tomb in October, but the church insists it be allowed to supervise the latest round of testing before it gives its approval.

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