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Experts claim Russian ‘tsar in iron mask’ mystery solved

Russian archaeologists claimed Monday to have solved a centuries-old mystery by finding the bones of a Russian Tsar who spent his life in prison after being overthrown while still an infant.

Ivan VI, dubbed the Russian “Man in the Iron Mask” after the celebrated French prisoner of the 17th century, held the throne for just one year from 1740 to 1741, when a rival wing of the Romanov family ousted his relatives.

He was killed at the age of 23 by prison guards in course of an unsuccessful prison break from a high security prison in Saint Petersburg attempted by supporters of his reign.

Ivan VI was in a solitary cell for five years and location of his remains was never found.

But the group of archaeologists found a “strange coffin” made of thick wood near a church in Kholmogory, a town in northern Arkhangelsk region, when it was looking for remains of Ivan VI’s father, said head of the search Vladimir Karanin.

Instead they found bones of a “much younger person” corresponding with Ivan VI’s age and other distinctive marks like an imprint from a stiletto blow to the head when he was a baby.

Karanin, who lives in Russia’s northern city of Arkhangelsk and owns a company that installs security equipment, said he cannot afford to undertake a DNA study of the findings.

“We cannot continue it on our own,” he said, quoted by Interfax. Genetic testing would require unearthing the remains of the young emperor’s closest relatives, buried in Denmark, he said.

Ivan VI was born in 1740 and was proclaimed emperor when he was just two months old after the death of empress Anna Ioannovna.

The infant emperor was quickly overthrown by Peter the Great’s daughter Elizabeth and her followers. Along with his family, infant Ivan VI was arrested and spent most of his life hidden away in various prisons around the country.

“If the remains have been found, comprehensive tests should be performed on them. It is possible that they are indeed genuine,” Alexander Zakatov, director of the Romanov family’s chancellery, told Interfax.

“It has been historically confirmed that he was killed in the Arkhangelsk region,” Zakatov said.

It may be too early for the group to celebrate however as Karanin was already labeled by Russia’s cultural authority as a “black digger” who neglected official procedures.

Karanin never had written permission to initiate his search, and is “in essence, a ‘black digger’ who is breaking the law,” said Izabella Sadirova, a representative of Russia’s cultural heritage watchdog, ITAR-TASS reported.