Discovered remains could belong to martyred Georgian queen
Captured queen was slain after refusing to convert from Christianity to Islam
The remains of Queen Ketevan, an ancient Georgian queen executed for refusing to become a member of a powerful Persian ruler's harem in the 17th Century may have been recently uncovered in an ancient Indian church. New DNA analysis suggests the remains are those of Ketevan, the Queen of Kakheti, a kingdom in Georgia, in the 1600s.
In 1624, Shah Abbas asked Queen Ketevan to convert to Islam from Christianity and join his harem. She refused, and he had her tortured, then executed on Sept. 22, 1624.
In 1624, Shah Abbas asked the queen to convert to Islam from Christianity and join his harem. She refused, and he had her tortured, then executed on Sept. 22, 1624. Ketevan the Martyr was canonized as a saint by the Georgian Orthodox Church shortly afterwards.
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Languishing in Iran 10 years before her death, Queen Ketevan had befriended two Augustinian friars who became devoted to her. According to legend, in 1627 the two friars secretly dug up her remains and smuggled them out of the country.
An ancient Portuguese document had suggested that Ketavan's bones were held in a black sarcophagus kept in the window of the St. Augustinian Convent in Goa, India.
Time had taken its toll on the church. Part of the convent had collapsed and many valuables had been sold off in the intervening centuries and earlier attempts to find Ketevan's remains failed.
In 2004, Rai and colleagues excavated an area they believed contained the remains and found a broken arm bone and two other bone fragments. In order to find out if the bones belonged to the martyred queen, the researchers extracted mitochondrial DNA, or DNA found only in the cytoplasm of an egg that is passed on through the maternal line.
Analysis determined that the arm bone once belonged to a female with a genetic lineage, or haplogroup, known as U1b. A survey of 22,000 people from the Indian subcontinent, the researchers found none with U1b lineage. The lineage was fairly common in a sample of 30 people from Georgia.
The other two bones proved that they were part of genetic lineages common in India. This supported documents that suggested that the queen's relics were stored in a room with the bones of two local friars.
"The complete absence of haplogroup U1b in the Indian subcontinent and its presence in high-to-moderate frequency in the Georgia and adjoining regions, provide the first genetic evidence for the [arm bone] sample being a relic of Saint Queen Ketevan of Georgia," Rai said.
"It is a bone presumed to be of the queen and will remain so until its DNA can be compared to that of preferably living relatives and if not available dead relatives," Jean-Jacques Cassiman, a geneticist at the University of Leuven in Belgium wrote in an email.
The conclusion, however, is based on statistics. Those statistics strengthen the idea that the bone belongs to St. Ketevan, but aren't strong enough to positively identify the remnant, Cassiman said.
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