New Evidence in the Amelia Earhart Mystery

March 8, 2018
by Staff Reports

Press Release from TIGHAR:

A newly published study further supports the hypothesis that Amelia Earhart landed and died as a castaway on the remote atoll known as Nikumaroro (Gardner Island).

A highly technical peer-reviewed paper published in the scientific journal Forensic Anthropology compares measurements of the bones of a castaway found on an uninhabited Pacific atoll in 1940 with new quantified data on Amelia Earhart. The author concludes that “Until definitive evidence is presented that the remains are not those of Amelia Earhart, the most convincing argument is that they are hers.”

The study, titled “Amelia Earhart and the Nikumaroro Bones – A 1941 Analysis versus Modern Quantitative Techniques” is open access and can be downloaded at the University of Florida Press.

The author, Richard L. Jantz, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus and Director Emeritus at the University of Tennessee Forensic Anthropology Center. The university’s Anthropological Research Facility, famously known as “The Body Farm,” was founded by Dr. William Bass. The donated body program was established in 1981 as a means of studying factors that affect human decomposition and to develop a skeletal collection of modern Americans. Many of the skeletons used to characterize Amelia Earhart were from the donated collection.

In 2005, Richard Jantz and Stephen Ousley created Fordisc, a computer program for estimating sex, ancestry, and stature from skeletal measurements. Now in version 3.1, Fordisc, is used by nearly every board certified forensic anthropologist in the United States and many around the world.

This latest finding in the 80-year search for an answer to Earhart’s fate is the culmination of research that began with TIGHAR’s 1998 discovery of original British files that document the finding of a partial skeleton on Gardner Island (now Nikumaroro) in 1940. The bones were suspected at the time of possibly being the remains of Amelia Earhart. In 1941, a British colonial doctor concluded that the bones belonged to a short, stocky European or mixed-race male. The bones were subsequently lost.

In 1998, forensic anthropologists Karen Burns and Richard Jantz analyzed measurements of the bones included in the British file. Using late 20th century forensic tools and techniques they concluded that the skeleton appeared to be consistent with a white female of Earhart’s height and ethnic origin. In 2015, British graduate student Pamela Cross and Australian anthropologist Richard Wright took issue with Burns and Jantz. In a paper published in the Journal of Archaeological Science they argued that the original 1941 British findings were more likely correct. Their study, titled “The Nikumaroro bones identification controversy: First-hand examination versus evaluation by proxy — Amelia Earhart found or still missing?” can be purchased at Science Direct.

Karen Burns died in 2012, but in response to the 2015 Cross/Wright critique, Richard Jantz undertook a quantitative analysis of the Nikumaroro bone measurements using the latest software and new forensic information about Amelia Earhart’s physique obtained by TIGHAR with the cooperation of Photek Forensic Imaging, the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum, and Purdue University Special Collections. His newly released paper, “Amelia Earhart and the Nikumaroro Bones – A 1941 Analysis versus Modern Quantitative Techniques” is the result.

Dr. Jantz’s study stands in stark contrast to the evidence presented in the July 2017 History Channel special “Amelia Earhart – The Lost Evidence.” Shortly after the show aired, the lost evidence – a photo said to show Earhart and Noonan in Japanese custody – was revealed to be neither lost nor evidence when it was found to have come from a Japanese tour book printed in 1935 – two years before the flyers disappeared. The show was withdrawn from re-broadcast and a promised investigation by the History Channel has, so far, not materialized.

Since launching The Earhart Project in 1988, TIGHAR has taken a science-based approach to testing the hypothesis that the missing flight ended at Nikumaroro. Thirty years of research suggests that Earhart made a relatively safe landing on the dry reef at the west end of the uninhabited island. She and her navigator Fred Noonan sent radio distress calls for six nights before rising tides washed the airplane into the ocean where it broke up in the surf at the reef edge. An over-flight by U.S. Navy search planes on the seventh day failed to spot the stranded flyers. Earhart survived for a matter of weeks, perhaps months, before dying at an improvised campsite near the atoll’s southeast end. Her partial skeleton was found three years later when the British established a colony on the island. Noonan’s fate is unknown.

For further information: Ric Gillespie, Executive Director,
TIGHAR, Phone: 610-467-1937, Email: tigharic@mac.com.

: News

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