A University of Tennessee researcher says he has concluded that bones found on a remote South Pacific island are almost definitely those of famed American pilot Amelia Earhart.
Richard Jantz, professor emeritus of anthropology and director emeritus of UT’s Forensic Anthropology Center, re-examined the bones, which were originally determined to be that of a man when measurements were conducted in 1940 by physician D.W. Hoodless.
Some have summarily dismissed these bones as the remains of Amelia Earhart because they were assessed as male by Dr. D. W. Hoodless, principal of the Central Medical School, Fiji, in 1940.
Jantz used several modern techniques, including a computer program called Fordisc, and compared Hoodless’ measurements with bone lengths determined from photographs of Earhart and found the bone measurements were more like Earhart than to 99 percent of individuals in a large sample.
The bones in question were found in 1940 when a working party brought to Nikumaroro for the Phoenix Island Settlement Scheme found and buried a human skull. Upon hearing of the discovery, the officer in charge of the settlement scheme, Gerald Gallagher, ordered a more thorough search of the area.
The search resulted in additional bones, including a humerus, radius, tibia, fibula, and both femora. The bones were apparently complete, but they had experienced some taphonomic modification. Also found were part of a shoe, judged to have been a woman’s; a sextant box, designed to carry a Brandis Navy Surveying Sextant manufactured circa 1918; and a Benedictine bottle.
There was suspicion at the time that the bones could be the remains of Amelia Earhart.
The bones themselves have disappeared in the intervening years, so Jantz only had Hoodless’ measurements to go by. Jantz says his questioning of Hoodless’ analysis had less to do with his competence, but more to do with the state of forensic anthropology at the time.
Earhart, the first female pilot to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean, disappeared in 1937 while flying over the Pacific. Jantz and other researchers believe she died as a castaway on the island now known as Nikumaroro, where the bones were later discovered in 1940.
Alongside the bones were part of a woman’s shoe, a sextant box similar to the one Earhart’s co-pilot used and a Benedictine bottle, something Earhart was known to carry.
Other theories about the bones include that they belong to one of 11 men presumed killed in the 1929 wreck of the Norwich City or the bones of a Pacific islander. Jantz said there’s no evidence any of the men in the shipwreck survived to die as a castaway and the woman’s shoe and American sextant box were not likely to have been associated with anyone in the wreck. There was also no evidence a Pacific Islander had ended up as a castaway.
The study, published in the journal “Forensic Anthropology,” concludes that Earhart “was known to have been in the area of Nikumaroro Island, she went missing, and human remains were discovered which are entirely consistent with her and inconsistent with most other people.”