Amelia Earhart’s story is revolutionary: She was the first woman to fly alone across the Atlantic Ocean, and might have been the first to fly around the world had her plane not vanished over the Pacific Ocean in 1937.
After decades of mystery surrounding her disappearance, her story might come to a close.
A new scientific study claims that bones found in 1940 on the Pacific Island of Nikumaroro belong to Earhart, despite a forensic analysis of the remains conducted in 1941 that linked the bones to a male. The bones, revisited in the study “Amelia Earhart and the Nikumaroro Bones” by University of Tennessee professor Richard Jantz, were discarded. For decades they have remained an enigma, as some have speculated that Earhart died a castaway on the island after her plane crashed.
The bones were uncovered by a British expedition exploring the island for settlement after they came upon a human skull, according to the study. The expedition’s officer ordered a more thorough search of the area, which resulted in the discovery of several other bones and part of what appeared to be a woman’s shoe. Other items found included a box made to hold a Brandis Navy Surveying Sextant that had been manufactured around 1918 and a bottle of Benedictine, an herbal liqueur.
“There was suspicion at the time that the bones could be the remains of Amelia Earhart,” Jantaz wrote in the study.
When the 13 bones were shipped to Fiji and studied by Dr. D. W. Hoodless of the Central Medical School the following year, Jantz argues that it is likely that forensic osteology — the study of bones — was still in its early stages, which therefore affected his assessment of which sex the remains belonged to. Jantz, in attempting to compare the lost bones with Earhart’s bones, co-developed a computer program that estimated sex and ancestry using skeletal measurements. The program, Fordisc, is commonly used by forensic anthropologists across the globe.
Jantz compared the lengths of the bones to Earhart’s measurements, using her height, weight, body build, limb lengths and proportions, based on photographs and information found on her pilot’s and driver’s licenses. His findings revealed that Earhart’s bones were “more similar to the Nikumaroro bones than (99 percent) of individuals in a large reference sample.”
“In the case of the Nikumaroro bones, the only documented person to whom they may belong is Amelia Earhart,” Jantz wrote in the study.
Earhart’s disappearance has long captivated the public, and theories involving her landing on Nikumaroro have emerged in recent years. Retired journalist Mike Campbell, who authored “Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last,” has maintained with others that Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, were captured in the Marshall Islands by the Japanese, who thought they were American spies. He believes they were tortured and died in custody.
But Ric Gillespie, director of the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) told the Washington Post’s Cleve R. Wootson Jr. in 2016 that he, too, believes the bones found on Nikumaroro belong to Earhart.
In 1998, the group took Hoodless’ measurements of the Nikumaroro bones and analyzed them through a robust anthropological database. They determined the bones belonged to a taller-than-average woman of European descent — perhaps Earhart, who at 5 feet 7 to 5 feet 8, was several inches taller than the average woman.