New forensic study indicates Pacific island bones were Earhart’s

March 09, 2018
Earhart bones island
Amelia Earhart around 1936. Photo: Harris and Ewing Collection, Library of Congress.

A new analysis of bones discovered in 1940 on the Pacific Island of Nikumaroro has found they were most likely to be those of legendary missing American pilot Amelia Earhart.

Earhart was the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean and her disappearances while flying across the Pacific in 1937 with navigator Fred Noonan was one of the 20th century’s great aviation mysteries.

The study by University of Tennessee professor Richard Janz looks at measurements taken of bones found in the island by a British expedition in 1940.

With them were what appeared to be a woman’s shoe, a box for an American surveying sextant and a bottle of Benedictine liqueur Earhart was known to carry.

Janz’s study notes there was suspicion at the time that the bones were Earhart’s but an examination in Fiji in 1941 by Central Medical School Principal D.W, Hoodless determined they were male.

The bones — which included a humerus, radius, tibia, fibula, and both femora —  were subsequently lost but the measurements made by Dr Hoodless survived.

A study of the measurements in the 1990s concluded the bones were likely female and of European ancestry but was rebutted by other experts.

Janz argues that while Hoodless did as well as most analysts of the time could have done, this did not mean his analysis was correct.

“When Hoodless conducted his analysis, forensic osteology was not yet a well-developed discipline,’’ he says in the study. “Evaluating his methods with reference to modern data and methods suggests that they were inadequate to his task; this is particularly the case with his sexing method.

“Therefore his sex assessment of the Nikumaroro bones cannot be assumed to be correct.’

Using modern techniques and historical records of Earhart’s height, measurements from her clothing and estimates of her weight, Janz compared Earhart’s bone lengths with the Nikumaroro bones.

Oddly, her driver’s license put her height at 5ft 7in while her pilot’s license said she was 5ft 8in. Either way, she was tall for the time.

“This analysis reveals that Earhart is more similar to the Nikumaroro bones than 99 percent of individuals in a large reference sample,’’ he says. “This strongly supports the conclusion that the Nikumaroro bones belonged to Amelia Earhart.”

Janz also looked at the possibility the bones may have belonged to one of 11 men presumed dead after a 1929 shipwreck or a Pacific Islander but found no evidence to support either proposition.

Other theories about Earhart’s disappearance include that she crashed into the sea and that she and Noonan were captured by the Japanese.