A new forensic analysis suggests that bones found on the Pacific island of Nikumaroro in 1940—and subsequently lost—could very well have been those of Amelia Earhart, National Geographic reports.
On July 2, 1937, on the third-to-last leg of their attempt to circumnavigate the globe, Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, were aiming for Howland Island just north of the equator. After taking off from Lae, New Guinea, they failed to locate Howland and vanished.
Three years later, and 350 nautical miles southwest of Howland, a British official in Nikumaroro discovered 13 bones buried near the remains of a campfire on the island. The bones were shipped to Fiji, where two doctors examined them. One thought they came from an elderly Polynesian male; the other, David Hoodless, postulated that they belonged to a European male.
The bones have since disappeared, but Hoodless’s seven measurements survived—four of the skull and three long bone lengths (humerus, radius, and tibia).
Richard Jantz, a forensic anthropologist at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, recently analyzed those measurements as well as Earhart’s body dimensions as indicated by photographs and articles of clothing. The evidence, he says, “strongly supports the conclusion that the Nikumaroro bones belonged to Amelia Earhart.”
At the very least, Jantz argues, the possibility can’t be excluded. The measurements are consistent with her known height, the skull could be female, and the bone lengths are close to what he estimates hers were. “If the bones do not belong to Amelia Earhart,” he writes in Forensic Anthropology, “then they are from someone very similar to her.”
These bones are not the only evidence placing Earhart on Nikumaroro Island. The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) has long been investigating the hypothesis that Earhart and Noonan landed their Lockheed Electra 10E there when they couldn’t find Howland.