Bones found on Pacific island in 1940 probably belonged to Earhart, study finds
WASHINGTON — Bones found in 1940 on a Pacific Ocean island very likely belonged to famed aviator Amelia Earhart, according to a new analysis disputing a decades-old report that concluded they were the remains of a male.
Earhart, the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean, disappeared during an attempted flight around the world in 1937. The mystery of what happened to her and her navigator has captivated the public for decades.
University of Tennessee anthropologist Richard Jantz said Thursday that a computer analysis strongly suggests that the mystery may have been solved.
The new study claims that bones found 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, which were discarded after the 1941 study, were uncovered by a British expedition exploring the island for settlement after they came upon a human skull.
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 next year, forensic osteology was still limited, Jantz said.
To compare evidence on the lost bones with Earhart’s bones, Jantz codeveloped a computer program that estimated sex and ancestry using skeletal measurements. The program, Fordisc, is widely 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.’’
‘‘The only documented person to whom they may belong is Amelia Earhart,’’ he 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 said in a 2016 interview that he believes the bones found on Nikumaroro belonged to Earhart.
In 1998, Gillespie’s group took Hoodless’s 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.
In 2016, the group brought the measurements to Jeff Glickman, a forensic examiner, who located a photo of Earhart from Lockheed Aircraft Corp. that showed her with her arms exposed. It appeared, based on educated guesses, that Earhart’s upper arm bone corresponded with one of the Nikumaroro bones.
Glickman said at the time that he knows some might be skeptical about his findings, as they were based 76-year-old medical notes. But the research made clear, he said, that Earhart died on Nikumaroro.
Both Gillespie and Glickman could not be immediately reached by The Post for comment on Jantz’s findings.
In June 2017, researchers traveled to Nikumaroro with dogs who had been specially trained to sniff the chemicals left behind by human remains. They thought they might discover a bone, and were especially hopeful when the dogs seemed to detect the scent of human remains beneath a tree. But there were no bones.
A week later, the History Channel published a photo suggesting Earhart died in Japan. It said the photograph unearthed from the National Archives showed Earhart and Noonan, in Jaluit Harbor in the Marshall Islands after their disappearance.
After the History Channel program aired, a Japanese-military-history blogger matched the photo to one first published in a 1935 Japanese travelogue, two years before Earhart and Noonan disappeared.