Simanaitis Says

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WITHOUT SCIENCE, the weekly magazine of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, I wouldn’t know the latest in the search for Amelia Earhart. Nor would I know who should have custody of Kennewick Man. And, of course, I couldn’t share these tidbits with you.


Amelia Earhart’s disappearance is right up there with sightings of Elvis and UFOs in generating controversy. On July 2, 1937, she and navigator Fred Noonan vanished over the Pacific on their round-the-world attempt. What of their fate?


Howland Island was Earhart and Noonan’s intended destination. Nikumaroro, known in 1937 as Gardner Island, has been proposed as a crash site. This and other images from the Cross and Wright paper.

Science, July 3, 2015, cites publication of “The Nikumaroro bones identification controversy: First-hand examination versus evaluation by proxy—Amelia Earhart found or still missing?” by Pamela J. Cross and Richard Wright. Note, the paper can be had from Elsevier, free if downloaded by July 24, 2015.

Cross specializes in archaeological sciences at University of Bradford, in England; Wright is Emeritus Professor of Anthropology at University of Sydney, Australia. Their paper is a metastudy of conflicting papers concerning the Earhart disappearance.

In 1940, a partial skeleton was found on Gardner (now Nikumaroro) Island in Kiribati in the mid-Pacific. A 1941 British investigation concluded the remains were male, not Earhart’s.

In 1998, a paper by The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery reevaluated the 1940 findings. TIGHAR dissed the British researcher and suggested the bones were Earhart’s.


Nikumaroro Person. Highlighted bones are those found.

There are elements of a good detective story here—and also a sordid “he said/she said” tale. The original skeletal measurements were taken by Dr. David W. Hoodless. Reported TIGHAR in 1998, Hoodless was “… of unknown expertise.” Write Cross and Wright today, Hoodless was “perfectly competent to assess sex, age, body type, and ancestry of a human skeleton.”

Hoodless concluded the skeletal remains were of a stocky, muscular male of European ancestry. Earhart was 5’ 8” and her pilot license listed her weight at 118 lbs. What’s more, Cross and Wright note that the 1998 cranial analysis “given only four measurements is a worthless and potentially misleading exercise.”

They conclude “there is no supportable evidence to impugn the original British analyses. The most robust analysis of the Nikumaroro bones indicates that the individual was most likely a stocky male, not Amelia Earhart.”


Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan prior to their 1937 flight. Image from thehistoryblog.

Not cited in this controversy, but worth noting, Earhart’s navigator Fred Noonan was 6’ tall and also slender.

But wait! There’s more. According to the British Daily Mail, June 19, 2015, the game is far from over. “Robot closes in on ‘underwater anomaly’ off remote South Pacific island” reads part of the headline. TIGHAR claims to have recovered an aircraft fragment, and sonar readings suggest there’s more to be found.

The Daily Mail article also cites bizarre Earhartiana, one suggesting she’s still around, living under a different identity.

Not that TIGHAR hasn’t its own controversy. Critics have suggested it’s purely a business, not a charity. Notes the Daily Mail, “Already, public records show Gillespie [TIGHAR co-founder; his wife is another] has a state tax delinquency in Delaware for more than $55,000.”

Kennewick Man is another buried skeleton in Science, this one in the June 26, 2015, issue. Discovered in 1996 in Kennewick, Washington, the skeleton is one of the most complete of ancient remains, radiocarbon-dated at 8500 years old.


Kennewick Man or, as he’s known by Native Americans, Ancient One. Image from Science, June 26, 2015.

Science reports that, 11 years ago, Native Americans sought to gain custody and reinter the Ancient One. However, federal courts ruled at the time that he was not related to any modern tribe.

However, now researchers report in Nature on “The ancestry and affiliations of Kennewick Man.” Based on genome sequencing, they say Kennewick Man is closely related to at least one of five Washington-area tribes, the Colville. Writes Science, “The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which has custody of the skeleton, now says it will reopen the case for the Ancient One’s repatriation to the tribes.”

R.I.P., Ancient One. Which is likely more than we can expect for Nikumaroro Person. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2015

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