KNOXVILLE, TN — Bones discovered on a Pacific island are likely the remains of American pilot Amelia Earhart, says University of Tennessee anthropologist Richard Jantz.
Jantz, who directs UT’s Forensic Anthropology Center in Knoxville, says the bones were originally discovered in 1940, but only modern quantitative techniques have allowed he and his team of experts to finally make a determination.
The bones, which were first examined by Dr. D.W. Hoodless decades ago, were initially dismissed as having belonged to Earhart because they were ruled to have come from a man. But in his findings, Jantz states that forensic osteology, the science initially used to study the bones “was not yet a well-developed discipline” when Hoodless conducted his analysis.
“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,” says Jantz.
Although the bones are no longer available, Jantz used bone measurement analysis to determine that the skeletal remains match estimates of Earhart’s bone lengths.
“This analysis reveals that Earhart is more similar to the Nikumaroro bones than 99% of individuals in a large reference sample,” writes Jantz. “This strongly supports the conclusion that the Nikumaroro bones belonged to Amelia Earhart.”
Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan disappeared on July 2, 1937, during a flight from Papua New Guinea to Howland Island in the Pacific. The two were attempting to fly around the world.
The pair’s disappearance baffled investigators and has remained the source of speculation ever since.
The remains were discovered by a British expedition team exploring the island for settlement, according to the study. The expedition’s officer ordered a more thorough search of the area after a human skull was found in an area of debris. A woman’s shoe was also uncovered not far from where the bones were located. The shoe size matched that known to have been worn by Earhart.
While Jantz says he cannot be 100% certain that the bones belong to Earhart, the possibility that they belong to anyone else is slim to none.
“If these bones are not Amelia Earhart, the person to whom they do belong just happened to be very similar to her, and that’s unlikely,” Jantz NBC’s Joe Fryer during an appearance Thursday on the “Today” show.
Officially, the bodies of Earhart and Noonan remain classified as missing at sea. It is believed that the pair died when their plane crashed in the ocean.