Seventy-five years after her ill-fated attempt to fly around the world, local legend Amelia Earhart is back in the news. According to a report presented Friday by The International Group For Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) at their Earhart Search 75 Conference, analysis of artifacts found on Nikumaroro Island adds evidence to their theory that Earhart died there. What were the artifacts? Pieces of a small glass jar.
The broken glass was found on an earlier TIGHAR expedition to Nikumaroro. Known as Gardner Island in 1937, the uninhabited island lies along the flight path being followed by Earhart at the time of her last known in-flight transmission. Artifacts, debris, and even a partial skeleton were found on the island as far back as 1940, but were not definitively linked to Earhart. For over 20 years, TIGHAR researchers have attempted to find evidence to prove that Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, did not crash at sea, but landed on atoll and died there as castaways.
Five broken pieces of glass found on the island were reassembled to form a small glass jar. Although no label remained, the jar is the same size and shape as the packaging for Dr. Berry’s Freckle Ointment, a face cream popular at the time. Earhart is known to have been self-conscious about her freckles, lending weight to the theory that the jar belonged to her. Researchers do not believe that the jar is random debris that washed up on the island; four of the broken pieces were found together, while the fifth piece was found about 65 feet away near turtle bones. Ric Gillespie, executive director of TIGHAR, told Discovery News that the fifth piece of glass appears to have been used as a cutting tool.
Over the years, a number of artifacts have been found in the area called Seven Site, an archaeological site on the southeast end of the island. In 1940, a British Colonial Service officer found a partial skeleton in the area, along with a woman’s shoe, an empty bottle and a sextant box of the type Noonan carried. Unfortunately, these items have since been lost, but according to forensic anthropologist Karen Ramey Burns, documents from the time indicate that the remains appeared to be those of a tall female of European descent, a description consistent with that of the 5’7” Earhart.
The site is in a remote area of an already remote island. A U.S. Naval aviator that flew over the area did report signs of recent habitation on the atoll, which had last been inhabited in 1892 by a small group planting coconuts. Aerial searches turned up no signs of life, however, and a ground search was not done. Seven Site, however, would not have been easily visible from the air, and Earhart could have easily been missed, even if she or Noonan attempted to signal. Ramsey told Discovery News , “I have stood in plain sight on Nikumaroro in a white shirt waving wildly as a helicopter flew over me and was not noticed until the video tape of the flight was examined.”
TIGHAR researchers will be returning to Nikumaroro with equipment capable of searching the deep water near the site in hopes of finding remains of Earhart’s Lockheed Electra. The Niku 7 expedition sets out on July 2, 2012, the anniversary of Earhart’s disappearance. Photos of many of the artifacts already found can be seen on their Facebook page.
Locally, the anniversary will be commemorated at Atchison’s annual Amelia Earhart Festival, held each year in the third week of July. This is the sixteenth year for the festival, and the festivities will kick off on July 20 with a concert featuring Chris Young, Jerrod Niemann and Sunny Sweeney. Advance tickets at $25.00 and available through the LakeFest website. Tickets at the gate will be $30.00. Children 10 and younger are free.