Amelia Earhart, the legendary American pilot who went missing while on an attempt to fly around the world in 1937, may have survived for months as a castaway on a remote South Pacific island, according to new findings.
Preliminary results of a two-week expedition on Nikumaroro, an uninhabited tropical island in the southwestern Pacific republic of Kiribati, suggested that the famous pilot and her navigator Fred Noonan may have eaten turtles, fish and bird to survive on the tiny coral atoll after making an emergency landing.
“There is evidence on the island suggesting that a castaway was there for weeks and possibly months,” Ric Gillespie, executive director of The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR), told Discovery News.
“We noticed that the forest can be an excellent source of water for a castaway in an island where there is no fresh water. After heavy rain, you can easily collect water from the bowl-shaped hollows in the buka trees.
“We also found a campsite and nine fire features containing thousands of fish, turtle and bird bones. This might suggest that many meals took place there,” Mr. Gillespie said.
Earhart had begun her record attempt to fly around the world at the equator in March 1937 but went missing over the central Pacific Ocean near Howland Island in July that year. Two years later she was declared dead following a massive search operation.
TIGHAR’s expedition to Nikumaroro was the tenth since 1989. During the previous campaigns, the team uncovered a number of artefacts which, combined with archival research, provide strong circumstantial evidence for a castaway presence.
“On this expedition we have recovered nearly 100 objects,” Mr. Gillespie said. Among the items, 10 are being tested by a Canadian lab for DNA.
The best candidate for contact DNA appears to be a small glass jar, two buttons, parts of a broken pocket knife, a cloth that appears to have been shaped as a bow, and cosmetic fragments of rouge from a woman’s compact, the archaeologist said.
The excavation took place on the island’s remote southeast end, in an area called the Seven Site, where the campsite and fire features were found.
“Only someone who really knew the island could choose this place. This is Nikumaroro’s best place, it has shade and breeze, and it is close to the lagoon and the ocean. Here, red-tailed tropicbirds are nesting and are very easy to catch,” Mr. Gillespie said.
The site is densely vegetated with shrubs known as Scaevola frutescens, and may be where the castaways’ last meals were consumed. It is also the place from where a partial skeleton of a castaway was found in 1940.
Recovered by British Colonial Service Officer Gerald Gallagher, human remains were described in a forensic report and attributed to an individual “more likely female than male”.