A shoe, a bottle of Benedictine, and bones
March 8, 2018 5:47 AM   Subscribe

After re-examining bones found on the South Pacific island of Nikumaroro in 1940, and comparing them to written and photographic records of her physical measurements, University of Tennessee professor Richard L. Jantz believes these bones belong to famed aviator Amelia Earhart, saying that her measurements were “more similar to the Nikumaroro bones than 99 [percent] of individuals in a large reference sample,” thus supporting the long-held theory that Earhart died a castaway on the island.

From the study:
This paper addresses two issues: (1) it evaluates Hoodless’s methods and Cross and Wright’s support of them, and (2) it compares the Nikumaroro bones with what we can learn about Amelia Earhart’s bone lengths. When Hoodless conducted his analysis, forensic osteology was not yet a well-developed discipline. 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. To address the question of whether the Nikumaroro bones match estimates of Amelia Earhart’s bone lengths, I compare Earhart’s bone lengths with the Nikumaroro bones using Mahalanobis distance. This analysis reveals that Earhart is more similar to the Nikumaroro bones than 99% of individuals in a large reference sample. This strongly supports the conclusion that the Nikumaroro bones belonged to Amelia Earhart.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane (13 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Awesome! I wonder if the Chasing Earhart podcast will cover this soon. I'd love for them to dig deeper into this and maybe even get an interview with Jantz.
posted by Major Matt Mason Dixon at 6:10 AM on March 8

There’s a beautiful beautiful field
Far away in a land that is fair
Happy landings to you Amelia Earhart
Farewell first lady of the air
posted by aspersioncast at 6:43 AM on March 8 [8 favorites]

Aside from the bones, here is Wikipedia on how Earhart and Noonan might have wound up on that island and other evidence thereof.
posted by exogenous at 7:04 AM on March 8 [1 favorite]

That time of the year already?
posted by Leon at 7:54 AM on March 8 [1 favorite]

Yes, the time of year where TIGHAR raises more money with irresponsible hype. Skeptical take on 2016 version, previous discussion.
posted by Nelson at 1:06 PM on March 8 [4 favorites]

The Onion weighs in.
posted by ckape at 1:18 PM on March 8 [3 favorites]

Yes, the time of year where TIGHAR raises more money with irresponsible hype.

There is no mention of TIGHAR on Jantz's Wikipedia, though TIGHAR are shining a light on his work on their site. So I don't know if he's involved with that group directly or they're signal boosting because he's drawn the same conclusions.

I dunno, thought it was neat.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 1:59 PM on March 8

> There is no mention of TIGHAR on Jantz's Wikipedia

"in collaboration with". Make of that what you will, but it's a pretty safe bet that everything tying Nikumaroro to Earhart was paid for by TIGHAR at some point. It's definitely fascinating - when the TIGHAR site first cropped up on Metafilter I think I spent about two days reading the whole thing, and I pore over every expedition report when it's released. I'd be delighted if they luck out and find something incontrovertible.

But despite their "scientific" language, they're looking for evidence to support their theory, not evidence to falsify it. Nelson's Skeptoid link is a bit disingenuous, but it's not that far from the truth. They're not really doing science, or even archaeology.

For example that "large reference sample", as I understand it (and I haven't read the paper yet - I'm still going by secondary sources), consists of about 3400 modern American skeletons. No 100-year-old Pacific Islanders in that data set, as far as I know.
posted by Leon at 2:30 PM on March 8

Loved the Freakwater cover of that song.
posted by aspersioncast at 3:07 PM on March 8

Man, The Onion is fast.
posted by zardoz at 3:43 PM on March 8 [1 favorite]

I'm a sucker for these mysteries. Earhart, DB Cooper, Clint Eastwood escaping Alcatraz, Butch Cassidy, it's crazy how they just vanish into history.
posted by Beholder at 2:12 AM on March 9

I mean, it's not like we don't already know what happened to Earhart.
posted by Halloween Jack at 4:31 AM on March 9 [1 favorite]

The paper itself is a good read. The original classification of the bones as male appears to have been done by someone who had insufficient background to be doing that sort of thing and at a time when even the experts in the area regularly made mistakes. The journal publishing the paper is new-ish but seems legitimate.
posted by exogenous at 5:04 AM on March 9 [1 favorite]

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