Where in the world is Amelia Earhart? Well, we may finally know. Just last week, Richard Jantz, researcher at the University of Tennessee, authored an article in the journal of Forensic Anthropology in which he supported the claim that bones found on Nikumaroro, an island in the Pacific, in 1940 belonged to the famed Amelia Earhart.
While the bones have been examined by scientists in the past, Jantz claims that “forensic anthropology was not well developed” at the time of the original investigations. In 1941, the remains had been analyzed by principal of the Central Medical School, Dr. D. W. Hoodless, in Fiji. He had concluded that the bones belonged to a male based on his knowledge at the time.
Many wonder if this oversight was simply due to lack of knowledge and technology, or the age-old act of sexism that historically left women in the dust. Jantz’s study compared the humerus and tibia measurements of the bones to Amelia Earhart’s measurements as taken by a seamstress using a computer program known as Fordisc, which, according to the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, can estimate “sex, ancestry, and stature from skeletal measurements.” Jantz also compared the data to the measurements of the crewmembers of a 1929 shipwreck and native Pacific islanders. According to the statement from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, the Fordisc program “found that Hoodless had incorrectly determined the sex of the remains.” Still, “the only documented person to whom they may belong is Amelia Earhart,” said Jantz. The Fordisc program confirmed with 99 percent certainty that the bones did, in fact, belong to Amelia Earhart.
Suspicions on the care and accuracy with which Hoodless treated the remains continue, especially because he threw out the bones after determining them to be “a short and stocky Englishman,” according to cnn.com. Was he incompetent, or did he have a reason for burying evidence on Amelia Earhart’s disappearance and partial success?
According to NPR, one of the three leading theories on her disappearance was that Earhart likely survived the initial plane crash and would have died as a castaway on the island of Nikumaroro. There are blurry photos that could have been of Earhart around the time of her disappearance that have been debated for years (cnn.com). This is further supported by the discovery of credible distress calls from Earhart all throughout the initial search period, July 2 1937 through July 18 1937 according to nbcnews.com. According to NBC, 57 out of the 120 reported distress calls during that time period were actually from Earhart. Findings suggest that she and navigator Edward Noonan survived the landing on Nikumaroro and the reason they were not seen from overhead was that the plane would have been washed away over the reef only weeks after their landing according to nbcnews.com. According to washingtonpost.com, the bones, which werediscovered in 1940, were accompanied by what appeared to be a woman’s shoe (according to the British expedition officer whose troops found the bones). All evidence is suggestive of the validity of the Nikumaroro theory, and the recent remeasurement of the bones by Jantz and the University of Tennessee only bolsters it.
So, if there was so much evidence that Amelia Earhart managed to survive for weeks after running out of fuel during her daring attempt at a trip around the world, why was she never found? Many people discounted the distress calls, saying they must be hoaxes and Earhart must have died. After all, many still believed that a woman could never accomplish what Earhart almost did. Was this the real reason that Hoodless tossed aside the bones he was given? It seems off that someone would get rid of bones that could so easily have been Earhart’s or even Noonan’s. The mystery of her disappearance has kept Earhart’s legend alive for the last eighty years more than her accomplishments have. Now, with her disappearance almost conclusively explained, will history shine more light on her success?
It seems so fitting that the news would break last week. While the article itself was published on March 6, the news was brought to the public on March 7, also known as International Women’s Day. For many women and girls, Amelia Earhart is a role model worthy of praise and admiration. She was a well-renowned woman pilot during a time of great misogyny and an all-around feminist. Earhart was known for being a confident and astute woman who would clear the way for many others to achieve their dreams. Now, girls everywhere can grow up knowing that she only missed her fuel mark by 400 miles, which is almost nothing when traveling by plane. Even though she never accomplished her dream of traveling around the world at the equator, Earhart still managed to break the women’s altitude record, become the first woman to fly across the Atlantic, publish a book, be the first woman to fly solo nonstop from coast to coast, set the women’s nonstop transcontinental speed record, be the first person to travel solo from Oakland to Honolulu and several other destinations, and be the first person to fly from the Red Sea to India. She deserves to have her story told. The world should know who she was, what she did, and how she died. The evidence all points to an extremely capable pilot who made a simple navigation error, but is the world ready to accept that?