Scientists are currently analyzing three bone fragments found on a deserted island in the South Pacific to determine if they might belong to Amelia Earhart, the aviator who disappeared in an attempt to fly around the world in 1937. The scientists are hoping to extract DNA evidence from the bones, which appeared in May and June at what seemed to be an abandoned campsite. More skeletal remains and a sextant box were found in the area in 1940, but disappeared after being sent to Fiji.
Before you get too excited, the fragments, which seem to be part of a finger, a neck bone, and a cervical bone, could also be from a turtle. The remains were found near a hollowed-out turtle shell that might have been used to be gather rain water (a plausible explanation, since there were no other turtle parts found nearby).
“There’s no guarantee,” said Ric Gillespie, director of the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery in Delaware. “You only have to say you have a bone that may be human and may be linked to Earhart and people get excited. But it is true that, if they can get DNA, and if they can match it to Amelia Earhart’s DNA, that’s pretty good.”
The researchers explained in an interview with the AP that bird and fish carcasses found nearby suggest that they may have been prepared by Westerners. They also found bits of makeup. The island’s physical terrain could also have allowed for an emergency landing. But overall, there doesn’t seem to be overwhelming evidence that this is Amelia Earhart’s body, and the researchers are urging caution.
“I think it’s best to talk about more when we have something say about it,” said one of the anthropology professors at the lab. “Think how disheartened people will be if it’s just a turtle bone.”
As far as I’m concerned, I don’t really care whether this is Earhart’s body – the way we remember her life matters far more, since she was not only one of the pioneers of aviation, but a complex, turbulent woman whose dramatic disappearance (and probable demise) often overshadows the intricacies of her life. Last summer, after reading a profile of Earhart in the New Yorker, I was struck by how obsessed we are with the myth of Amelia Earhart, without acknowledging her paradoxes and struggles, especially the way she refused to allow her gender define her. So instead of obsessively following the research surrounding her remains (although we’ll keep you updated if there’s progress!), I suggest reading Judith Thurman’s fascinating profile, and rethinking the way we remember Amelia Earhart’s life, instead of puzzling over the circumstances of her death.
Photo from Nasa Images.