The Nikumaroro Bones Have Not Been Proven to be Amelia Earhart
Eighty years after her disappearance, Amelia Earhart is in the news again. Researcher Dr. Richard Jantz, University of Tennessee, believes 13 bones discovered in 1940 belong to Amelia Earhart. The bones are known collectively as “The Nikumaroro Bones” and were discovered on the remote coral atoll Nikumaroro 3 years after Earhart disappeared. Unfortunately, Jantz uses a rhetorical fallacy to support his claims. He states that “until definitive evidence is presented that the remains are not those of Amelia Earhart, the most convincing argument is that they are hers.” No credible researcher says this.
Amelia Earhart is a mystery that needs to be solved. Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, were attempting to fly around the world when Earhart’s plane disappeared on July 2, 1937. Researchers and enthusiasts have sought to find them ever since. Richard Jantz desperately wants to solve this mystery. His paper “Amelia Earhart and the Nikumaroro Bones: A 1941 Analysis versus Modern Quantitative Techniques” has been published in the journal Forensic Anthropology this month.
- However, Jantz’s newly published study has several flaws. The 13 bones that were found in 1937 were examined by Dr. D.W. Hoodless in 1941. At that time, Hoodless determined the bones were of a 5’5” European male. Conveniently, the bones were lost, with some reports that Hoodless disposed of them. Jantz did not examine the bones. He examined the measurements Hoodless took.
- Earhart was a very tall woman. She stood anywhere between 5’7” to 5’9”. Hardly close to the measurement determined by Hoodless. However, Jantz uses the inconsistencies of her height as supporting that she was in fact shorter than she appeared. In the picture below, Earhart is standing with (L-R) Dr. Gilbert Grosvenor, President of the National Geographic Society; President Herbert Hoover; and First Lady Lou Henry Hoover. President Hoover stood 6 feet tall. Earhart appears to be in 2-inch heels. She would appear to be 5 feet 9-10 inches tall.
- Next, Jantz relies on computer technology to support his claim. He analyzed the measurements using ForDisc, a computer program used by forensic anthropologists. Jantz co-created the program. Further, the program documentation states that it “should not be used for classification of archaeological remains.” In addition, at least one research study shows the program as flawed.
- Using the computer program he co-created, Jantz formulated a conclusion (that the bones belong to Amelia Earhart) and then worked backwards to prove his claim. This is not how scientific experiments work. In fact, this is not the acceptable practice in science and is highly unethical.
- Finally, Jantz boldly stated, “The only documented person to whom they may belong is Amelia Earhart.” He declared that the he is “99% sure” the bones are Earhart’s. The word “documented” is troublesome. Jantz presumes (incorrectly) that every ancestry attribution is included in the program. As Marina Elliott and Mark Collard concluded in 2009: “Fordisc will only return a correct ancestry attribution when an unidentified specimen is more or less complete and belongs to one of the populations represented in the program’s reference samples.” But most importantly, ForDisc is only intended to identify sex and ancestry. It is not intended to identify people.
Amelia Earhart’s disappearance remains a mystery. However, the mystery will not be solved when people use dubious evidence to support a conclusion they have already made. Jantz wants to be the one to solve the mystery. Unfortunately, he has gone about it all wrong.