A team under the
direction of noted archaeologist Thomas F. King, Ph.D. (TIGHAR
#0391CE) conducted a survey of some of the island’s formerly settled
areas. Tom has extensive archaeological experience in Micronesia and
served as Project Archaeologist on TIGHAR’s Niku I expedition in
1989. The detailed exploration of the densely overgrown village was aided
by digitized and enhanced aerial photos of the settlement taken in its
heyday. Global positioning system (GPS) technology provided by Trimble
Navigation, Ltd. was used to collect data for the creation of accurate
maps of searched areas. The methodology employed involved identifying
specific formerly inhabited sites and carefully clearing away subsequent
overgrowth and fallen vegetation to permit both visual and remote-sensing
inspection. This survey resulted in the recovery of over 100 artifacts
a number of which appear to be aircraft components. Whether any will
be conclusively identifiable as components salvaged from the Earhart
Electra remains to be determined.
U.S. Army Corps
of Engineers hydrologist Kenton Spading (TIGHAR #1382CE) led a team
which operated a launch especially outfitted with remote-sensing technology
with which to search the lagoon floor for large metal targets. An electromagnetic
(EM) sensor and a Schonstedt Instruments underwater magnetometer were
configured to detect the presence of both ferrous and non-ferrous objects,
even if buried under silt and sand. In addition, a Scuba Team led by
retired USAF Lt.Col. Van Hunn (TIGHAR #1459CE) performed a visual search
of the designated search areas. While the lagoon search did not yield
wreckage from the Earhart aircraft, only a small portion of the lagoon
bottom could be covered in the limited time available.
A search for further
personal effects and possibly even human remains was conducted in Aukaraime
(south) District, the area where previously recovered artifacts and
island folklore indicate that Earhart and Noonan may have perished.
Methodology was be similar to that employed by the Village Survey team
but also included the deployment of a Geonics EM38 Ground Conductivity
Meter. Scholarly opinion holds that human remains encountered by Gilbertese
laborers were probably buried near the site of discovery and the graves
marked, but not necessarily in a durable fashion. An EM38 sweep of the
suspect area produced data which indicate anomalies. These data will
now be analyzed using more powerful software than was available on the
expedition and will then be interpreted by experts to determine if there
are sites worthy of excavation. There were also archaeological discoveries
made at the site which were recovered and will be analyzed.
To provide aerial
reconnaissance and photographic support for the search teams, the expedition
was equipped with a two-place, Quicksilver MXL Sport R 583, ultra-light
type aircraft on floats. However, severe weather prevented its use.
The Niku III expedition
was led by TIGHAR’s Executive Director Richard E. Gillespie.