Niku IIII logo A Summary From a Jet-Lagged Perspective

by Ric Gillespie, Executive Director, TIGHAR

Dateline: Wilmington, Delaware, 1600 Wednesday, September 28, 2001.

Sunset Reflections

Niku IIII was the most successful Earhart expedition ever conducted. Whether or not it has produced the proverbial smoking gun remains to be seen, but there is no question that we have now identified and begun the clearing and excavation of a bona-fide archaeological site on Nikumaroro that is producing artifacts which have the potential of conclusively solving the Earhart mystery.

Going into this expedition, thirteen years and five expeditions had revealed archival, photographic and artifactual evidence that strongly suggested that the island was where Earhart and Noonan met their fate, but the paramount question has always been, “Yes, but where?”A few airplane parts found in the village may well be from the Electra but were clearly brought there from somewhere else. The grave and shoe parts on Aukeraime looked promising for a time but the grave proved to be that of an infant, the shoe ultimately didn’t fit, and a detailed look at that site revealed nothing but a campfire containing a 1970s vintage can label.
Artifact 26S21Artifact 26S30Artifact 26S43

By contrast, the Seven Site has proven to be rich in a variety of artifacts. Like most archaeological sites it bears evidence of layers of activity over time. Clearly the Gilbertese colonists and the U.S. Coast Guardsmen were there at various times and left their respective debris behind, but there are also definite indications of an earlier presence at the site – indications that are consistent with the presence and residence of a person or persons who fashioned primitive tools from 20th century objects and subsisted inexpertly on local food sources (for example, bashing rather than cutting giant clams open). We know, of course, that a castway or castaways died on the island and was ultimately written off by British authorities as being “some unfortunate native.” However, if initial indications from the the Niku IIII excavations at the Seven Site are borne out by subsequent research, the castaway or castaways exhibited “Western” rather than “native” behavior. If, in fact, any of the bits of lightweight metal technology recovered from the site prove to be from prewar aviation-related items there will be a distinct scent of gunsmoke in the air.

Measuring Grave StoneGrave excavation

The grave site that wasn’t.

In addition to the very positive results at the Seven Site, the Niku IIII expedition answered several other important questions:
  1. Do either of the grave-like features (Grave 3 and Grave 4) on the Nutiran shore hold human remains that match anecdotal acounts of bones found in that area? No.
  2. Is the Triangle Site on the southern shore of Aukeraime a reasonable candidate as the place where the castway’s bones were found in 1940? No.
  3. Is the anomaly in the satellite photo the wreckage seen by Emily Sikuli? No.
  4. Is there aircraft wreckage in the canyons or on the ledge off the west end of the island? No.
  5. Is there shipwreck and/or aircraft debris visible on the lagoon bottom just inside the main ocean passage? No.
  6. Does metal debris from the reef wash into the lagoon and around the corners of the passage to lie buried under sand and coral? Yes.
Norwich City debris fieldSome vital questions remain unanswered:
  1. Where is all the Norwich City debris that must have washed into the lagoon? Buried in the lagoon bottom? Airplane debris from the reef should logically follow the same or similar pattern.
  2. We’ve only scratched the surface at the Seven Site. What lies buried beneath the tangles of scaevola we haven’t yet cleared?
Field work is data collection. In a search operation sometimes (read usually) the data are entirely negative – that is, you only establish where something isn’t. Niku IIII produced plenty of that kind of information but it also produced that rarest of commodities: it established where something is. We have recovered some of it and in the coming weeks and months well need a lot of help to discover the significance of what we have brought back.

Once we’ve had a chance to do some high quality photography under controlled conditions we’ll be mounting an Artifact Identification section here on the TIGHAR website and publishing it in TIGHAR Tracks. We’ll be seeking out all kinds of experts in specialized fields and commissioning a wide variety of studies and laboratory tests. It will be time consuming and it will be expensive. We will need your help; you can contribute to this important work by clicking HERE.

For my part, I want to thank you all for making this expedition possible. All of us out there felt your presence with us and you made us strong. I want to thank the team for their unflagging dedication, courage and hard, hard work. They gathered a tremendous amount of information with a lightness and good humor that belied the trying and often dangerous conditions under which they labored. They didn’t break any equipment and nobody got hurt. They made it look easy – and it isn’t.

Crew composite photo Suliana, Capt. Fritz, and Mo – three of the wonderful Nai’a crew who made the expedition work so well.
I also want to thank the captain and crew of the good ship Nai’a. They were as much a part of the TIGHAR team as any of us and they went far beyond their contractual obligations to give us the support that made our success achievable. There are many, many others I want to, and will, thank in due course but for now, let me say again how delighted I am to be back home with so much new information to digest, analyze, and interpret. In many ways the most exciting part of the expedition is just beginning.
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The Earhart Project is funded by charitable contributions. Donations by check (payable to TIGHAR) or credit card (Visa, Discover, or Master Card) may be sent to TIGHAR, The Earhart Project, 2812 Fawkes Drive, Wilmington, DE 19808, or click on the links above to make your contribution. Confidential inquiries regarding sponsorship opportunities for individuals or corporations should be addressed to Executive Director Richard Gillespie (email Ric@tighar.org).

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