We have received many suggestions that the infant bones found in a grave on Nikumaroro might be those of a baby born to Amelia Earhart and possibly fathered by Fred Noonan while they were castaways on the island. With only the very limited information provided in various television documentaries, it’s not unreasonable speculation but it’s not a realistic possibility.
During TIGHAR’s 1991 Niku II expedition we excavated a small grave on a remote part of the island. We wondered whether the grave might contain bones rumored to have been found when the island was first settled a few years after Earhart disappeared (see The Floyd Kilts Story). We knew it was created by the Gilbertese islanders who were settled there by the British because the grave was oriented east/west in accordance with local tradition and lined with coral slabs like other graves in the abandoned village. This grave was different only in that it was small and a long way from the village.
Excavating the grave was done with the approval of the Kiribati government representative who was with us and the exhumation was carried out according to sound archaeological protocols. When we got deep enough it became apparent that whatever had been buried was contained in a box made of green wood which had sprouted small roots that completely filled the inside of the box. Again, the presence of a locally-built box was consistent with a burial performed by the Gilbertese settlers.
The bones in the box turned out to be those of an infant. Disappointing, to be sure, but not totally unexpected, and the grave was a possibility that needed to be checked out.
Any chance that the child was Amelia’s seems vanishingly small. The grave was clearly of Gilbertese construction and not something created by a castaway. For the bones to be Earhart’s baby, the dead unburied child – but not its mother – would have to have been found by the settlers and buried after they arrived in 1939. The part of island where the child was buried, although never settled with permanent residents, was allocated to families who lived in the village. Aerial photos show that in 1941 the area was cleared and existing coconut palms confirm that it was planted. In other words, that plot of land was a small coconut plantation owned by one of the families in the village. There is really no reason to think that the child was not associated with that family. Why it wasn’t buried in the village along with other deceased members of the colony remains a mystery.