Forum artHighlights From the Forum

October 7 through 20, 2001


Contents:
(click on the number to go directly to that message)
1 Rain John Pratt
2 Bones, Bones, and Bones Craig
3 Questions for Loran Vets Dick Evans
4 Re: Bones, Bones and Bones Tom King
5 Folklore Research Kenton Spading
6 Rainwater and Atoll Lenses Christian D.
7 Signal Strengths and Distance Mike Everette

Message: 1
Subject: Rain
Date: 10/15/01
From: John Pratt

The picture of a castaway surviving at the seven site leads to curiosity about the environment at that time. Historically Nikumaroro has had a variation in rainfal, up to recorded droubts that effected the colonists. Within Southwestern archeology there is a study of prehistoric climate, probably now called paleoclimatology, using tree-ring widths and pollen ratios as well as other measurements.

I have no idea about coconut trees, but perhaps the Buka could give a reasonable sequence. Does Nikumaroro have a climate of seasonal rainfall, sort of like California?

In addition, coral cores might also give a sequence of ocean surface temperatures in case the local island conditions correlate. See Coral Paleoclimatology (probably TIGHAR’s partners in the satellite photo).

Why is it relevant?

  1. The lushness or lack of the environment might determine the castaway's activities, giving new clues to interpretation of artifacts or clues to finding of new evidence.
  2. Fresh water would be a major preoccupation, and potential determinant of life span. Presumably in a drought, one has to dig. In a rainy period, one sets out water catchment. Can we get a correlation between July 1937 rainfall and castaway behavior? (Scary thought: the clam shells are piled because they were not water catchers but diggers. The hole? Abortive well becomes convenient grave.)

One other possible source of a castaway, motivated by the speculation that the bones were years old, was the Norwich City wreck. Now that a bone experiment is in hand, does that help dispell the Norwich Castle Castaway hypothesis or do we need to do the climate comparison back into the 1920s?


From Ric

I agree that an understanding of the available climatological data for the region is vital if we're going to make informed guesses about castaway behavior. Unfortunately, the absence of clear seasons in that part of the world makes tree ring analysis problematical. We do, however, have some solid rainfall data for the region and a number of contemporaneous written observations that provide a good, if incomplete, picture of the conditions faced by a castaway.

We have annual rainfall data for Gardner for:

1944 58.19 inches 1954 22.07 inches
1945 32.89 inches 1955 29.11 inches
1946 56.44 inches 1956 26.87 inches
1947 19.13 inches 1957 89.62 inches
1948 53.27 inches 1958 107.18 inches
1949 43.98 inches 1959 60.01 inches
1950 no data 1960 61.17 inches
1951 30.60 inches 1961 57.01 inches
1952 40.11 inches 1962 10.81 inches
1953 91.46 inches 1963 48.92 inches

As you can see, the annual rainfall is highly variable and the environment so fragile that just one really bad year – 1962 – forced the abandonment of the colony. All of the water, whether caught in cisterns or drawn from wells, comes from rainwater. The well water is merely rain that has seeped into the ground and rests as a “lens” above the hard underground base. When it doesn’t rain it doesn’t do any good to dig a well.

To go back earlier than 1944 we have to go to records for Canton Island, 200 miles away. Canton is normally gets about half as much rain annually as Gardner. In 1943 the annual rainfall at Canton was 15.53 inches. Data are not available for 1942, 1941, 1940. In 1939 the annual rainfall at Canton was 18.57. 1938 was a drought year. Canton got 8.68 inches. Hull (just a little over a hundred miles east of Gardner) got only 9.43 inches. When Maude arrived at Gardner with the first settlers on December 20, 1938 he was alarmed to see how desiccated the island looked compared to when he had had last seen it in October 1937.

When Maude and Bevington visited the island in October 1937 they found the vegetation lush and came away with a very favorable impression of the prospects for colonization. During their three-day stay they (or, more accurately, their Gilbertese associates) dug eight wells – four on Nutiran and two on the south side of the main passage in what would later be the village. Five of the wells, including the two on the south side, produced water which Maude’s official report described as being of “indifferent quality” (Bevington’s diary says he “drew a blank”). Two of the wells produced water of “fair quality” according to Maude and one produced water that was “fresher than many in the Gilberts.” In 1938 no drinkable well water could be found.

Almost no climatological data are available for the Phoenix Group prior to 1937. We know that the Norwich City survivors were hard pressed to find drinking water to the point of drinking rainwater that had collected in crab holes. The several accounts written by survivors make no mention of trying to dig a well.

So what can we say about a castaway? Up until 1938 there should have been adequate rainfall for a resourceful castaway to survive on “catchment” water. 1938, however, started out bad and only got worse. How long a castaway could survive is anybody’s guess. For what it’s worth, Floyd Kilts’ story held that the “cognac” bottle found with the body had “fresh water in it for drinking.” If that is true, it’s more difficult to attribute the castaway’s death purely to dehydration.

LTM,
Ric


Message: 2
Subject: Bones, Bones and Bones
Date: 10/16/01
From: Craig

Welcome back to the world of the working. I hope you enjoyed your well deserved vacation.

Three things have been running through my mind in the past week. They are more “cultural” in nature than based on hard evidence, so I’ll apologize in advance if anyone thinks they are not the subject of the forum.

(1) Any thoughts as to whether we seriously expect one castaway to bury the other. I mean, in my western society, it’s the natural inclination. In Tom Hanks’ world of castaways, it was his inclination as well. I picture myself on an island, expecting to be rescued. Burying a companion on the would be physically diffcult and mentally exhausting from a number of perspectives – despair being a prominent one. I would think it would depend on the condition of the living castaway as well. Do we lean in any direction on this?

(2) Have we any knowledge as to why the adults of the island wanted to keep their children away from possible bone areas on the island? We know their spiritual beliefs played a part. My hard look wonders if that’s all.

Many civilizations create rules by which children are to abide, mainly created for children’s protection – to keep them out of trouble. It seems to me that if the inhabitants followed through on their spiritual beliefs as we know them, they would have burried any exposed bones, instead of creating possible ghost stories to scare the children from playing near them.

Is this an incongruity, or am I off base?

(3) Gruesome as this may sound, would any of these inhabitants have picked up any of said bones? Might this be a reason for creating ghost stories – to keep explorative children from dragging home something unexpected? Any ornaments in the village made from bone?

Courage,
Craig, a new TIGHAR addict, from New Brunswick.


From Ric

Thanks Craig. Good questions.

1. I agree that whether or not one castaway might bury another is probably a function of physical obstacles. For example, just for argument’s sake let’s assume that Fred and AE are hanging out at the Seven Site, trying to stay alive until somebody shows up. Now, lets say that Fred gets hurt or gets sick and, for whatever reason, dies right there at the campsite. AE’s choices are:

  1. She can bury him. To do that she probably has to drag the body down to the beach where there’s enough sand to dig a hole deep enough to at least cover the corpse. The digging at the Seven Site itself is way too difficult.
  2. She can let the crabs eat him and then bury the bones. Not at all an attractive option to have that going on where she could see it and smell it but (based on what we saw of crab behavior during Niku IIII) it would only take a couple of weeks or so.
  3. She can just leave the body where it is and move her camp to someplace else. But because the unburied bones of a castaway were found later, it appears that that didn’t happen.

2. We have two anecdotal accounts that describe the Nutiran shoreline near the shipwreck as being put “off limits.” Emily says that the Native Magistrate didn’t want anyone going there circa 1940–41. Tapania says that the grownups told the children not to play there in the late 1950s. She also describes airplane parts in the bushes and on the reef. Aluminum airplane wreckage can be extremely sharp. It’s possible that the ghost stories were just a way to scare the kids away from what was seen as a dangerous area.

3. As far as I know, the Gilbertese do not and never did make ornaments out of human bone.

Ric


Message: 3
Subject: Questions for Loran Station Veterans
Date: 10/17/01
From: Dick Evans

I’ll give you what answers I can. Actually there were only three or four occasions when anyone went onto the area on a sightseeing mission. We just didn't bother with things like that. On one occason we got an unidentified sub warning so they sent a couple of guys onto the windward side of the island where they spent the night watching for Japanese invaders, What a joke.

Question 1: We set up a target range a couple of hundreds south of the water collector which is what you call the Seven site. So there would have been a lot of 30 caliber shells laying around at that spot. No one on the island had a 22. Over the year a couple of guys walked to the lagoon from that point but I don’t think they had rifles and never shot at anything. The only shooting I remember – other than a bit of target practice to learn to shoot the rifles was when we would shoot at sharks. But that was always on the leeward side, usually at the native village. Maybe 10 shots all together.

Question 2: What did we do at Seven? Same thing we did everywhere else: SAT. Drank grapefrujit juice and medical alcohol ( I forget what we called the drink.) For the first time in my life I smoked a pipe. Mostly we talked about how anxious we were to get the hell off that island. We never caught anything and never cooked anything. Don’t ever remember taking anything from the base that we left there. Never built anything. Why would we have wanted to do that?

Question 3: Metal. Don’t remember anyone taking any such thing from the base. Don"t know any reason anyone would have.

Question 4: Recollections. The main thing I recall was that we found a water collector. This consisted of a tank that looked like it was made from a airplane gas tank that had been cut open and laid on its side. Above it was a wooden frame holding a water collector that was made out of some kind of cloth that looked like rough canvas. We also found a bucket that I don't remember anything about.

Happy to send you this valuable information. Be fascinated with it. I’m expecting to send your questions to one or two of the guys I am still in touch with.

Dick Evans


From Ric

Believe it or not, this is valuable information and we are fascinated.


Message: 4
Subject: Re: Bones, Bones and Bones
Date:

10/17/01

From: Tom King

A few bony comments:

>C. She can just leave the body where it is and move her camp to someplace
>else. But because the unburied bones of a castaway were found later, it
>appears that that didn’t happen.

What am I missing here? Why would the discovery of the unburied bones of one castaway mean that this castaway didn’t leave the unburied bones of another castaway someplace else? I’m not arguing that this is what happened; I just don't follow your logic. Incidentally, it seems to me that one real constraint on burying somebody would be the probable lack of anything to dig with.

>It seems to me that if the inhabitants followed through on their spiritual
>beliefs as we know them, they would have burried any exposed bones, instead
>of creating possible ghost stories to scare the children from playing near
>them.

Seems to me that if they followed through on their spiritual beliefs as we know them they wouldn’t have “created” ghost stories; they would have told them in the sincere belief that they were true.

> As far as I know, the Gilbertese do not and never did make ornaments out
> of human bone.

I don’t think they did either, but I’ll have to check to be sure. Some island groups did. Very unlikely anybody in the 20th century did, though. But bones figure heavily in Gilbertese tradition, sometimes getting chopped up, burned up, thrown in the ocean, etc. and reassembling themselves to make mischief. My impression is that bones were seen as powerful things – probably why the graves on Niku, as Gary Quigg knows so well, tend to be deep.

TK


From Ric

>Why would the discovery of the unburied bones of one castaway mean that this
>castaway didn’t leave the unburied bones of another castaway someplace else?

It doesn’t. My hypothetical scenario had AE and Fred at the Seven Site when Fred dies. Because the unburied bones found there (we think) were more likely AE’s than Fred’s (according to the measurements) then AE did not leave there. She could, of course, have moved to the Seven Site after leaving Fred unburied someplace else. Or, conversely, Fred could have left her unburied at the Seven Site and set up a new camp someplace else.

LTM,
Ric


Message: 5
Subject: Folklore Research
Date: 10/17/01
From: Kenton Spading

Ric wrote:

>The other point to remember is that, in the process of researching Gardner we
>have, by necessity, researched the exploration and settlement of the other
>islands of the Phoenix Group. Gardner is unique in its body of folklore
>about an aircraft wreck that predated the first settlement and the discovery
>of the remains of a castaway. There is nothing that points to any other
>island.

Indeed the exploration and settlement of other islands in the group has been researched....although certainly not to the extent that Gardner has. The spotlight that has been focused on Gardner has in turn resulted in research into the folklore of the island. For example, In the course of the Gardner/Niku investigation, former Gardner residents have been interviewed or contacted in Tuvalu, in the Solomons, in Fiji, in Kiribati and elsewhere and in doing so, a great deal has been learned about the folklore of the island.

I am not aware, however, of any research, other than cursory, into the folklore of the other islands. Which former residents of the other Phoenix islands have been interviewed in an effort to establish the “unique” folklore of each island?

Any consideration of the Gardner wreckage folklore needs to carefully weigh the influence that the Sydney Island wreck, the Norwich City and prior knowledge of TIGHAR’s interview goals, may have had on the interviewees. At least two of the folks who related Gardner aircraft wreck anecdotes (Emily and Pulekai) have familial or direct connections to Sydney Island.

In addition, two of them (Emily and Tapania) were briefed/spoken to by friends/relatives on what TIGHAR was looking for prior to being interviewed. This would seem to complicate the island specific (i.e. unique) aspect of the folklore. I am not suggesting that folklore research is ever “clean” or uncomplicated. It never is. I am saying that it is hard to assign unique qualities to the Gardner anecdotes when wrecks (both aircraft and ship) have occurred on other islands in the Phoenix group for which interviewees have direct knowledge and/or interviewees have been briefed prior to being interviewed. I could go on about how Gallagher may have influenced the native’s recollections/stories about bones and wreckage (both likely from the Norwich City) by relating information about the famous American pilot...but I will leave that to your imagination.

That brings us to the subject of whether or not Gardner is “unique” in relation to the discovery of the remains of a castaway. Using the term unique to qualify the Gardner castaway is complicated by the fact that eight sailors from the Norwich City were never found. In the same manner that it would be difficult for an injured, dehydrated Earhart crew member to attract the attention of the Colorado guys; it would also be difficult for an injured Norwich sailor, potentially separated from his comrades by two swollen lagoon inlets/outlets and thick brush, to gain the attention of his shipmates. The Norwich City incident complicates the “unique” nature of a castaway being found on the island. Never mind the fact that, for all we know, castaways were found on other islands in the Phoenix group. What research has been done to conclude that the Gardner discovery was unique? Yes, we have not heard of any others...but then finding the documentation of the Gardner castaway took nothing short of a miracle from Peter McQuarrie even though a dedicated team of TIGHARs had been working on the Earhart project for almost 10 years.

In all fairness I suggest that what Ric meant to say is that “Gardner appears (or may be) unique in its body of folklore about an aircraft wreck that predated the first settlement and the discovery of the remains of a castaway.”

LTM
Kenton Spading

p.s. The British in Fiji had at least two castaway discoveries reported to them (Gardner and Henderson Is.). Both included evidence of a women castaway.


From Ric

A couple of quick points:

>Using the term unique to qualify the Gardner castaway is complicated by the fact
> that eight sailors from the Norwich City were never found.

In researching the names of the lost Norwich City crewmen in preparation for mounting and dedicating the memorial plaque, I discovered a discrepancy in the casualty lists.

Newspaper accounts initially listed eleven men lost:

J. W. Horne, Third Engineer
T.E. Scott, Fourth Engineer
J. I. Jones, Steward
J.J. Leslie, Carpenter
F.Sumner, Ordinary Seaman

“and six of the following eight Arabs:”

Abdul Hassan
Redman Yousef
Mohammed Nassa
Saleb Ragee
Said Metanna
Ayed Naif
Ahmad Hassan
Abdul Wahab

However, the records of the court of naval inquiry in Apia include the following names among the list of survivors:

Abdul Hassin (This must be Abdul Hassan listed above. We have a complete crew list.)
Mohammed Noss (Listed above as Mohammed Nassa)
Abdul Wahab

It would seem, therefore, that only ten men were lost in the disaster:

Horne
Scott
Jones
Leslie
Sumner
Yousef
Ragee
Metanna
Naif
Ahmad
Hassan

Of these, Jones, Leslie, and one of the Arabs washed up and were buried. Seven bodies were never found and were presumed drowned.

>I am not aware, however, of any research, other than cursory, into the folklore
>of the other islands.

There are, of course, only two other colonized islands – Sydney and Hull. We’ve read everything we can find about them, just as we have Gardner.

>At least two of the folks who related Gardner aircraft wreck anecdotes (Emily and Pulekai)
> have familial or direct connections to Sydney Island.

Emily’s connections to Sydney Island and her anecdotal account of events on Gardner predate the Sydney crash by several years.

> Never mind the fact that, for all we know, castaways were found on other islands
> in the Phoenix group. What research has been done to conclude that the Gardner
> discovery was unique? Yes, we have not heard of any others...but then finding the
> documentation of the Gardner castaway took nothing short of a miracle from Peter
> McQuarrie even though a dedicated team of TIGHARs had been working on the Earhar
> project for almost 10 years.

The Gardner castaway story and the Sydney airplane crash story are, I think, good examples of verified folklore. In each case we had undocumented accounts of an event that was circulated as “folklore” and, in each case, persistence and luck eventually paid off with hard documentation. My point is that, however hard it may be to find the hard documentation, the folklore shows up quickly. Of course, you can say that we don’t know about folklore that we don’t know about and you can say that there might be more folklore out there, but it is undeniably true that our current level of research into the entire PISS operation has turned up folklore that is not confined to Gardner. Some of it has been verifed and some has not. Whatever significance you want to put on it, Gardner is (so far) the only place in the Phoenix Group with folklore about a pre-war airplane wreck and castaways.

LTM,
Ric


Message: 6
Subject: Rainwater and Atoll Lenses
Date: 10/17/01
From: Christian D.

I’m no expert, but my understanding of a water lens on a coral atoll is: that the lens actually “floats” on the sea water which is soaking the porous coral. The thin edges of the lens are at msl (mean sea level); the top surface of the lens is “domed” very slightly ABOVE msl, and the bottom surface is many times deeper, below msl.

Now all that rain water is CONSTANTLY flowing – although quite slowly through the pores of the sand and the coral. It keeps flowing outward, from the higher center, and downward, until it reaches seawater, into which it mixes. In other words, to survive, the lens needs constant replenishment. When it rains, the top of the lens rises very slightly, which causes the water in that part of the lens to slowly flow downward, and also outward toward the edges. Some of the water also flows more downward and meets the saltwater interface way down, inside the coral of the atoll.

These lenses are very unstable: in a drought the top surface gets lower – toward the same level as the sea, as the fresh water constantly flows outward and ultimately gets mixed with the seawater. If the top dome gets depleted, it means less extra weight pushing on the lens, and the bottom of the lens gets depleted as well; the lens gets thinner and thinner. Also, at the edges, with the tide variations, the fresh water gets mixed with sea water much faster.

I would think the lenses on Niku are rather small, and then in a drought, they can quickly thin out to not much of anything. Is there any data in the Colonial archives about surveys of the lenses? If Tighar needed to know, it is not that difficult to do an electrical conductivity survey of the ground, during Niku V.

FWIW: I have a photocopy of the rainfall records for Christmas Is, month by month. There too, there is tremendous variations from year to year, as well as month to month. AND there is definitely NO seasonal pattern either.

Cheers
Christian D.


From Ric
Thanks Christian. I’m sure your description is much better than mine.


Message: 7
Subject: Signal Strengths and Distance
Date: 10/20/01
From: Mike Everette

We have been over and over and OVER this business of signal strength vs. distance.

Now, before we beat this long-dead horse to death – one more time, PLEASE read and understand this:

There is NO WAY one can read an S-meter on a receiver and come up with any data to indicate distance.

When a radio operator reported signal strength as S-5, he/she would be giving a SUBJECTIVE report. One operator’s “S-4” might be another’s “S-5.” It’s all up to THE OPERATOR’S INTERPRETATION, and this did NOT come from a meter scale in 1937.

Indeed, most receivers in 1937 did not even HAVE an S-meter.

S-meters, at least every one I have ever seen, and this includes pre-war receivers of which I have messed with a bunch – are “scaled” rather than calibrated in terms of signal strength. The scales may indeed have numbers on them, but in actuality the numbers mean NOTHING. All they are useful for, is a RELATIVE indication of signal strength, and for use as a tuning-aid i.e. tune for maximum deflection.

Where the nonradio types on the Forum are missing the point is in their apparent belief that there is some sort of absolute standard for these meters.

NONONO.

They also seem to believe that any receiver with such a meter is as accurate as a piece of lab test/measuring equipment.

NNNNNNNOOOOOOOOO.

There was NO standard among manufacturers, prior to WW2, for establishing a correlation between scale reading and signal-strength applied to the receiver input terminals. In fact, supposedly identical receivers built by the same manufacturer often show significantly different S-meter readings, for the same signal input. Yes, that is correct.

The S-meter “reading” was and still is a sales gimmick. If a receiver built by National gave a higher S-meter reading than a Hammarlund receiver did, on the same signal, an operator/observer might easily conclude or believe the National receiver was “hotter” or had more amplification/sensitivity.

NNNNOOOOOOOOOO!

The manufacturers were not above fudging the S-meter circuits to take advantage of this chance to pull the wool over the eyes of potential buyers.

And not all radio operators are technical people, in that they would be aware of this.

The first standard was developed in the later 40s by Collins Radio Company, which established a definite signal level to be equal to an “S-9” or midscale reading on a meter. And this calibration is achieved under lab conditions, with a known signal voltage from a source of known impedance, applied to the antenna terminals. The calibration will differ if an antenna of different impedance from that of the test signal source, is used... and that ALMOST ALWAYS is the case in the real world.

If Elgen Long, or anyone else says he/she can establish a definite distance from the Itasca to NR16020 based on reported/observed signal strength, I tell you, that person DOES NOT HAVE A CLUE. They are, as we say in the trade, “full of it.“ They simply do not understand how the receiver operates, the mechanics of wave propagation, or the actual practice of radio operators in judging signal strengths. I don’t give a rip how many hours someone has in the left seat...

And I will stand by that statement. It is quantitatively provable.

LTM (whose hypersensitive ears can hear a gnat flatulate in Outer Mongolia)
and
73
Mike E.


From Ric
We’ll be happy to provide anyone with a printed copy of this posting, suitable for framing.


Back to Highlights Archive list.

About TIGHAR Join TIGHAR TIGHAR Projects TIGHAR Publications Contract Services
The TIGHAR Store Blog TIGHAR Forum Contact TIGHAR TIGHAR Home

Copyright 2018 by TIGHAR, a non-profit foundation. No portion of the TIGHAR Website may be reproduced by xerographic, photographic, digital or any other means for any purpose. No portion of the TIGHAR Website may be stored in a retrieval system, copied, transmitted or transferred in any form or by any means, whether electronic, mechanical, digital, photographic, magnetic or otherwise, for any purpose without the express, written permission of TIGHAR. All rights reserved.

Contact us at: info@tighar.org  •   Phone: 610.467.1937   •   JOIN NOW