Forum artHighlights From the Forum

June 13 through 20, 1999

Subject: Fiji Bone Search
Date: 6/13/99
From: Tom King

(answering a concern someone raised about crawl spaces, attics, etc.)

Good point, Bill -- we're going to need to attend to attics, cellars, crawl spaces, etc. And the trick, I suspect, is going to be prevailing on those who work in and control the buildings to let us get into all these creepy-crawly spaces.

There's a story around here that's much like yours. A building in downtown DC was going to be demolished, and a demolition contractor's employee was going through it, opened a long-closed door, and found a room whose plaster had fallen off the ceiling; there were papers sticking down through the lathe. He went into the crawl space above and found it full of old papers -- and a sign that said: "Missing Soldiers' Bureau: Miss Clara Barton. Inquire Room Six, Third Floor," which was the number and floor of the room he'd opened. Turned out that when Ms. Barton moved her office in about 1865, all her files had gotten stuffed into the crawl space above and forgotten. Of course, that's DC, and the U.S. Government; things may be tidier in Fiji.

Tom King

From Ric

Creepy-crawly spaces in a tropical climate like Fiji's are probably World Class Creepy Crawly. Better you than me. All I have to deal with are the spiders and scorpions on Niku.

Subject: Fiji Bone Search Some More
Date: 6/13/99
From: Terry Linley

I just had another thought for the bone team. One big problem in tropical areas is termite (or other insect) infestation. It is possible that the original box in which the bones were stored could be gone (unless that particular type of wood is resistant to termites or other insects). I know that doesn't help their 'search image' when they are crawling through attics and searching buildings, but it's a very real possibility.


From Ric

Good point. There is no guarantee that the bones are still in their original Kanawa wood box. In any search it is a maxim to pay attention to not look for what MUST be there but pay attention to what IS there.

From Tom King

Certainly true, the bones may not be in their original box. We're going to have to make SOME assumptions, though -- like that they're together, so we're looking for containers large enough to contain a cranium and several long bones. And I imagine that if a box is labeled "old personnel files" or "surplus underwear," we won't bother to check it. Hard to devise a search strategy in any detail until we've done a recon, but it's certainly a good point that we must not be looking ONLY for a kanawa wood box. TK

Subject: Understanding the Big Picture
Date 6/14/99
From: Bucky Brown

Last week I went thru the web sight again to refresh my memory about several events, and I keep coming up with a few questions. What was P.I.S.S. (the purpose) and how well was it documented? How was it sold to the participants? How did the colonists perceive the British? Finally was any crop of coconuts or anything else ever shipped from Niku?

Bucky Brown

From Ric

The Phoenix Island Settlement Scheme (P.I.S.S.) had a dual purpose:

  • to relieve population pressures in the overcrowded Gilbert & Ellice Islands Colony
  • to reinforce British claims of sovereignty to the islands of the Phoenix Group.

The establishment of the scheme is exceptionally well documented from the initial proposals to the numerous official progress reports.

Selling it to the participants was easy. The prospect of having a chance to acquire property was so attractive to landless, poverty-stricken people that volunteers were recruited almost overnight.

Gilbertese perceptions of British rule were, by all accounts, very positive (with the caveat that most accounts of such perceptions come from the British).

Shipments of copra (dried coconut) were anticipated to begin in 1951 with 100 tons, as forecast in an official 1949 report. Whether any or how much was actually shipped, we don't know.


Subject: Information and Updates
Date: 6/15/99
From: Christian

(In response to a query about keeping the Forum informed during July)

I would like to also wonder how the Forum will be informed of the work in Fiji and on Nikumaroro this summer.

Could you always drop a line to the forum every time tighar's website changes? I dont have the time to scan the website every day, and I have lost some changes for sure.


From Ric

During the month of July, while the bone search is going on in Fiji and the reconnaissance expedition is at Nikumaroro, the Forum will be moderated daily as always by Pat here at TIGHAR's offices in Wilmington, Delaware. She will pass along what information she gets from the teams in the field but those reports will not be daily and will not be detailed.

Tom King may be able to get on-line periodically to send a brief update of how the bone search is going but I know from experience that there is little time for journalism when you're engaged in a search operation.

Information from the Niku team will be even sketchier. We will not have a satellite phone or any on-line capability aboard the ship. Communication will be by single side band HF radio back to Nai'a's base of operations in Fiji and we won't be reporting anything more than confirming that we're all safe and well and that operations are progressing.

Once everyone is back home there'll be plenty of time for reports and tales from the South Pacific.

Love to mother,

From Pat

The website is updated fairly regularly in only two departments: the Forum Highlights, and the Document of the Week (which has turned more or less into the Document of the Month). For those with limited time, a once-a-week check will keep you up to date. However, even that is not necessary, really; the old highlights and documents are readily accessible through the Highlights Index and the Documents Index.


Subject: Niku Trash
Date: 6/16/99
From: William Doheny

My computer crashed, and I've been down for a week. Don't worry, not a virus, my stupidity.

I went through some eighty messages and was intrigued by one. Dick Polley wrote that he left Niku in 1945. How many individuals have lived or visited Niku since 1937? What did they do with their trash? Having five kids, I know this waste mounts up. Did they throw away any shoe parts, bottle caps or tops, pieces of plastic or pieces of aluminum with rivets? Just wondering.

William LTM

From Ric

All in all, approximately 200 people have lived on Niku from the first 10 man work party in December 1938 to the abandonment of the colony in 1963. And yes, they left behind lots of trash. That's why we've spent so much time in the old overgrown village - sorting trash. In fact, that's not a bad definition of archaeology - the sorting of old trash (and we rarely wear leather jackets or carry bullwhips).

They threw away very few shoes because, for the most part, they didn't wear shoes. When Gilbertese people do wear shoes they wear BIG shoes because they have big, wide (and very tough) feet. It seems rather unlikely that the remains of the mid-1930s vintage, woman's size 8 or 9 blucher oxford we found on a remote part of the island was ever worn by a Gilbertese. Certainly the man's and woman's shoe parts found by Gallagher in 1940 did not belong to any of the settlers.

The colonists did throw away bits of airplane aluminum and plexiglas - the scraps left over when they fabricated items for local use. We're not sure exactly what they made from these airplane parts. We know they made combs from aluminum (we found several broken ones) and we speculate that aluminum also made great fishing lures and a very attractive necklace could probably be fashioned from cut sections of plexiglas. We know that some of the airplane parts they used as a source of metal came from WWII wrecks on other islands. It's the few bits that don't seem to be of WWII origin and do seem to be consistent with Lockheed 10 parts that get our attention.

Tom King, as our esteemed Project Archaeologist and Trash Master, was in charge of the rather extensive survey work done in the village in 1997. Perhaps he'd like to elaborate on the challenges of sorting trash on Niku.


Subject: Niku Trash
Date: 6/20/99
From: William

Acording to Ric, 200 individuals have lived or been to Niku since 1937. There was some mention of airplane parts in the early years. I imagine there would be many parts. Do we have any mention of what parts?

William, a pain in the butt.LTM

From Ric

Allow me to jump into this just long enough to say that we have one anecdotal account by a Navy PBY pilot who, in late 19944/early 1945 was shown a large fish that was caught using an airplane control cable as the fishing line leader and the large metal hook seemed to be fashioned from aircraft aluminum. He asked the locals where they got this stuff and they said that when thier people had first come to the island there was an airplane there. He asked them where it was now and they just shrugged.

We have found what amounts to the scraps from locally worked aluminum and other airplane components in the abandoned village. The question is - where did they get this stuff? Some of it, the WWII stuff, had to have been imported from another island. The putative Lockheed 10 stuff may have come from right there on Niku somewhere. The remainder of the wreck could very well still be there. There are lots and lots of places where we have not yet looked.


From Tom King

No, it's not surprising that none of the 200 (or more) people who've been on the island before us didn't report finding the plane if it's there. The vast majority of the residents, particularly in the early days when the plane (perhaps) would have been most visible and (certainly) least likely to be identified as WWII wreckage, were I Kiribati (Gilbertese) colonists who didn't have any knowledge of Earhart and had very skimpy knowledge of airplanes -- and no reason to be concerned about either one, or to think that finding an airplane would be something that ought to be reported. Moreover, most of the time there was no one to report it to -- no British presence on the island. During the time there was such a presence, it was represented by Gallagher, who while he doesn't say anything about plane parts certainly did get involved with a skeleton he thought might be Amelia's. A skeleton that had been found some months before he got there but not reported, and one gets the impression from his wireless messages that he learned about the skeleton more or less by chance, having something to do with Koata's departure for Tarawa with the Benedictine bottle.

Now, here is a curiosity. If Gallagher thought the bones might be Amelia's, would he not have asked the colonists about airplanes in the bush? I know, speculating about what someone "would" have done is pretty fruitless and can be misleading, but it does seem like we've got to assume either that Gallagher didn't ask such a question, and didn't notice whatever pieces the people had to work with, or that as of the time he was there they hadn't found the plane. The latter seems more likely than the former. They'd been pretty much focused on getting the village up and going, and clearing forest and planting down the island from Ritiati toward Aukaraime. Nutiran, and Taraia, where the wreckage is reported from the 1950s, weren't getting much if any attention in and before Gallagher's time. After Gallagher died, there was no resident British colonial presence on the island throughout the War years, and after the War there was so much junk lying around as a result of the Loran station, and so much wartime debris scattered on other islands, that there was no reason for anyone to give a second thought to someone using a chunk of aluminum to make a fishhook. Best bet seems to be that if the plane was there, and if it was found at all, it was found sometime after Gallagher's death (or at least after he left for his final trip to Fiji).

The major fly in the ointment, however, is that early on, people often landed on the island by tieing off the stern of the Norwich City and using it as a pier to get to land. To get to the village, they'd then have to walk down the Nutiran shore, right across where some of the wreckage was reported in the 1950s. So if the plane was there, it had to have been pretty invisible. This is certainly not inconceivable; it could have been buried, and it could have been lost in the Scaevola.

There's also the question of why, if the colonists had found the plane before 1947, the guy who told Floyd Kilts about the bones didn't also say anything about the plane. Here again we get into a lot of unsupportable assumptions about what someone "would" have done. We don't know anything about the circumstances under which Kilts got the bones story. Did he ask? Was it volunteered? Did he ask about plane wreckage? Don't know; can't tell, without more information on the circumstances of his interview, which we haven't thus far been able to find.

Anyway, the bottom line is, the fact that 200 (or more) people have been on the island at various times doesn't by any means guarantee either that (a) a plane wreck would have been found, or (b) that it would have been reported to anyone.

Love to Mother
Tom King

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