Earhart Project Research Bulletin #8
Dating the Label Fragment

Research conducted by TIGHAR members has produced evidence that the fragment of what appears to be a can label which was recovered from the remains of a campfire on Nikumaroro during the Niku III Expedition in 1997 is apparently of modern origin.

Photo of Label Fragment
The label fragment found on Nikumaroro.

This is important new information because it means that the campfire site identified by TIGHAR is not the same site where British colonial adminstrator Gerald Gallagher found bones and artifacts in 1940. Gallagher’s site, and possibly more evidence, remain to be found. The following excerpts from the Amelia Earhart Search Forum tell the story of the research which led to this conclusion.

Message: 1
Subject: The Label Fragment
Date: 7/8/98
From: Vern Klein

Ric wrote:

>Yes. There are striations on the label fragment.

So … What do they look like to you? What do you think produced them? Depending on what the striations may look like …

(From Ric: I’ll answer Vern’s questions as we go.)

1. Are they visible on the front, or back, or on both sides?
Both sides.

2. It appears you have part of the top edge of the label. Are the striations parallel to that edge – parallel to the line of lettering?

3. Are the striations just poor printing?

4. Are they smudged streaks produced by the way the label was rolled or wiped on?

5. Are the striations actually sort of creases from being pressed into corrugations such as are on virtually all canned goods today? The kind of creases you see if you soak the label off such a can. But still visible after being buried for years?
You got it.

6. Or are they abrasion marks from jostling around with other things in a bag?
Abrasion would be greater where the corrugation ridges were.

7. About 5/8 inch at each end of a can is without corrugations. Does that fit what you see on the label fragment?

8. Do the striations fit any of the corrugation patterns we see today ranging from close spaced (about 1/8 inch apart) to a few corrugations half an inch or more apart and a 2 lb, 7 oz coffee can that may have only three corrugations widely spaced.
The corrugations are 1/8 inch apart.

9. Are the striations just glue marks, or abrasion marks where stripes of glue added just a little thickness?
No, they are three dimensional indentations.

10. Are the striations the result of something done to the fragment after it was found? Perhaps something associated with cleaning it up a bit and/or drying it.

Message: 2
Subject: Re: The Label Fragment
Date: 7/9/98
From: Vern Klein

Ric: Sorry about laying a questionnaire on you! I wanted to cover every possibility I could think of that might have accounted for the “striations.” Now we know exactly what we’re dealing with … a pattern of can corrugations embossed in the paper of the label. The pattern is still visible after being buried in soil of Niku for years. I believe you've speculated that being in the immediate area of the campfire may have served to protect the small fragment of paper from microbial attack. Maybe so, it seems they devour just about everything else organic, such as leather gloves! Now my question is: Do the striations date the label? Based on some impromptu grocery store research of current cans on the shelves, I think we can be reasonably confident of a few things: The label is from a can, a round “tin” can. It is probably from a can not larger then the “standard” size can, that used to be one pound – now they’re marked short about an ounce but look like the 16 ounce cans. Examination of a few not really very old cans, I see evidence of an interesting evolution in pressing corrugations into cans. On the basis of what I’ve seen at this point, I suspect the 1/8 inch spaced corrugations did not appear until the welded seam came into use. I have examples of grooves rolled in right across the old kind of hooked-crimped-soldered seam – brute-force technology! These groves are spaced at least ½ inch apart.

From Ric

For what it’s worth, we're presently recruiting the help of some Industrial Archeology types who deal with this sort of puzzle all the time (albeit not necessarily in such a romantic conbodytext). While the evidence of corrugations is interesting, the markings on the label itself are, I suspect, our best route to a positive ID.

Message: 3
Subject: Re:The Label Fragment
Date: 7/18/98
From: Vern Klein

Way back before the conference, Ric said:

>... While the evidence of corrugations is interesting, the markings on the label
>itself are, I suspect, our best route to a positive ID.

Very true. The corrugations will not lead to a positive ID. On the other hand, if the corrugations, evidenced by the striations visible in the label fragment, are telling us that the can could not have been produced as early as 1937, a positive ID will not be very important. And we’ll have to re-think the campfire site. However, we’ll still be curious about how the fragment came to be where it was found. Who was there later and had a campfire, and approximately when was it? The label may even post-date the Loran station. In this, I have the advantage of, “been there and done that.” I was there in 1937 and I was cutting up tin cans to make things. In that time and place, a lot of tin cans got cut up and flattened out to use for various things. They didn’t have corrugations and they didn’t have welded side-seams. But this is just anecdote. I need corroboration. I’m working on it but like everything with the Earhart Search, it ain't easy.

Message: 4
Subject: Re: The Label Fragment
Date: 7/20/98
From: Walt Holm

Hi Folks! Earlier this month at the TIGHAR Earhart gathering in San Carlos, one of the topics of discussion was the label fragment that was found in the campfire remains during the last Niku expedition. For the first time I saw a clear picture of the entire fragment, and it struck me that a portion on the end of it looked like the edge of a UPC (Universal Product Code) barcode. I volunteered to research this possibility, and here are the results of a very quick study. Most of the information that I present here was gleaned from a very quick search on the internet. The area of the label that is of interest is to the rigtht of the “…ROWER PRODUCE,” beyond a band of blue color. Beyond the area of blue there is a new white area, with what appears to be an upside-down 8 flanked on the left by two vertical bars. If one imagines the “…ROWER PRODUCE” being upside-down on the bottom of the label, then the 8 (now on the left side of the label) could be the last symbol of a UPC barcode, flanked on the right by the two narrow vertical lines. There is a white space to the left of the two vertical lines, and to the left of that is what appears to be a tiny remnant of a wide dark bar. This is right at the very edge of the fragment and is a bit open to interpretation.

At the conference I stated that it looked to me like a bar code ending in a wide dark bar, wide white space, narrow dark bar, narrow white space, narrow dark bar. The most common form of the UPC code (UPC-A) encodes 12 digits, of which the last is a check-digit to help ensure that the code has been scanned correctly. UPC is a “discrete” code, that is, each digit has a unique encoding that is not interleaved with the other digits – each digit stands alone and it is possible to decipher the code by eye. Each digit in the UPC code is seven places wide, with a place here referring to the width of the smallest dark line (a “1”) or light space (a “0”). An 8 on the right hand side of the symbol is encoded as 1001000. The UPC symbol begins with a “101” start code and ends with a “101” stop code, for the scanner to measure the scanning speed. Thus, a UPC code ending with a check digit of 8 would end as … 1001000101. Multiple 1s in a row will look like a wide dark line, and multiple 2s in a row will look like a wide light space. Around the UPC symbol is a light area referred to as the “quiet zone,” which allows the scanner to determine the intensity level for a light space “0.” The border of the symbol (if that’s what it is) is correct for a UPC bar code, as is the width of the lines. There is also a valid stop code: the two thin vertical lines on the edge of the symbol would form the proper 101 stop code for a UPC symbol. In addition, the end of digit 8 is encoded properly – the white area to the left of the two thin vertical lines looks about 140 mils wide on the print. This is an appropriate size for the 00 encoding at the end of the digit 8. On the other hand, there seems to be an insufficient Quiet Zone, which is definitely a problem. The current UPC specification calls for a quiet zone on the right hand side of the symbol to be at least 7 times the narrow bar width. For the print of the label this would be about 350 mils. The actual quiet zone on the print is about 200 mils or 4 narrow bar widths. Also, as far as I can tell, the beginning of 8 not encoded properly.

Here’s what we need to do:

  1. Measure the size of the narrow lines using a loupe or microscope with a reticle. Are they around 13 mils? What are the UPC guidelines for printing symbols different than 100% scale?
  2. Examine the area of the label, just at its edge, presumed to be a wide dark bar. Could part of this be a burn mark?
  3. Get hold of the UPC standard as it existed in the 1970s, as opposed to currently. It may be the same as now, may not be. Specifically, what did the original UPC spec say for the width of the quiet zone? Anybody know an expert on bar codes?
  4. There is a variation on the UPC codes called the EAN (European Article Numbering system), and somehow it encodes a 13th digit in the same number of bar widths as the 12-digit UPC symbol. This is apparently now an international standard. It could potentially match the observed bars.

How about some ideas as to what this area of the label could be if it is not a UPC symbol? Frankly, I haven't heard any good ideas yet. My opinion is that we are looking at a modern (1972s or newer) label fragment. However, I’m not really able to prove it – yet. All opinions on the subject welcome.

Walt Holm TIGHAR 0980C

From Ric

As instructed by Walt, I have examined the actual fragment under a dissecting microscope matched up with an actual barcode. Here is what I see. The two narrow vertical lines on the fragment are quite similar to, but not exactly like the lines on the barcode. The barcode lines are a smidgeon narrower and the space between them a smidgeon wider than on the fragment (smidgeon: unit of measurement perceptible to the eye but too small for me to quantify with available instrumentation.) The other vertical line, only the very tip of which is visible just above the 8, is definitely of the same width as the first two. And, as you note, there is inadequate “quiet zone.” My opinion: While the similarity is indeed striking, this does not seem to match the current UPC standard, but (again, as you note) the standard may have changed over the years or the fragment may conform to the EAN system. On another front: Bob Perry, TIGHAR 2021, has enlisted the help of a very reputable analytical lab in Chicago which has worked on little projects like the Shroud of Turin. They may be able to date the piece from the inks and paper. (So what do we do if we get a 10s label with a 1970s barcode on it? Cue the theme from The Twilight Zone.) I do have a real “killer” scan of the fragment but it’s way too big to email. The current plan is for us to do some more detailed photography here, then ship the artifact to Paul Chattey, TIGHAR 1120, for additional photography, by which time they may be ready to go to work on it in Chicago. Seems like an awful lot of fuss for a scrap of paper. Maybe we should call it The Label of Niku.

Love to mother, Ric

Message: 5
Subject: Re: The Label Fragment
Date: 7/21/98
From: Vern Klein

I had not mentioned this before because I give it a very low credibility rating. One person I talked with about the 1/8 inch spaced striations on the label fragment claimed to have worked for some cannery years ago. He said that the 1/8 inch corrugations did not appear until the welded-seam technology was developed. This much seems very reasonable to me. He claimed the welded-seam appeared in the early 1970s. If this is a correct date, it fits the bar-code theory. Perhaps we have two things that say: Not earlier than 1970.

From Ric

Perhaps – and perhaps not. As it stands right now, the markings visible on the lable have been disqualified as being part of a current U.S. barcode (no “quiet zone” and incorrect code). Other possibilities are being explored. The significance or insignificance of corrugations has yet to be documented.

Message: 6
Subject: Re: The Label Fragment
Date: 7/23/98
From: Tom Cook

I was born in Jan. of 1938, so I was a kid during WW2, one of my jobs around the house was to recycle empty “tin cans”, I would remove the label,wash them out inside, turn them upside down and cut the other end out (no electric can openers in those days!), put both ends inside, and then step on the can to mash it flat, we would turn them in at the next scrap drive. What all of this is coming to is that I don’t recall any corrugations in the sides of the cans at that time. TC 2127

From Ric

We seem to have a building body of anecdotal evidence to indicate that corrugations did not exist on cans in 1937. If this proves to be documentable it presents two possibilities (that I can think of) about our label fragment:

1. What we take to be marks left by corrugations are something else.
2. The label dates from later than 1937.

Of course, the two possibilites are not mutually exclusive. They could both be true. Other evidence we have to help us date the label: a trace of what might be a barcode that is not right for a standard UPC barcode. A consensus among informed observers that the colors and styling of the label are typical of the 1920s and 30s. The stratigraphic level at which the fragment was found (ca. 5 cm below the surface) which would seem to indicate that it had been in situ for many, many years. Further research which might more conclusively date the fragment: Dating of the paper and inks through materials analysis. Matching of the surving fragment with a datable entire label. Have I missed anything?

LTM, Ric

Message: 7
Subject: Re: The Label Fragment
Date: 7/23/98
From: Vern Klein

I’ve just received e-mail response (7-22-98) to my question regarding the age of the label fragment from Seneca Foods Corp. They make the “Libby'’s” line of products:

> Dear Mr. Klein,
> The type of bead profile you described indicates to us well
> after 1937. If we had to make a guess it would be after 1965. We are
> sorry we could not give you additional information.
> Sincerely,
> Seneca Foods Corporation

Message: 8
Subject: Re: The Label Fragment
Date: 7/25/98
From: Dean Alexander

> …the stratigraphic level at which the fragment was found (ca. 5 cm
> below the surface) which would seem to indicate that it
> had been in situ for many, many years.

If one followed his/her boy/girl scout procedures one would have put water on the campfire and soil over it. Since this label was found at a campsite this is a possibility. Hence the label fragment being under some amount of soil.

From Ric

True enough. But if our campfire is the same campfire that Gallagher found in 1940, the individual whose bones were found nearby was probably no overly concerned with good scouting procedures. On the other hand, if the label is of much more recent origin then it can’t be the same site. The shoe remnants found virtually on top of the campfire site in 1991 are known to date from the mid-1930s. If the fire site dates from much later, then the shoe must have arrived even later than that. It would sure be a lot simpler if that label is old.

Message: 9
Subject: Re: The Label Fragment
Date: 7/25/98
From: Tom King

> …the stratigraphic level at which the fragment was found (ca. 5 cm below
> the surface) which would seem to indicate that it had been in situ for many,
> many years.

It ain’t necessarily so. Remember that the label was found in screening the detritus removed while exposing the burn feature; it could have come from anywhere in the 5 cm. overlying the feature, and 5 cm. ain’t much dirt, especially in an active environment like Niku’s. Stratigraphic position of the label really isn’t known, except that it was SOMEWHERE in the top 5 cm., and it wouldn't be meaningful if it were known.

Tom King
Earhart Project Archeologist

From Ric

Ahh but Dr. King, was not the label fragment burned around the edges and would it not therefore seem to be logically as old as the fire that burned it? Ergo, if the stratigraphy of the burn feature suggests some measure of antiquity that deduction also applies to the label fragment – unless, of course, somebody just happened to drop a burned fragment of a label on the ground in a spot where there just happened to be the remains of an old campfire underneath. Realistically, it seems to me that dating the burn feature and dating the label fragment is the same exercise. Am I missing something? Love to mother,

Message: 10
Subject: Re: The Label Fragment
Date: 7/25/98
From: Tom King

> Ahh but Dr. King, was not the label fragment burned around the edges and
> would it not therefore seem to be logically as old as the fire that burned it?

Yes, assuming that what looks like burning in fact is, and not some sort of decay product that looks like burning (I think it’s burning, you think it’s burning, but I have on occasion seen things that looked like burning but weren’t [TIGHAR, TIGHAR, burning bright … never mind]). Anyhow, my quibble wasn’t with the association of the “label” with the fire, but with your specific allusion to its stratigraphic position and the age that could be assigned to it on the basis of stratigraphy. We can’t assign any age based on stratigraphy; we CAN reasonably assume contemporaneity with the fire.


From Ric

Yeah, you got me on the stratigraphy. A materials analysis should tell us whether what looks like charring around the edges is, in fact, charring. Assuming it is – we have a burn feature which stratigraphically appears to be old but is associated with a label that may be modern, on top of which was found the remains of a shoe known to be old. If that label fragment turns out to be modern we’re gonna have fun explaining this.

Message: 11
Subject: Re: The Label Fragment
Date: 7/25/98
From: Walt Holm

Hi everyone! On the heels of the message that I posted on 20 July concerning the label fragment and UPC symbols, I have done some more research and am now more convinced than ever that the features on the edge of the label fragment are a bar code. Perhaps Ric can put at least a portion of the scan of the label onto the web site, so that you all can see it for yourself. If you go back to the original posting, I was concerned about two items which seemed to rule out the feature being a UPC symbol:

1. Insufficient quiet zone on the edge of the alleged bar code.
2. Wide bar on the very edge of the label does not match the encoding for a check digit of 8.

As part of his response Ric posted the following:

> As instructed by Walt, I have examined the actual fragment under a dissecting
> microscope matched up with an actual barcode. Here is what I see.
> The two narrow vertical lines on the fragment are quite similar to, but not
> exactly like the lines on the barcode. The barcode lines are a smidgeon
> narrower and the space between them a smidgeon wider than on the fragment
> (smidgeon: unit of measurement perceptible to the eye but too small for me to
> quantify with available instrumentation.)
> The other vertical line, only the very tip of which is visible just above the
> 8, is definitely of the same width as the first two.

The last statement refers to what I interpreted as a wide bar on the edge of the fragment. In light of what Ric wrote above, and by relooking at the print of the computer scan that I have, I now believe that what I thought was a wide bar is a scanner or printer artifact, rather than a feature on the fragment (To Ric and anyone else who has the ink-jet print in question: hold up the print sideways and let a bright light reflect off of it. Notice the very square features of the area in question that I thought was a wide bar. I suspect this is a scanning artifact.) Underneath the area which I now believe is a scanning artifact, one can see what appears to be a single-width bar, which is what Ric is seeing in the microscope. This would make the encoding for the last digit of the bar code XX01000 (X represents an unknown quantity), or maybe X001000. This is as opposed to the XX11000 that I thought existed earlier. The encoding for the digit 8 on the right hand side of the symbol is 1001000, which is entirely consistent with this interpretation.

I found the web site for the Uniform Code Council, which maintains the UPC standard. The specification can be found at http://www.uc-council.org/d36-t.htm, and will be referenced in the rest of this bodytext. With the specification in hand I managed to clear up a number of items. The first was the location of the check digit in human-readable form, i.e. where should the digit 8 actually appear. If you look at UPC symbols around the house the check digit appears to the RIGHT of the bars, whereas on the label fragment it is embedded within the bars. I had not mentioned this before because I had no documentation that referred to how and where the numbers were to be placed. The specification, however, seems fairly specific about placing the check digit to the right of the bars. At first I wondered whether the UPC standard may have been different earlier – the posted standard is from 1986, and I still have not found a copy of the original standard. Then, in reading through the current standard, I came to Appendix G – Specification for the EAN code. As was mentioned in the earlier post, there exists a sister code to UPC called EAN or European Article Numbering, now known as International Article Numbering. EAN was founded in 1977, according to their web site. The EAN-13 code is a superset of the UPC code, encoding 13 digits in the space that the UPC encodes 12. According to Appendix G, this is done by using additional digit encodings on the left hand half of the bar code. If a conventional UPC symbol is scanned, the 13th digit is read as a zero. The right-hand half of an EAN-13 bar code is identical to a UPC-A barcode. Of great importance to our label fragment, however, is that the EAN barcode places the human-readable digits in a different position as UPC-A. On EAN, all of the digits are printed between the start and stop code bars (referred to in the spec as the left and right guard bars). On the right side of a UPC barcode, the bars for the check digit and the stop code (right guard bars) extend down about halfway into the human-readable characters. However, on the EAN code, only the guard bars extend down – this is the effect of the two vertical lines extending halfway down the digit 8 on the label.

An additional item of note in the specification is the use of fonts for the human-readable characters. The specification calls for the OCR-B font, whose digit 8 shown in the spec corresponds remarkably to the digit 8 on the label fragment. I do not have OCR-B fonts on my computer, but I tried other sans serif fonts and none of them appeared similar to the 8 on the label. The height of the OCR-B digits at 100% scale is specified as 108.3 mils, which would be about 433 mils on the roughly 4:1 print that I have. The 8 on my print measured about 390 mils high, but it seems like the digit might be very slightly clipped off on the bottom. Again, this could be looked at on the original label with a microscope and reticle. So, at this point I will summarize my thoughts on the evidence for and against the feature on the label being a bar code:


  1. Border around bar code different than other borders on label.
  2. Width of narrow vertical lines consistent with 100% scale UPC or EAN narrow bars
  3. Valid stop code (or right guard bar) – This is the two vertical lines to the right of the 8
  4. Digit 8 encoded properly
  5. Positioning of digit with respect to vertical lines consistent with EAN-13 symbol.
  6. Font correct for digit 8, size appears roughly correct for 100% scale EAN symbol.


  1. Insufficient quiet zone, 4 narrow bar widths as opposed to the seven required.
Well, there you have it. It would still be interesting to find an early copy of the UPC (1973) or EAN (1977?) specification, to see if the quiet zone spec has changed. I cannot explain this discrepancy, but I do know that when I first saw the pictures of the EAN symbols in Appendix G my mouth nearly dropped open. Look for yourself, and form your own judgement. I am convinced that this is a modern label.

Walt Holm, TIGHAR 0980C

Message: 12
Subject: Re: The Label Fragment
Date: 7/26/98
From: Walt Holm

Hi all – I spent some time yesterday at a local grocery store looking at barcodes, and found some interesting things. Quite a few foreign food products use an EAN barcode rather than the UPC barcode. After about ten minutes of searching, I came up with a product with an EAN-13 barcode with a check digit of 8 (in typical TIGHAR searching fashion, it took about 15 or 20 items to find one that ended in 8). Anyway, I have mailed the box off to Ric to compare with the label fragment. I also did a 400% enlargement of the symbol on the box, and compared it to the ink-jet print that I have of the label fragment, overlaying the two on a light table. It was not a perfect match, but was extremely good – so good that it is very hard to believe that the feature on the label fragment is some random part of an old label.

Walt Holm

Message: 13
Subject: Re: The Label Fragment
Date: 7/29/98
From: Vern Klein

Suppose the campfire site TIGHAR found turns out to be of recent origin. Where does that leave us? We are left with some shoe parts, TIGHAR’s and Gallagher’s, that are a little hard to explain. These shoe parts, and Gallagher’s sextant box, are about the only things found to date that seem highly likely to connect to the Earhart flight. We have nothing definite on the bones at this time, nor on the various metal and plastic pieces.

Gallagher found parts of a woman’s shoe near his campfire site in 1940. He did not find the shoe parts TIGHAR found in 1991. Why didn't he find these other shoe parts despite searching the area? Because they were not there. It had been about 3 years since Amelia and Fred had been there … And perished there. In the meantime the shoes had moved about. Maybe it was the crabs. Maybe it was torrential rains that must have occurred during those three years. Some shoe parts, apparently from two different shoes, ended up in the vicinity of the TIGHAR campfire site. They had a lot of years to migrate about. They may have been there when the later campers built their fire. They didn’t notice the old shoe parts or, if they did, they took no notice of them. Then TIGHAR came along in 1991 and definitely did take notice of the old, deteriorated shoe parts! And they found the remains of the later campfire. Chance? Coincidence? Maybe it has to do with the lay of the land and the way water runs.

Gallagher found considerably less than half a skeleton. TIGHAR has found no bones or bone fragments. Even after 60 years, I think there might be some at Gallagher’s campfire site. TIGHAR has searched with a metal-detector and found only a brass eyelet that was once part of one of the shoes. If this was the place where Amelia and Fred, one or both, perished, I would expect more metal objects of some kind to be found. Gallagher searching 3 years after the fact and without aid of a metal-detector might well not have found anything more.

I think TIGHAR’s campfire site is not Gallagher’s campfire site. The two sites may not be far apart. How do we find Gallagher’s site? My only thought is to look to higher ground. Objects moved about in more or less random manner, crabs, rain, wind, whatever, tend to move to lower places. Was Gallagher’s site all dug up with coconut planting? That would mean sifting and metal-detector – and scrutinizing every particle! Maybe it’s a bit of bone – or part of a Parker pen! Maybe it’s too much to hope for that “The Gallagher Letters” might be found and that they would provide more clues to the exact location of his campfire site as well as answers to a number of other questions.

From Ric

I can’t fault your logic. In some respects it would be good news if it turns out that our site is not Gallagher’s site because, as you say, if we can find Gallagher’s site there may (should) be more there. If we do have the coincidence of two campfires and if the shoes did move (certainly possible) then I agree that the the “real” site is not far away. It sort of comes down to our old friend the label fragment. If it was burned in the fire (which appears to be the case) then it is is contemporaneous with the fire. And if the label is modern, so is the fire. Gotta get that label pinned down.

Message: 14
Subject: Re: The Label Fragment
Date: 8/1/98
From: Ric Gillespie

I have received from Walt Holm #0980C a modern label (apparently red chili peppers packaged in France) with a EAN barcode that includes a numeral 8 and associated bars in the final sequence. I have compared these markings, under magnification, with those at the extreme edge of the label fragment found in the remains of the burn feature on Nikumaroro and I concur with Walt that they are virtually identical.

Old label overlaid on new. Detail of overlay.

From this, supported by what Vern Klein 2124 has learned about the history of corrugations on cans, I think we are safe in concluding that our label fragment and, by definition, the fire that burned it, are of modern origin. That, in turn, means that our campfire is not Gallagher’s (or more correctly, the castaway’s) campfire and we have not yet identified the precise site where the bones and artifacts were found in 1940. If this conclusion is valid, it means we can stop worrying about the exact identity of our label fragment and move on to developing a hypothesis about where we should look for the 1940 site.

Love to Mother, Ric

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