Volume 12 Number 1
March 31, 1996
Preliminary Findings
Project Report
The Expedition
Preliminary Findings

Investigation of Cleared Area Village Survey

Investigation of Cleared Area

It is apparent that this area was naturally quite open in the late 1930s and that, sometime between April of 1939 and June of 1941, additional clearing occured, probably through human intervention. The “shelter site” found and surveyed during the expedition may be the structure referenced in the following passage from P.B. Laxton’s article “Nikumaroro” published in the Journal of the Polynesian Society in 1951.

Turning the [southeastern] tip to return along the northern rim, narrow, thundering with surf driven by the north-east trade winds, the path ends in a house built for Gallagher on a strip of land cleared from lagoon to ocean beach so that the fresh winds blow easily through. Beyond this there is no path, save along the steeply sloping, sandy ocean beach.

Gerald B. Gallagher was the island’s only resident British adminstrator. He fulfilled his duties as Acting Officer-In-Charge, Phoenix Island Settlement Scheme from his headquarters on Nikumaroro from October of 1940 until his death from tuberculosis at age 29 in September of 1941. Laxton does not explain why a house should have been built for Gallagher at such a distance from the village but the reference to “fresh winds” may indicate that this was intended as a sort of sanitorium where he might find some relief from his respiratory affliction.

Although we would have obviously preferred an aircraft in the bush to a house at the shore, we were none the less encouraged by the project’s ability to spot genuine anomalous features in very old photographs and then find and identify them on the ground nearly sixty years later. We were also struck by how well the island’s underbrush can hide large objects from even a determined search. In 1991 a TIGHAR team had spent several days on this part of the island specifically searching for the reported “water-collection device” and found nothing. In 1996, with the advantage of having a specific target visible in an aerial photograph, it took fully 76 man-hours of active search operations to find what the island had hidden. An intact Lockheed Electra would have been no easier.

The expedition accomplished its purpose of finding a reasonable explanation for the phenomena observed in the aerial photographs-with one exception. If the features visible in the 1938 photo are, indeed, trails or footpaths they present a lingering and disturbing question about who made them. However, unless additional information comes to light, further search operations in this location are not contemplated.

Village Survey

Once again, the abandoned village yielded interesting artifacts. Initial analytical work has yielded the following information on two of the objects recovered.

2-3-V-1 Cables

    2-3-V-1cablesThe shielded cables are consistent with those used on American aircraft radio receivers. Whether they meet military specifications or are more likely to have been in a civilian aircraft is still being researched. The connectors have been identified as products of the Howard P. Jones Company of Chicago, Illinois. Known as ”Part Number 101”, they were first produced in the mid-to-late 1930s (exact date not yet determined) and remained in use through Wolrd War II. This type of connector was used for certain Bendix, Western Electric, and Sperry receivers. Earhart used Bendix and Western Electric receivers. Further research is in progress.

2-3-V-2 Transparent Sheet

    PlexiglassCompositional analysis of this material by the Winterthur Museum Analytical Laboratory has shown it to be polymethyl methacrylate. First marketed in Germany in 1927, polymethyl methacrylate first saw large scale production by Rohm & Haas and DuPont in the United States in 1936 under the trade name Plexiglas. In Britain it was produced by ICI, Ltd under the tradename Perspex. According to sources at Rohm & Haas, pre-war use of Plexiglas was limited to aviation and, in colors, for the manufacture of jukeboxes. During the war the material was, of course, widely used in aircraft.

    Two aspects of the collected artifact provide clues to its origin. First, it is 1/8 inch (.125) in thickness. Second, it has a uniform curvature which appears to be original to the sheet. Research to date has established that the thickness and curvature precisely match the specifications for the cabin windows of the Lockheed Model 10 at the time these windows were replaced in NR16020 (February 1937). Neither the thickness nor the curvature matches windows used in B-24 aircraft. (See “Part #40552” for a complete discussion of this artifact.)

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