Volume 12 Number 2/3
October, 1996
earhart logoearhart logoFound Objects: Artifacts

TIGHAR’s case hinges upon the artifacts found on Nikumaroro. If they are random pieces of junk such as might be expected to litter any Pacific atoll, then the notion that the Earhart flight ended on this particular island is no more credible than the many other unsupported theoretical solutions to the mystery. If, however, there is reason to believe that just one object discovered on Nikumaroro came from the lost flight, then any answer to the riddle must explain how it got there and a concerted search for more evidence is certainly warranted.

Man-made objects are not difficult to find on Nikumaroro. The atoll’s quarter century (1938 to 1963) of habitation left the once-settled areas strewn with trash. Some of that trash – a very, very small proportion – came from at least two aircraft, even though from 1938 to the present, no aircraft of any description was ever wrecked, damaged or repaired at Nikumaroro. All of the airplane-related material has been found in the island’s abandoned village and, in most cases, shows clear signs of having been put to local use. Several of the objects, although undoubtedly from an airplane, are so generic as to defy connection with any particular make or model. A handful of other pieces can be reliably linked to the Consolidated Model 32 (B-24, PB4Y-1, etc.), the most ubiquitous of the WWII types which operated in the region. Other pieces of aircraft-related material found on the island do not appear to be from any wartime or later aircraft. They do, however, exhibit features consistent with a specific Lockheed Model 10E Special which is known to have been lost in that part of the Pacific in 1937.

The following is a description and evaluation of the twelve aircraft-related objects found on Nikumaroro to date. The artifacts are presented in the order in which they were discovered. In most cases, their physical properties have been established with the help of governmental or private laboratories. The opinions expressed about their probable origins are solely TIGHAR’s.

Navigator’s Bookcase Sheet of aluminum with red paint Cut Strip of Aluminum Aluminum Plate Heat Shield Aircraft Skin
Aluminum Comb Riveted Assembly Channel Section Cables Plexiglas Aircraft Safety Wire
Other Physical Evidence

There is another, and entirely different, category of physical evidence found on Nikumaroro which may be connected to the Earhart disappearance. The objects found near the lagoon shore on the island’s southeastern arm, known as Aukaraime (south) district, differ in both character and circumstance from the aircraft-related pieces encountered in the village. The material recovered from the once-settled area was purposely brought there from somewhere else and put to local use. In contrast, the artifacts found on Aukaraime appear to have arrived by accident rather than intention, and show no sign of having been used for anything but the purpose intended by the manufacturer. While the aircraft artifacts were found during walk-through searches of the village aimed at finding just such objects, the discovery of the Aukaraime objects was pure serendipity.

On October 6, 1989, the last day of TIGHAR’s NIKU I expedition, three team members came upon a small grave near the lagoon shore in the previously unsearched area southeast of Bauareke Passage. When subsequent research determined that this was the same area where island folklore said the bones of a white man and woman had been found in 1938, the decision was made to examine the grave upon our return in 1991. An archaeological excavation was conducted with the permission of I-Kiribati authorities and the grave was found to contain the bones of a very small, possibly stillborn, infant. No evidence was found which might connect the grave or its contents to the Earhart disappearance. (Note: A popular rumor that Amelia was pregnant lacks any credible foundation.)

The grave excavation required six days (October 13-17, 1991). On October 15 a team member noticed a broken thermometer on the ground in an area of coral rubble approximately 100 feet northeast of the grave. Further inspection of the area revealed the presence of an aluminum bottle cap with a distinguishable logo. Nothing else was found in this spot. The objects are described in these links:

Thermometer, broken Threaded metal cap Shoe parts Artifact 2-2-G-8, Shoe heel

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