Volume 12 Number 2/3
October, 1996
earhart logoearhart logoParadise Lost

In archaeology, as in much of life, context is everything. Underwear on the bedroom floor can be a housekeeping chore or a legal issue depending upon whose underwear is on whose floor. A fossilized microbe in a rock becomes much more interesting if the rock happens to come from Mars. To know for certain whether pieces of aircraft aluminum found on a Pacific atoll are routine or startling requires more information about both the pieces and the island.

Years of research have enabled us to assemble a fairly detailed chronicle of events on Nikumaroro, and yet the historical record does not account for the most interesting of the objects discovered there. Somehow, the people who once lived on this island acquired, and put to their own use, pieces from at least two aircraft. One was an early example of the Consolidated B-24 Liberator. While the particulars are not yet documented, a plausible explanation for the presence of this material is suggested in the island’s history. The other airplane seems to be Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed Model 10E Special. Also found, but on a different part of the island, were the remains of a shoe which appears to match the type and size of those worn by Earhart. Although no more difficult to explain than the B-24 parts, the apparent Earhart-related artifacts must be held to a higher standard of scrutiny because of the implications of their presence on the atoll.

Nikumaroro is a jigsaw puzzle, now largely complete, with some crucial pieces still missing. Attempting to explaining, or explain away, the presence of objects for which there is no documented explanation requires speculation, but the trick to intelligent guessing is to guess as little as possible. That’s why a thorough knowledge of context is so important. To stand the best chance of finding the hard evidence that will fill in the missing pieces of the Nikumaroro puzzle we must understand the picture we have so far.

Although there is some evidence of prehistoric human contact with the atoll, the recorded history of the jungled ring of coral which lies at 4°40′ South Latitude, 174°32′ West Longitude begins with an American whaling ship plying the waters of what was known as the South Seas Whale Fishery. It was in this region, noted for its abundance of sperm whales, that Melville would place the final confrontation between Ahab and Moby Dick. Continue.


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