Amelia Earhart’s Bones Still Not Found

A group called TIGHAR has spent over 25 years not finding evidence of aviator Amelia Earhart on the tiny Pacific island of Nikumaroro. Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, disappeared in 1937. In 1940, several human bones were found on this island by members of a British colony established on the island about a year after Earhart’s disappearance. With the idea that they might be the remains of Earhart or Noonan, several people examined them, concluding they were from a male shorter than both of the aviators.

Several years ago, two physical anthropologists, an archaeologist, and the head of TIGHAR published a re-evaluation of human bones found on the island (Burns et al. 1998). The actual bones went missing many years ago, so they relied on the original documentation, including a report by Dr. David W. Hoodless. The TIGHAR group concluded that, rather than being from a 45-55 year old, European or mixed European male about 5 foot 51/2 inches tall with a stocky build, as Hoodless concluded, they wereinstead consistent with Amelia Earhart, a 39 year old, tall, slender female.

Now, Pamela J. Cross and Richard Wright have re-examined that re-examination in a paper published in Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports. To put it succinctly, they found no reason to question Hoodless’s original interpretation, and no support for the idea that the remains might be from Earhart. Notably, they also point out the unfair and unwarranted attempt by Burns and colleagues to cast aspersions on Hoodless’s competence as a doctor. The article is worth reading in full.

It’s nice that TIGHAR has made their article and many other documents related to the Earhart and Noonan disappearance freely available on their website. The paper by Cross and Wright is also free to download (for a limited time?) at Elsevier.


Burns, K.R., Jantz, R.L., King, T.F., Gillespie, R.E.

1998 Amelia Earhart’s bones and shoes? Current anthropological perspectives on an historical mystery. Paper presented at the American Anthropological Association Annual Convention, 5 December 1998 14(2). The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR), 1998, Philadelphia, PA, USA, pp. 4–11.

Cross, Pamela J., and Richard Wright

2015 The Nikumaroro bones identification controversy: First-hand examination versus evaluation by proxy — Amelia Earhart found or still missing? Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports 3:52-59.

Buffer Zones and Prey Populations

Based on ethnohistoric research, Harold Hickerson argued that deer were more abundant in the buffer zone between the territories of two warring tribes (Sioux and Chippewa) in the Upper Midwest than in either tribe’s home territory. Hunters were wary of entering the buffer zone (but did not completely avoid them) because of the risk of running into their enemies. Once conflict between the two tribes ended, deer hunting resumed in the buffer zone, leading to a decrease in deer populations.

Hickerson, Harold

1965 The Virginia Deer and Intertribal Buffer Zones in the Upper Mississippi Valley. In Man, Cultures, and Animals: The Role of Animals in Human Ecological Adjustments, edited by Anthony Leeds and Andrew P. Vayda, pp. 43–65. Publication No. 78. American Association for the Advancement of Science, Washington, D.C.

A more recent series of articles debated whether the buffer zone concept applied to Native Americans and animal populations in the western United States encountered by Lewis and Clark in the early 1800s. Click on the links for pdfs of these articles.

Martin, Paul, and Christine Szuter

1999       War zones and game sinks in Lewis and Clark’s West. Conservation Biology 13(1):36-45.


Lyman, R. Lee, and Steve Wolverton

2002       The Late Prehistoric–Early Historic Game Sink in the Northwestern United States. Conservation Biology 16(1):73-85.


Laliberte, Andrea S., and William J. Ripple

2003       Wildlife Encounters by Lewis and Clark: A Spatial Analysis of Interactions between Native Americans and Wildlife. BioScience 53(10):994-1003.