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Bones found on island might be Amelia Earhart’s
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“It looks like she could have landed successfully on the reef surrounding the island. It’s very flat and smooth,” Mr. Gillespie said. “At low tide, it looks like this place is surrounded by a parking lot.”
However, Gillespie said, the plane, even if it landed safely, would have been slowly dragged into the sea by the tides. The waters off the reef are 1,000 to 2,000 feet deep. His group needs $3 million to $5 million for a deep-sea dive.
The island is on the course Earhart planned to follow from Lae to Howland Island. Over the past seven decades, searches of the remote atoll have been inconclusive.
After the latest find, anthropologists who previously had worked with Mr. Gillespie’s group, suggested that he send the bones to the University of Oklahoma’s Molecular Anthropology Laboratory, which has experience extracting genetic material from old bones. Mr. Gillespie’s group also has a genetic sample from an Earhart female relative for comparison with the bones.
The lab is looking for mitochondrial DNA, which is passed along only through females, so there is no need to have a Noonan sample.
Cecil Lewis, an assistant professor of anthropology at the lab, said the university received a little more than a gram of bone fragments about two weeks ago. If researchers are able to extract DNA and link it to Earhart, a sample would be sent to another lab for verification.
“Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. That’s why we’re trying to downplay a lot of the media attention right now,” Mr. Lewis said. “For all we know, this is just a turtle bone, and a lot of people are going to be very disheartened.”
Under the best circumstances, the analysis would take two weeks. If scientists have trouble with the sample, that time frame could stretch into months, Mr. Lewis said.
“Ancient DNA is incredibly unpredictable,” he said.
Other material recovered this year also suggested the presence of Westerners at the isolated island site:
• Someone carried shells ashore before cutting them open and slicing out the meat. Islanders cut the meat out at sea.
• Bottles found nearby were melted on the bottom, suggesting they had been put into a fire, possibly to boil water. (A Coast Guard unit on the island during World War II would have had no need to boil water.)
• Bits of makeup were found. The group is checking to see which products Earhart endorsed and whether an inventory lists specific types of makeup carried on her final trip.
• A glass bottle with remnants of lanolin and oil, possibly hand lotion.
In 2007, the group found a piece of a pocket knife but didn’t know whether it was left by the Coast Guard or castaways. This year, it found the shattered remains of the knife, suggesting someone had smashed it to extract the blades. Gillespie speculated a castaway used a blade to make a spear to stab shallow-water fish like those found at the campsite.
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