Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Results of the Fiji and Solomons Projects

The last few months have seen the completion of fieldwork on two important TIGHAR projects: the search of the Colonial War Memorial Hospital in Fiji and the Solomon Islands Oral History Project. Results are under study now, and reports will be forthcoming, but some preliminary observations may be in order.

Hospital Search

With fantastic support from the U.S. embassy and Fiji authorities, Gary Quigg and his team were able to go through the whole huge rambling hospital complex in Suva with sufficient thoroughness to come away reasonably sure that there are no nooks or crannies they missed. In a nutshell, they did find human bones in some of these nooks and crannies, that had been tucked away and more or less forgotten, but based on comparison with Dr. Hoodless’ metrical data and in one case based on DNA, none of these bones appear to be the ones found in 1940 on Nikumaroro. Whose are they? Well, all over the world, human bones are found from time to time that can’t be identified, and they don’t always wind up in places where they’re carefully logged in and recorded. Presumably the bones found by our team were brought to the Hospital by people who found them in the bush, and when they couldn’t be matched to any known person and disposed of in accordance with that person’s known wishes, or returned to his or her family, or processed as evidence in a crime investigation, they got tucked away and forgotten.

The team also collected a few stories about other collections of bones that they weren’t able to locate; we’ve not exhausted Fiji as a place where the 1940 bones are hiding, but it seems like we’ve exhausted the most likely specific location – the Hospital.

Solomon Islands

The team in the Solomons – Gary Quigg again in charge, with Nancy Farrell, Baoro Koraua, John Clauss and Karl Kern, visited Rawaki and Nikumaroro Villages in the Solomon Islands and interviewed people who lived on Nikumaroro Island in the 1940s and 50s. The team didn’t go in expecting to get information on the 1940s bones discovery; it was very unlikely that anyone living today would remember it. Instead they sought a better understanding of the Nikumaroro colony in general, recollections of how aluminum was used and where it might have come from, and how the vicinity of the Seven Site was used. They brought back a substantial collection of audio recordings, which I’m just starting to work through and transcribe, video that I haven’t seen yet, and field notes; we’ll be working over the coming months to get all this in order and make the data usable. In a nutshell, though, they got:

   --  Information about aircraft aluminum – no specifics on where it came from, but stories about its use and about, in one case, the discovery of an interesting piece (possibly an aircraft door) at a more or less specific location.

  --  Information about the Seven Site, which is going to be – already has been – tremendously helpful in interpreting that site’s archaeology. Notably:

            *  The place was known as “Gallagher’s camp,” though no one remembers why Gallagher had a camp there. There was a small house and a water tank.

            * Men and boys sometimes stayed there while hunting turtles, and the boys climbed trees to catch birds.

            * They chopped off the birds’ wings, skinned them, and chopped off the feet before, in most cases, taking the carcasses to the village. Turtles were taken to the village whole.

            * They sometimes made fires and cooked food on the site – presumably birds and fish.

What this tells us – and there’s doubtless much more detail in the recordings – is that some of the fire features and a lot of the bird bones on the Seven Site are not associated with the castaway-who-may-have-been-Earhart. But the big fire features like WR and SL, with their strange associated artifacts, are something else again.

The Solomons data, in other words, will help us sort out what is probably castaway-associated from what is not, and that’s going to be a big help in interpreting the site and planning further work.  More insights will doubtless be forthcoming as we get through analyzing the data.

Both teams did fine work and brought home useful data.  We owe a great debt of gratitude to all the team members, and especially Gary, who was responsible for overseeing both projects and bringing them to successful conclusions. 


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