Tuesday, January 10, 2012

What’s Left on Nikumaroro?

Somebody asked me the other day: “Why do you want to go back to Nikumaroro? What’s left there besides (maybe) the airplane at the base of the reef?"  The question kind of surprised me, but it made me wonder if the perception is widespread that we’ve squeezed the island dry of information pertinent to the Earhart mystery. So let me take this opportunity to explain what I think is “left.”

1. The Airplane. Setting aside the question of plane wreckage at the base of the Nutiran reef – on which others are fixated, which will cost a lot of money to seek, and which I think is unlikely to be found (See http://ameliaearhartarchaeology.blogspot.com/2010/12/why-i-dont-think-well-find-airplane-and.html), there are other ways in which definitive piece of pieces of the airplane might be found. The colonial villagers were obviously collecting airplane parts to make into things. Some of these are clearly from a B-24/PB4Y, probably the one known to have crashed on Kanton Island, where some Nikumaroro residents worked during the War. Others are not, and are consistent with a Lockheed Electra. Somewhere in the village there could well be a piece or pieces with part numbers or other distinctive characteristics that could be tied directly to Earhart’s plane. We’ve done a good deal of searching in the Village, but Walt Holm has proposed a more detailed, focused search, perhaps using the ethnohistorical data we’ve compiled to focus in on most-likely locations, like the homesites of early (1939-42) residents, and such congregation areas as the sites of the two maneabas (meeting houses).

2. The Seven Site. Though we made a very good run at the Seven Site in 2010, there’s one portion of it that needs more examination, and could yield a real payoff. This is the area extending from the WR feature (where the two standing bottles, the snap (which, by the way, is a size match for snaps on a First Aid Kid acquired on EBay by Art Carty, of a type identified in the Luke Field inventory) and some of the probable rouge were found) to the southeast through the vicinity of the SL feature (where bottles, possible rouge, suspicious pieces of ferrous metal, buttons, pencil leads, the “gidgies” and other artifacts were recovered. We’ve never probed the area between the two features, and we should; plus, as Meg Lickliter-Mundon has argued, we need to explore the SL area itself more thoroughly, with probes to the north, southeast, and southwest, while Bill Carter has argued eloquently for Scaevola-slashing in all directions, notably toward the sea, in case the area on which we've focused is, in effect, a product of our focusing on it. Any of these initiatives might or might not produce smoking guns, but we’d almost certainly get data to help build on the evidence we’ve already acquired, and nail down just what happened at the site.

3. The LORAN Station. We suspect that some of the artifacts at the Seven Site that tend to confuse us may have come from the 1944-46 LORAN station, but we don’t really know what sorts of bottles and other such objects were there. I think we’ve figured out where the station dump was (It’s buried). An excavation there could give us useful comparative data.

4. The Aukaraime Shoe/Bivouac Site. We worked in 1997 at the site where the Shoe parts were found in 1991, which corresponds with Bevington’s 1937 “Bivouac” site. I’m not convinced that we’ve looked there carefully enough. This was a point that Kent Spading insisted upon and I rejected for a long time, but the more I think about it, the more I think he was right; this could have been an intermediate castaway camp en route to the Seven Site, and it merits a closer look.

5. Other possible campsites. The prime target here is “Camp Zero,” the location on northern Nutiran where – assuming we’re right about the landing place, and about the “Nessie” image – Earhart and Noonan would most likely have camped after getting off the plane. I’ve not been enthusiastic about this site, thinking it had been worked over pretty thoroughly both by the colonists and by storms, but studies by Art Carty have indicated that the vegetation depicted there in 1937 may essentially still be there today, suggesting that the site may not be too badly disturbed. I still think it’s a long shot, but it could reveal something. There might be other campsites “intermediate” between the landing site and the Seven Site – though Tom Roberts and Mark Smith demonstrated in 2010 that one can walk from one to another at a leisurely pace in only about four hours. If there are such sites, we don’t know where they are, but serendipity has struck before, and might again.

So I think there’s lots remaining to be done on Nikumaroro – plane search or no plane search. And while I understand that our sometime media underwriters don’t think they need any more footage of people hacking through Scaevola and scratching in the coral with Marshalltown trowels, I’m sorry, folks; that’s what we do. Archaeology is a painstaking process (my dear colleague Indy to the contrary notwithstanding), and the payoff comes in piecing together little bits of evidence – seldom in the form of obvious smoke-puffing pistolas.

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