Saturday, February 19, 2011

Upcoming Ameliashpiel

On April 2nd (no, not April 1st) at 4 PM I’ll be giving a talk about our Earhart research at the Petaluma Historical Museum in Petaluma, California. The talk is part of the Museum’s series of special events this spring commemorating the first airmail flight, which took place on February 17, 1911 between Petaluma and nearby Santa Rosa. See for details about the series.

The Museum building itself is an historic building, a handsome old Carnegie library, and has special significance to me, because I checked out my first books on archaeology there, over a half-century ago. The librarians fed my enthusiasm for the subject, and set me firmly on the path to perdition.

National Geographic Lost Over the Pacific

Before anyone bothers to send me a link to the piece of silliness that National Geographic has just put up on its website, please consider the following response that Ric Gillespie has posted on the same site.  I used to think that National Geo had some commitment to being factual and maybe even checking its sources, but no....


Correction: No one has claimed that Earhart's bones have been discovered and no one has made any wild claims. TIGHAR has said only that bone fragments have been recovered that, based on the archaeological context, may be human and, if they are, could conceivably be Earhart's. The bone fragments and other material that may contain human DNA are being examined at Oklahoma University's Molecular Anthropology Laboratories. If human mitochondrial DNA can recovered and sequenced it will be compared to a reference sample of mitochondrial DNA provided by an Earhart relative in the direct female line. The reference sample should be virtually identical to Amelia's.

We welcome Mr. Long's efforts to recover Earhart DNA but without a way to be sure whether AE licked a particular envelope it would seem that any result would be open to question unless it matched the reference sample we already have.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The OHNP -- Whether and Why

The possibility of funding the Oral History of Nikumaroro Project (OHNP) through pledges collected via Kickstarter is looking pretty faint.  We've only a week left before the deadline for pledges and we're only just over 10% of the way to our $35,000 goal.  We will, of course, seek other ways to fund the project, and we do have some prospects, but I hope readers of these posts will consider pledges, and encourage others to do so.  Following is something I just posted on the OHNP's Kickstarter web site.

Why This Project?

By Tom King

There would be excellent reasons for the Oral History of Nikumaroro Project (OHNP) even if it had nothing to do with the mystery of Amelia Earhart's disappearance. The Phoenix Islands Settlement Scheme, which brought I Kiribati and Tuvaluan colonists to Nikumaroro and other islands, was a brave, pioneering effort by its people and administrators alike, and it deserves to be documented as a part of humanity's consultable record.

But there is also that Earhart connection -- or non-connection, because the OHNP gives us what is perhaps our best chance to DISverify some important elements of the Nikumaroro Hypothesis for Earhart's disappearance, and trying to disverify one's hypothesis is the very heart and soul of scientific investigation.

We have a lot of stuff at the Seven Site that we just can't explain -- big chunks of sheet metal, for example, and we're hoping that the erstwhile colonists can tell us how they got there and what they were for. But we also have stuff that we tentatively associate with the castaway whose bones, we think, were found there in 1940, and it's just possible that someone in the Solomons can give us an alternative explanation for some of them. An example has come up this week.

Lithic specialist Geoff Cunnar has completed an analysis of glass shards from the Seven Site and found several that appear to have been used as impromptu cutting/scraping tools. There's much speculation in the Earhart Project Advisory Council (EPAC) about what the castaway might have done that would produce such tools. But what if they're not castaway productions? We know that the colonists made very fine feathered fans out of plant material, and traded them to the Coast Guardsmen at the loran station. This required stripping stems, splitting leaves, and the like. Other makers of basket-like containers and tools -- California Indian people, for example -- use small flakes of stone, like obsidian, to perform these tasks. Were the colonists doing the same thing at the Seven Site, with fragments left by the castaway or by the target-shooting Coast Guardsmen during World War II? Does fan-making also account for the scatters of bird wing bones at the site? One fan we've seen, definitively from Niku, has colors on it that are very similar to the color of the apparent rouge we've found on the Seven Site. Does that provide an alternative explanation for the rouge?

Based on current data, we can't say, but we owe it to the integrity of our research to try to find an answer, and the most obvious place to seek one -- albeit an anecdotal one -- is with the former colonists and their descendants now living in the Solomons.

Here's hoping we can get a team out there to ask people, and here's hoping it's not too late.

Tom King