Friday, June 3, 2016

2017 Nikumaroro Draft Research Plan - I: The Colonial Village

Please see for information on the 2017 research cruise to Nikumaroro.

In consultation with my colleagues, I’m starting to cobble together plans for each component of the proposed research. I’ll be posting them as they’re developed, and updating them based on comments and rethinking. Please take a look, and give us the benefit of your thoughts.

Component 1: The Colonial Village
The site of the colonial village and government station, occupied from 1939 until 1963, is not where we are likely to find Earhart-related objects in their original contexts. On the other hand, it is precisely where we would expect such objects to be concentrated that were picked up by the colonists elsewhere on the island. This is why it is not surprising that we have found fragments of aircraft aluminum in the village and virtually nowhere else. It’s also why I regret failing to collect the small amber medicinal vial found in the village in 2015 by Joe Cerniglia and Kim Zimmerman, with cap and base markings that may identify it not only as American but as coming from a pharmacy close to Earhart’s home in California. Luckily Joe and Kim recorded it in detail[i], and we’ll try to relocate and recover it in 2017.
The village is also naturally where non-Earhart related objects are concentrated. So when we find something interesting elsewhere on the island and wonder whether someone other than Earhart and Noonan dropped it there, the best place to look for comparative examples is in the village.

One thing we are always interested in finding, obviously, is airplane parts, and the village is where we’ve found them.

We’ve also developed an increasing interest in medicine and cosmetic bottles, because we have evidence of them at the Seven Site and Shoe/Bivouac Site– of apparent U.S. origin and very likely dating to the 1930s[ii]. We know there are medicine/cosmetic bottles at the village site, too, but we haven’t looked at them carefully to see how they compare with the Seven Site examples. We assume that they’re mostly from New Zealand, Australia, or the UK, and that they mostly date from periods later than the ‘30s, but we don’t know that. So it would be useful to increase our comparative sample of such bottles. We collected some from the village’s “Cosmetic Site” in 2015; it would be helpful to collect some more.
Previous surveys have shown that bottles are thick on the ground in the neighborhood of what we’re pretty sure was the colonial dispensary, at the SW corner of the Government Station. So we plan to take a brief but concentrated look at the dispensary and collect a sample of bottles that appear to represent common types.

As for airplane parts, those we’ve found have mostly been on residential sites, where they were probably dropped in the course of transforming them into hair combs, fish lures, inlay for boxes, and the like. Residential sites are distributed mostly SE of the Government Station, an area that’s densely wooded in feral coconut and pandanus (producing a thick, obscuring mat of deadfall on the ground. So we’re planning a simple sweep with metal detectors of a swath starting at the dispensary and proceeding east to the lagoon beach, to see what may be detected. Anything that appears to be aircraft-related will be located using GPS and collected if feasible.

[i] Paper by Joe Cerniglia forthcoming
[ii] Medicine/cosmetic containers at locations other than the village include:
Seven Site
1.     Bottle shard with the word "Mennen" embossed on it, Matches those sold by Mennen for its Skin Bracer product and its Baby Oil product. Dates from roughly 1930 to 1950.  See page 3 of

2.     Bottle for skin lotion, possibly privately compounded by a druggist.  Design patent on the bottle is American and dates to the 1930s but the bottle could have been manufactured later than the 1930s. (Updated paper pending).  

3.     Ointment jar that analysis suggests contained anti-freckle lotion. The maker of the bottle, Hazel-Atlas, stated that the majority of its ointment jars prior to 1930, and many after that time, were "druggist specialties."  The type of glass used in the jar does not seem to have been one used in mass production or wide commercial distribution.  See

4.     Green bottle that appears to have contained either St. Joseph Liniment or Penetro Cough Syrup (both manufactured by Plough, Inc. of Memphis, Tennessee).  Plough products were commonly sold in drug stores.  See

Aukaraime Shoe/Bivouac Site

Container cap that, based on the painted logo on its surface, came from a bottle of Alka-Zane (antacid), Agarol (laxative), or Cal-Bis-Ma (anti-nausea), all manufactured by William R. Warner & Company of New York, starting in 1932.  See p. 134, Amelia Earhart's Shoes.  


  1. Perhaps if Betchart-based Niku archeology becomes an ongoing part of your search for Amelia, an investigation of the 'Coast Guard Culture' would be in order. I think I have read that there is a dump site somewhere in the area of the Loran station, where their discarded junk was discarded. If that site is known and can be practically studied it might provide some interesting insights.

    1. It certainly would be interesting and worthwhile to study the Loran site, especially its garbage dump. Unfortunately, it seems that the Coastguardsmen dumped their trash in a bulldozed trench and then covered it. I'm pretty sure I know (roughly) where the trench was, but digging it would be a very major operation.

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  3. Yes, I remember reading that the Loran Station trash had been covered, but I figured it might not be too deeply buried since the soil/rubble overlying solid reef material isn't too deep, generally speaking, on an atoll. Are you pretty sure it would be hard to do a useful excavation there? Might it be worth a quick recon to verify that the trash dump can't be practically sampled?

    Are any vestiges of the Loran station still visible? In satellite imagery I don't see anything, but it would be pretty remarkable if traces of the station weren't still visible, it seems to me. At Kanton, I understand that many remnants of the old military and civilian airfields still remain, some of which may be problematic from a health and the environment standpoint. But Kanton was a much bigger operation than Niku/Gardner ever was, and I'm not surprosed that it wasn't cleaned up better when those facilities were mothballed/abandoned.

    BTW, is the second Betchart cruise to Niku a go? I thought June was a deadline of some sort. Can you provide an update on status?


    1. Sorry to be long in responding; I don't check the blog as often as I should. We've done some quick recon at the Loran station, whose vestiges are still visible, but I'm afraid it would take more than a quick recon to learn much about it. I agree that it may in time present health and environmental issues, but getting anything done about them may be tricky. It might be worth contacting the USDOD about it, though. Hmmm.

      And yes, the 2017 trip is on. I do need to prepare an update. Thanks.

    2. Just to clear up some points of confusion due perhaps to a lack of clarity on my part, my comment about environmental issues was just an aside about Kanton, not Nikumaroro; also, I wasn't suggesting a brief recon would be a sufficient study of the dump, only wondering if you thought perhaps something useful could be learned, for instance, verify the location of the dump and have a sense what it would take to sample it. Or perhaps identify other easier-to-study locations at the Loran base where discarded coastie artifacts are right at the surface.

      I understand that is easier said than done, and that the Loran site has probably gotten pretty wild again, so maybe not so easy. But you're looking for traces of one or two possible american castaways on an island that hosted a lot of Americans and their miscellaneous possessions not much later. Not studying the focal point of that American occupation site first hand does not seem ideal.

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