Science Might Just Have Solved One Of History's Most Fascinating Mysteries

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One of feminist history’s most intriguing mysteries might have just been solved. New evidence could prove the final fate of famed aviatrix Amelia Earhart, who disappeared while trying to fly around the world more than 70 years ago.

The key could be a partial skeleton found on uninhabited Gardner Island (now called Nikumaroro), three years after Earhart’s disappearance. The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) announced in a statement on October 22 that a new forensic assessment found that the bones, originally determined to be male, could in fact belong to the missing pilot.

The basis for the new assessment is the size of the bones — the average woman of Earhart’s time had a radius-to-humerus ratio (forearm to upper arm) of 0.73. Judging from photos of Earhart in which her arms are visible, a forensic imaging specialist determined that Earhart had considerably longer than average forearms, with a probable ratio of 0.76. The 76-year-old bones have virtually the same ratio at 0.756.

If the bones, which were lost after their documentation, are Earhart’s, it proves the end to a long mystery. Earhart disappeared in 1937, along with navigator Fred Noonan, somewhere between New Guinea and their intended destination, tiny Howland Island, in the Pacific Ocean. The last radio transmissions from her plane said that fuel was running low, and though she was able to radio her destination, she couldn’t find the island. Rescuers searched for her plane for more than two weeks, finding no sign of her.

Since Earhart’s disappearance, a number of theories have sprung up — that she may have crashed and sunk in the water, that she survived a crash and lived for a time as a castaway, or even that she was captured by Japanese forces in the area and executed or forced to work as a spy. Gardner Island, the site where the skeleton was found, has long been suggested as a site where Earhart might have touched down and survived for a time.

Of course, we’ll likely never know what actually happened to Earhart. The new data, while fascinating, is hardly conclusive. But that doesn’t stop us from wondering — that’s the nature of a mystery, after all.

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