Published May 31, 2012
| Discovery News
A small cosmetic jar offers more circumstantial evidence that the legendary aviator, Amelia Earhart, died on an uninhabited island in the southwestern Pacific republic of Kiribati.
Found broken in five pieces, the ointment pot was collected on Nikumaroro Island by researchers of The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR), which has long been investigating the last, fateful flight taken by Earhart 75 years ago.
When reassembled, the glass fragments make up a nearly complete jar identical in shape to the ones used by Dr. C. H Berry's Freckle Ointment. The ointment was marketed in the early 20th century as a concoction guaranteed to make freckles fade.
"It's well documented Amelia had freckles and disliked having them," Joe Cerniglia, the TIGHAR researcher who spotted the freckle ointment as a possible match, told Discovery News.
The jar fragments were found together with other artifacts during TIGHAR's nine archaeological expeditions to the tiny coral atoll believed to be Earhart's final resting place.
Analysis of the recovered artifacts will be presented at a three-day conference in Arlington, Va. A new study of post loss radio signals and the latest forensic analysis of a photograph believed to show the landing gear of Earhart's aircraft on Nikumaroro reef three months after her disappearance, will be also discussed.
Beginning on June 1st, the symposium will highlight TIGHAR's high-tech search next July to find pieces of Earhart's Lockheed Electra aircraft.
The pilot mysteriously vanished while flying over the Pacific Ocean on July 2, 1937 during a record attempt to fly around the world at the equator. The general consensus has been that Earhart's twin-engined plane ran out of fuel and crashed in the Pacific Ocean, somewhere near Howland Island.
But according to Ric Gillespie, executive director of TIGHAR, there is an alternative scenario.
"The navigation line Amelia described in her final in-flight radio transmission passed through not only Howland Island, her intended destination, but also Gardner Island, now called Nikumaroro," Gillespie said at a special press event on March 20 hosted by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
According to Gillespie, the possibility that Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan might have made an emergency landing on Nikumaroro's flat coral reef, some 300 miles southeast of their target destination, is supported by a number of artifacts which, combined with archival research, strongly point to a castaway presence on the remote island.
"Broken shards from several glass containers have been recovered from the Seven Site, the archaeological site on the southeast end of Nikumaroro that fits the description of where the partial skeleton of a castaway was discovered in 1940," Gillespie told Discovery News.
Found with the skeletal remains at that time were part of a man's shoe, part of a woman's shoe, a box that had once contained a sextant, remnants of a fire, bird bones and turtle bones -- all suggesting that the site had been the castaways' camp.
"Unfortunately, the bones and artifacts found in 1940 were subsequently lost," said Gillespie.
Like most archaeological sites, the Seven Site has yielded evidence of activity from several different periods in the island's history and not all of the glass recovered from the site is attributable to the castaway.
"For example, the top of a war-time Coke bottle and pieces of what was probably a large salt shaker of a style used by the U.S. military are almost certainly relics of one or more U.S. Coast Guard target shooting forays," Gillespie said.
Much of the glass, however, appears to be associated with a castaway presence.
Two of the bottles, both dating from the 1930s, were found in what had been a small campfire.
"The bottoms of both bottles are melted but the upper portions, although shattered, are not heat-damaged -- implying that the bottles once stood upright in the fire. A length of wire found in the same spot has been twisted in such a way as to serve as a handle for holding a bottleneck," said Gillespie.
"It seems reasonable to speculate that the bottles were used by the castaway to boil collected water to make it safe for drinking," he added.
Some of the recovered items contained products generally used only by women.
Laboratory analysis of remnants of the contents in a three-ounce bottle show a close match to Campana Italian Balm, a hand lotion made in Batavia, Ill. that was popular among American women in the 1930s.
However, the most intriguing of the Seven Site bottles appears to be the small cosmetic jar.
"The problem we have in precisely identifying the jar is that all the examples we have found come in opaque white glass. The artifact jar is clear glass," said Cerniglia.
So far, the researchers have not been able to match the exact size of the artifact jar to a known jar of Dr. Berry's product.
"The reassembled artifact jar does, however, fit nicely in a box in which freckle cream was marketed. The known Dr. Berry jars do not. So we know there was a jar of Dr. Berry's Freckle Ointment of the same size as the artifact jar, but we don't know whether it was clear glass," Gillespie said.
More important than the exact contents of the jar, is the fact that four of the broken pieces of the ointment pot were found together. The fifth piece was discovered about 65 feet away near the bones of a turtle.
According to Gillespie, that piece of glass shows evidence of secondary use as a cutting or slicing tool.
"The bottles and other artifacts we have found at the Seven Site tell a fascinating, but still incomplete, story of ingenuity, survival, and, ultimately, tragedy. Whether it is Amelia Earhart's story remains to be seen," Gillespie said.