Unusually Long Skeleton Arms Reopen Amelia Earhart Mystery

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Ever since aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart went missing in 1937, the public has clamored to know her fate. It’s a long-standing cultural obsession, fueled by tantalizing but inconsequential theories that crop up every few years. Now, another twist has been added to the mystery in the form of longer-than-average forearm bones.

The existence of these bones is not new. First discovered in 1940 by British officials on Nikumaroro island in the western Pacific Ocean, the humerus and radius bones were found with a collection of other bones, including a skull and half pelvis. At that time, the bones were identified as male. But in 1998, the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) came across the original skeletal measurements, used software to analyze the measurements, and argued that the bones actually belonged to a Northern European woman.

Now, 18 years later, TIGHAR has announced that the lengths of the humerus and radius bones appear to match the measurements of Earhart’s own arm, as assessed in photographs. When evaluating the bone measurements, forensic anthropologist Karen Burns noticed that the bones were considerably longer than those of the average 19th-century European woman. The humerus was 32.4 centimeters long and the radius was 24.5 centimeters; the ratio of radius to humerus, therefore, was 0.756.

Burns got in touch with a forensic imaging specialist to see whether it was possible to estimate Earhart’s own ratio through photo analysis. In a recently published report, Glickman says that his analysis results led him to believe that Earhart’s humerus to radius ratio was nearly identical to that of the found bones — 0.76 centimeters.

Annotated image of Earhart with analysis landmarks.

Jeff Glickman

While close, this new analysis doesn’t mean that it’s a closed case. “The match does not, of course, prove that the castaway was Amelia Earhart, but is is a significant new data point that tips the scales further in that direction,” TIGHAR says in its press statement.

It’s important to note that the actual bones in question were actually lost soon after they were discovered, and the validity of the TIGHAR findings have been questioned by some anthropologists.

The new theory in line with the jar of anti-freckle cream theory and the coconut-crabs-took-her-bones theory, both of which point to the idea that she ended up a castaway but can’t definitely prove that she was either. Still, the castaway theory seems more convincing than those conjecturing she was captured and executed by the Japanese because they hinge more on science and less on conspiracy.

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