Amelia Earhart Clue Found in Clumps

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THE GIST

- DNA tests have not yet offered proof that Earhart lived as a castaway on a remote island in the Pacific.

- Genetic tests have not been able to answer whether a bone fragment is in fact part of a human finger.

- Researchers have, however, succeeded in extracting human DNA from clumps of a substance believed to be feces.

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Scientific investigations have revealed that human DNA may be present in fragments of material which could provide crucial information about the fate of Amelia Earhart, the legendary pilot who disappeared 74 years ago while flying over the Pacific Ocean in a record attempt to circle the world at the equator.

Collected on Nikumaroro, an uninhabited, waterless tropical island in the southwestern Pacific republic of Kiribati where Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan might have made an emergency landing, the material consisted of a tiny bone fragment and clumps of material resembling soil or feces.

While human mitochondrial DNA was recovered from the clumps, tests on the bone fragment were less conclusive.

"There does appear to be ancient DNA present in the bones and material we collected but it's in very bad condition," Ric Gillespie, executive director of The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR), which has long been investigating the Earhart mystery, told Discovery News.

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TIGHAR's investigations and theories challenge the assumption that Earhart's twin-engined Lockheed "Electra" crashed in the ocean when running out of fuel on July 2, 1937.

"A large and growing body of circumstantial evidence suggests that Earhart and her navigator landed and lived for a time as castaways only to eventually perish on the atoll," Gillespie said.

Discovered last June with several other artifacts during a month-long expedition, the bone fragment's features led forensic anthropologist Karen Burns to wonder if it might be part of a human finger.

Indeed, it was found at a site on the atoll where the partial skeleton of a castaway was discovered in 1940.

Recovered by British Colonial Service Officer Gerald Gallagher, the partial skeleton was described in a forensic report and attributed to an individual "more likely female than male," "more likely white than Polynesian or other Pacific Islander," "most likely between 5 feet 5 inches and 5 feet 9 inches in height."

Unfortunately the bones have been lost.

"No hand bones were found in 1940, so the presence of a surviving human finger bone seems plausible," Gillespie said.