The bones were first discovered in the 1940s but now have new relevance.
Amelia Earhart pilot
Credit: Bettmann / Contributor

The truth behind Amelia Earhart’s mysterious disappearance may have been uncovered at last. Decades after the renowned pilot and first woman to ever fly alone across the Atlantic Ocean vanished, researchers believe they have her final resting place determined.

University of Tennessee professor Richard Jantz writes in new scientific study that bones discovered in 1940 on the western Pacific island of Nikumaroro almost certainly belonged to Earhart. This finding didn’t come out of nowhere — researchers at the time believed the bones potentially belonged to the pilot, as her projected flight path was close by. But ultimately, scientists decided the bones fit the profile of a man’s body, ruling out that they belonged to Earhart. Now, Jantz argues in his new analysis, improved forensic technology sets the record straight once and for all.

The Nikumaroro bones were discarded at the time of the initial study but Jantz still had the measurements recorded back in the 1940s. Using a computer program to estimate gender and ancestral lineage, Jantz found the comparing lengths of Earhart’s measurements, as well as her estimated weight and proportions based on photographs and identification documents, matched the bones discovered on the Pacific island after all.

In his study, published in the journal Forensic Anthropology, Jantz writes that Earhart’s bones were "more similar to the Nikumaroro bones than 99 [percent] of individuals in a large reference sample."

"In the case of the Nikumaroro bones, the only documented person to whom they may belong is Amelia Earhart," Jantz wrote, adding: “If the bones do not belong to Amelia Earhart, then they are from someone very similar to her.”

What exactly happened to Earhart remains unclear. Some speculate she died as a castaway on Nikumaroro Island — others believe she died captured by the Japanese military, who may have thought she was a spy. But at the very least, Jantz is confident that Nikumaroro was her final resting place.

“Until definitive evidence is presented that the remains are not those of Amelia Earhart,” he writes in the study, “ the most convincing argument is that they are hers.”