Video: 75 years later, Earhart search continues

  1. Closed captioning of: 75 years later, Earhart search continues

    >>> finally tonight it has been 75 years since a remarkable life ended and an enduring mystery began. what happened to amelia earhardt ? this week a new expedition departs from honolulu to perform a new kind of search, one that could perhaps finally answer the question. here's nbc's kristen dahlgren.

    >> a lady adventurer, a heroin of the skies.

    >> reporter: she was a pioneer of flight whose feats made imaginations soar.

    >> i hope it will increase women in this in time.

    >> reporter: in 1937 amelia earhart and her navigator set out to circle the globe.

    >> contemplated about 27,000 miles.

    >> reporter: she almost made it, an astonishing piece of flying from california to new guinea. but 75 years ago today over the remote south pacific amelia earhart disappeared. triggering a massive search and sparking one of the enduring mysteries of our time. her plane went down near a group of tiny, uninhabited islands . rick gillespie, who has devoted years to the search for earhart , believes she landed safely.

    >> you think she was a castaway.

    >> oh, yes. there is quite good evidence that she was a castaway.

    >> excavations on this island have turned up products that appear to be manufactured in the u.s. in the 1930s . a woman's compact, a flight jacket zipper, and a jar that may have once held freckle cream.

    >> earhart had freckles and didn't like her freckles.

    >> reporter: add that to a newly discovered photo taken several months after earhart 's disappearance that seems to show something.

    >> it does appear we have a picture of a piece of debris from her airplane on the reef of this island.

    >> reporter: armed with new, deep water submersibles and side scanning sonar technology, gillespie and his team will test their theory that earhart 's plane was washed off the reef where it landed into the depths below. if they find anything on sonar, then this goes in the water, a specially designed remote operated vehicle that could give us our first clear pictures of earhart 's plane in 75 years. skeptics say earhart crashed into the ocean elsewhere or that 75 years in churning seas would have broken up the plane. but researchers are confident. so if there is something out there?

    >> we'll see.

    >> reporter: a new team of explorers on the hunt for one of history's greatest adventurers and the answers that could finally put a mystery and a heroine to rest. kristen dahlgren,

updated 7/13/2012 3:24:59 PM ET 2012-07-13T19:24:59

As the search for Amelia Earhart's plane probes the deep waters off Nikumaroro, a tiny desert island between Australia and Hawaii where the legendary aviator may have landed 75 years ago, new clues have surfaced in the artifacts unearthed on the coral atoll.

A variety of fragmented objects collected by archaeologists at a site on the uninhabited island may have originally been American beauty and skin care products, all dating to the 1930s, says a new summary of research by the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (or TIGHAR), which will be published in October by the academic journal Pacific Studies.

TIGHAR researchers had already suggested that a small jar, found broken in five pieces, could have contained Dr.‭ C.H. Berry's F‬reckle Ointment. Marketed in the early 20th century, the concoction promised to make freckles fade.

PHOTOS: Amelia Earhart's Fate Reconstructed

"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.

Cerniglia also identified two other bottles as containers of skin products. One green bottle was possibly St. Joseph's Liniment, which had applications in first aid and as a mosquito repellent.

"This broken bottle was found partially melted in the remains of a cooking fire," Thomas King, TIGHAR's senior archaeologist and author of the summary article, told Discovery News.

"It may have been used in an effort to boil or distill drinking water — there is no fresh surface water on Nikumaroro except what can be caught during sporadic rain squalls," King said.

Spectrographic analysis on another bottle revealed it likely contained Campana Italian Balm, a popular American hand lotion in the 1930s.

"Traces of a substance found in the Nikumaroro fragment matched well with residue from an intact 1934 Campana Italian Balm bottle," Cerniglia said.

NEWS: Credible Amelia Earhart Signals Were Ignored

Other beauty products included a shattered bottle with the word "Mennen" embossed on its side in Art Deco lettering, apparently a 1930s lotion or cosmetic container of American origin, and small fragments of red material chemically identified as probable cosmetic rouge.

"Earhart is known to have carried a compact which, if it was like others of the period, would have contained rouge," King said.

No beauty case is complete without a mirror, and indeed two small pieces of thin beveled glass that match the mirror of a known 1930s vintage American woman's compact were found at the site.

"I wish we knew more about Amelia's cosmetics. We know she had a compact, and a news account has recently surfaced of her powdering her nose before getting out of the plane in Australia," King said.

He added that archived news account included a very grainy photo of Earhart holding something rectangular about the size of a "book-shaped" compact capacious enough to hold the Nikumaroro mirror.

PHOTOS: Jars Hint at Amelia Earhart Castaway Presence

Intriguingly, King and colleagues may have found evidence for the compact itself in several pieces of thin ferrous metal.

"Chemical analysis on one of the metal pieces indicate the presence of carminic and alginic acids, often used in cosmetics," King said.

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Overall, the abundance of cosmetics and beauty products on the desert island provides further circumstantial evidence for the presence of an American woman.

"U.S. Coast Guardsmen, island colonists, and British colonial officials are unlikely to have had such items," King said.

All the cosmetics artifacts, along with many other objects, were found in an area that TIGHAR calls the Seven Site, in the island's remote southeast end.

There, a partial human skeleton was found in 1940 by the island's British administrator. Unfortunately, the bones have been lost.

TIGHAR researchers are currently investigating the reef slope off the west end of Nikumaroro in the attempt to find pieces of Earhart's Lockheed Electra aircraft.

"The objective of the expedition is to locate, identify and photograph any and all surviving aircraft wreckage," Ric Gillespie, TIGHAR's executive director, said.

The expedition and its findings will be captured by a film crew from Discovery Channel and aired as a documentary in August. Discovery News is following the deep water search with daily updates from Nikumaroro.

© 2012 Discovery Channel

Explainer: Seven deep mysteries of history

  • Image: Amelia Earhart
    FPG/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

    What happened to Amelia Earhart?

    Amelia Earhart raised the spirits of Depression-era America as she soared into the aviation record books with feats of altitude, distance and endurance. The mood took a gloomy turn, however, when she and her navigator Fred Noonan disappeared over the Pacific Ocean on July 2, 1937, during a much-heralded attempt to fly around the world. Their fate remains one of aviation's greatest unsolved mysteries.

    Theories abound: They ran out of fuel and crashed into the Pacific Ocean. They were captured by the Japanese and executed. They survived, and Earhart lived out her life as a housewife in New Jersey.

    A prominent theory with tantalizing clues holds that they survived the crash landing and but perished as castaways on Nikumaroro, an uninhabited island in the republic of Kiribati. An expedition to the island in 2010 recovered pieces of a pocket knife and a glass jar that may have belonged to the castaways. If DNA analyses on these and other items match Earhart's, the mystery may finally be resolved.

    Click ahead for six more stories of historical mysteries.

  • Where are Cleopatra and Mark Antony buried?

    Image: Kathleen Martinez, director of a Dominican-Egyptian archeological mission
    Orlando Barria  /  EPA

    Excavations underway at a temple near Alexandria, Egypt, may reveal the final resting place of the doomed lovers Cleopatra and Mark Antony. The Egyptian queen and Roman general committed suicide in 30 B.C. following their defeat in the battle of Actium for control of the Roman Empire. But where the lovers were buried is unknown.

    Zahi Hawass, Egypt's top archaeologist, believes the lovers were put to rest in the temple of Taposiris Magna and launched a dig with a Dominican-led team to locate the tomb. "It my opinion, if this tomb is found, it will be one of the most important discoveries of the 21st century because of the love between Cleopatra and Mark Antony, and because of the sad story of their death," he told reporters during a tour of the temple.

    Dominican archaeologist Kathleen Martinez is shown here with an alabaster bust of Cleopatra that was found at the excavation site near Alexandria.

  • Where is Genghis Khan buried?

    Image: The foundation of a Genghis Khan's mausoleum.
    Japan-Mongol Joint Research Team via AP

    Genghis Khan united warring tribes in 1206 and became the leader of the Mongols, creating an empire that eventually stretched from China to Hungary. The famed warrior's tomb, however, has remained a mystery ever since his death in 1227.

    According to legend, his burial party killed anyone who saw the procession. The slaves and soldiers who attended the funeral were also killed. Horses then trampled evidence of the burial, and a river was diverted to flow over the grave, which is thought to lie somewhere near Genghis Khan's birthplace in Khentii Aimag.

    Expeditions to locate the tomb have been aborted due to concerns that the excavations would disturb the site and destroy the soul that serves as its protector. In 2004, archaeologists uncovered Genghis Khan's palace, shown here, and they suspect the tomb lies nearby.

  • Did the Donner family resort to cannibalism?

    Image: James F. Reed and Margret W. Keyes Reed

    The legend is a harrowing tale of survival: A group of pioneers headed for California in 1846 got stuck on a mountain pass in the Sierra Nevada and resorted to cannibalism to survive the winter. But the claims that they feasted on human flesh may have been exaggerated, based on an analysis of bones found in a hearth along Alder Creek, where at least some of the Donner Party passed the time.

    The analysis shored up accounts that the family dog, Uno, was eaten, as well as a steady supply of cattle, deer and horse. No human bones were found at the site. While cannibalism may have occurred, if it did, the bones were treated in a different way. Perhaps the bones were buried. Or perhaps they were placed on the hearth last and have since eroded, according to project scientist Gwen Robbins, a professor of biological anthropology at Appalachian State University.

    Donner Party survivors James Reed and his wife Margaret Reed are shown in this photo from the 1850s.

  • Where is Billy the Kid buried?

    Image: William Bonney, aka Billy the Kid, circa 1880.
    Lincoln County Heritage Trust

    Legend holds that outlaw Billy the Kid was gunned down by Sheriff Pat Garrett in 1881 and buried in Fort Sumner, N.M. A headstone marks his grave, but a controversy has roiled since the 1930s when an Arizona man named John Miller claimed that he was the legendary outlaw. Garrett, he said, shot the wrong man and lied about it. Matters became even more confused a few decades later when a Texan named "Brushy" Bill Roberts came forth and said he was the real Billy the Kid.

    An investigation aims to resolve the case by exhuming the body of Billy the Kid's mother and comparing her mitochondrial DNA to genetic material from the three men. But the investigation is controversial on several fronts. For one, the graves have been moved over the decades and nobody is certain the bodies and headstones match up. In addition, if the real Billy the Kid turns out to be buried in Texas or Arizona, it would kill off a legend that helps draw tourists to the New Mexico gravesite.

  • Christopher Columbus' remains in Spain?

    Image: Alleged tomb of Christopher Columbus, Cathedral of Seville
    Cristina Quicler  /  AP file

    In 1492, Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue; after he died in 1509, his remains remained on the move. He was originally buried in the Spanish city of Valladolid, but his remains were shipped to the Caribbean island of Hispanola (modern-day Dominican Republic and Haiti) in 1537, in accordance with his will. When the Spanish lost the territory to France in 1795, they shipped Columbus's remains to Cuba, where they stayed until the Spanish-American War prompted their return to Seville in 1898. The tomb is shown here.

    The Dominican Republic, however, says Columbus' remains never left Hispanola. In 1877, a box was uncovered in a Santo Domingo cathedral with an inscription identifying the remains as belonging to the "illustrious and distinguished male Cristobal Colon (Spanish for Christopher Columbus)."

    DNA analysis of bone fragments from the Seville remains and those of Columbus' brother Diego, also buried in the city, are a perfect match. When researchers announced those findings in 2006, they declared that the century-old dispute was resolved. But DNA from the Dominican remains has yet to be studied, leaving the case not quite fully shut.

  • DNA seals fate of Russian czar's kids

    Image: Nicholas II, Prince Alexei
    AP file

    Bolsheviks gunned down Russian Czar Nicholas II, Empress Alexandra and their five children in 1918, but for 90 years the whereabouts of two of the children, Prince Alexei (heir to the Russian throne) and a daughter (Maria or Anastasia), remained unknown until 2008. That's when their bones were recovered from a grave near the rest of the Romanov family near Yekaterinburg in the Ural Mountains, about 900 miles east of Moscow.

    The bones from the second grave were burned and drenched in sulfuric acid, presumably to conceal the victims' identities or conditions at death. But scientists were able to examine mitochondrial DNA, which is passed down from mother to children. They also matched up Y chromosome markers from Crown Prince Alexei and Czar Nicholas II.

    Czar Nicholas II, left, and the Crown Prince Alexei, are shown cutting wood in this photo, taken at a Siberian prison months before their murder in 1918.


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