The quest to find Amelia Earhart’s final resting place just got a little more interesting, as four National Geographic-sponsored bone-sniffing border collies set sail for a remote Pacific island.
The famed aviatrix and her navigator were last seen on July 2, 1937, soaring into the sky above New Guinea. We know where they were headed—Howland Island, a mere speck in the ocean—but we don’t know where they went. There are plenty of theories, of course. Some people think Earhart was actually a spy who went into hiding after completing her final mission. Others think she was captured.
But some of the most compelling evidence comes from Nikumaroro, an uninhabited atoll located about 1000 miles north of Fiji. The island is just 350 nautical miles southwest of Howland Island. At low tide, its exposed reef could have made a welcoming spot to land an ailing plane. Most importantly, we’ve found bones there before; the British government recovered 13 human bones there in 1940.
Those bones have since been lost, as has the precise location of where they were discovered, but archaeologists believe they know where to find more.
So the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) is sending a new mission to the island, bolstered with some very special experts. Berkeley, Piper, Marcy, and Kayle all trained as remains detection dogs by the Institute for Canine Forensics.
“No other technology is more sophisticated than the dogs,” expert Fred Hiebert told National Geographic News. “They have a higher rate of success identifying things than ground-penetrating radar.” Hiebert is archaeologist in residence at the National Geographic Society, which sponsored the collies’ involvement.
The dogs’ job is to follow the scent of human bones, then alert their human counterparts, who will excavate in a wide circle around the targeted area. It probably won’t be an easy job. Heat, vegetation, and scavengers can all throw off the scent, and Nikumaroro is sweltering, dense with greenery, and crawling with bone-cracking coconut crabs.
That last thing might not be terrible. “The crabs are our friends,” Hiebert says. It’s possible that they found the remains themselves, then dragged them back to their burrows. The dark, underground holes could actually help preserve the remains and their scent.
Hiebert and his colleagues at TIGHAR know it’s a long shot. The scent trail likely went cold ages ago, if the bones are even still there, if they ever were there at all.
“But if the dogs are successful,” Hiebert says, “it will be the discovery of a lifetime.”
[h/t National Geographic News]