After three small human bone fragments and other long-abandoned articles  were found on an uninhabited island in the South Pacific by a group dedicated to finding Amelia Earhart’s historic aircraft, speculation began to circulate Thursday as to whether the mystery surrounding the infamous disappearance of the world’s most famous female pilot may finally be laid to rest. The Associated Press reports that those tiny bones are now being studied in hopes of extracting DNA:

“There’s no guarantee,” said Ric Gillespie, director of the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery in Delaware. “You only have to say you have a bone that may be human and may be linked to Earhart and people get excited. But it is true that if they can get DNA, and if they can match it to Amelia Earhart’s DNA, that’s pretty good.”

Lab officials said test results could take weeks or months.

The remains turned up in May and June at what seemed to be an abandoned campsite near where native work crews found skeletal remains in 1940. The pieces appear to be from a cervical bone, a neck bone and a finger.

But Gillespie offered a word of caution: The fragments could be from a turtle. They were found near a hollowed-out turtle shell that might have been used to collect rainwater, but there were no other turtle parts nearby.

“This site tells the story of how someone or some people attempted to live as castaways,” Gillespie said Friday in an interview. Bird and fish carcasses nearby suggested they were prepared and eaten by Westerners.

“These fish weren’t eaten like Pacific Islanders” eat fish, he said. …

Millions of dollars have been spent to figure out what happened to Earhart, who was legally declared dead by a California court in early 1939. Theories have included the official version — that her twin-engine Electra ran out of gas and crashed at sea — as well as the absurd, such as abduction by aliens, and Earhart living in New Jersey under an alias.

The island lays on the course Earhart planned to follow from Lae, New Guinea, to Howland Island where she and navigator Fred Noonan had planned to refuel.  “It looks like she could have landed successfully on the reef surrounding the island,” Gillespie says.  Gillespie and others who have studied Earhart’s historic aviation career and last-known facts of her life believe she and Noonan may have survived on the island and lived for some time on scant food and rainwater.

In the last seven decades, the island has produced suggestive evidence, including human bones and sextant found just three years after Earhart vanished.  Those remains, however, were lost before the advent of DNA technology could identify them.

As Gillespie and other wait with bated breath, the University of Oklahoma’s Molecular Anthropology Laboratory will try and extract DNA from the bone fragments to compare to genetic material donated by an Earhart family member.

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