Amelia Earhart, circa 1936. (Harris & Ewing Collection, Library of Congress)

Amelia Earhart, the intrepid pilot who vanished over the Pacific Ocean in 1937 while trying to fly around the globe, was a pioneer for explorers—and especially women. But the mystery surrounding her final fate catapulted her into the stuff of legend.

But that legend has been perpetuated by early mismeasurements, and unrefined anthropological analyses of the time, contends a new paper in the journal Forensic Anthropology. A set of remains found on the island of Nikumaroro in 1940 was likely Earhart’s all along, writes a University of Tennessee–Knoxville biometrics expert.

The remains, which had been interpreted as a stocky male by a doctor on Fiji in the 1940s, instead show distinctive trademarks visible from pictures of Earhart before her disappearance, according to Richard Jantz, the author of the paper. 

The circumstantial evidence, including the likely European ancestry and the presence of women’s apparel near the remains on the desolate tropical island, indicate the long-lost pilot was found not long after she perished as a castaway, he concludes.

“Until definitive evidence is presented that the remains are not those of Amelia Earhart, the most convincing argument is that they are hers,” writes Jantz. “The bones are consistent with Earhart in all respects we know or can reasonably infer.”

The initial determination of the bones being male were made by D.W. Hoodless, a scientist at the Central Medical School on Fiji. The bones were lost shortly after that analysis—but the measurements remained. A 1998 re-analysis found the remains were more likely a woman of European ancestry standing between 5’6” and 5’8”—right in line with Earhart. A 2015 analysis countered that finding, instead arguing in favor of Hoodless’s initial examinations.

Seven measurements were assessed by Jantz, using Fordisc and other biometric assessments: four skull sizes, and three long bone measurements.

Among the new Earhart traits for estimates included new photographic contextual estimates, and also the measurements of Earhart’s clothing at Purdue University.

Hoodless based his determination of sex off the ratio of circumference to length of the femur, the set of femora, and the half subpubic angle of the hipbones.

But the new methodology indicates the bones were well within the ranges for females—and the skull data indicates they were likely from a person of European ancestry.

Further evidence was provided by photographs. Pictures of Earhart show that though she was slender looking, her ankles were thick—and she likely weighed more than her pilot’s license indicated, according to the paper. Another picture showing her holding an oil can allow a particularly good coordination of points determining her humerus and radius length—and add further evidence that the remains were Earhart’s all along.

“As a tall and narrow-bodied female, the ‘set’ of the femora could well have appeared male to Hoodless,” concludes Jantz. “It is apparent from the many photos of Earhart, and from her waist circumference, that her hips were narrow for a female. This, in combination with her height does not require a femur angle one might expect of a female.”

The latest Nikumaroro findings were prefigured by a 2016 forensic analysis by Jeff Glickman, a Washington-based biometrics expert who made estimations off Earhart’s bare left arm in a photograph.

Jantz told Forensic Magazine that efforts to track down the bones of interest have been unsuccessful. If they were found, it would likely solve the mystery - and the ending of a legendary story.

"If we had those bones, we'd be able to resolve this fairly quickly," Jantz said.