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Dogs Join the Search for Amelia Earhart’s Remains

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.

Lagoon on the remote Pacific island of Nikumaroro.
Angela K. Kepler, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

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]

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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
Ice Age Artists Used Charcoal Over 10,000 Years to Create Europe's Oldest Cave Paintings
C. Fritz/MC
C. Fritz/MC

Tiny bits of charcoal found in a cave in France are providing new clues into how our prehistoric ancestors lived some 35,000 years ago.

The samples were taken from the Chauvet Pont d'Arc Cave in southern France, whose wall paintings are the oldest in Europe and among the oldest in the world. Few people have ever been inside the cave, which was discovered only in 1994 and remains one of the greatest archaeological discoveries of all time—but some might recognize it from Werner Herzog's award-winning documentary Cave of Forgotten Dreams.

The results of the charcoal analysis, published today in the April issue of the journal Antiquity, enabled researchers to paint a picture of how humans created art in the Ice Age, as well as the bitter climactic conditions of that time.

Researchers collected 171 samples of charcoal from hearths and torch marks in the cave. Other bits of charcoal were found directly beneath the animal paintings, which have been preserved in incredible detail after being sealed off by a rockfall thousands of years ago.

A drawing of rhinos inside the Chauvet cave
C. Fritz/MC

The analysis revealed that all but one of the charcoal samples came from burnt pine trees; the remaining one came from buckthorn. That doesn't sound all that impressive until you consider that some of these drawings were created nearly 10,000 years apart, during two different Ice Age periods. Put differently, for millennia, humans chose to use the same material for the sole purpose of creating art.

Researchers concluded that while other types of wood could have been used, the artists who created these cave paintings continued to choose pine, likely due to the availability of fallen branches as well as its combustion properties. But more remarkably, researchers believe these early artists selected it because it was the perfect medium for their art, ideal "for the smudging and blending techniques used in cave paintings," according to the study.

Over the years, the paintings have been praised for their artistic merit and use of motion. As Herzog commented in Cave of Forgotten Dreams, one artist's rendering of a bison with eight legs suggested movement—"almost a form of proto-cinema."

These findings also reveal what the climate was like during that time, and it was anything but balmy. The researchers write:

"Pine is a pioneer taxon [group] with an affinity for mountainous environments and survived in refuges during the coldest periods of the last ice age. As such, it attests, first and foremost, to the harsh climatic conditions that prevailed during the various occupations of the cave."

To preserve the cave paintings, only researchers are allowed inside the Chauvet Cave. However, a replica of the cave was built in France's Ardèche region and remains open to tourists.

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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
Researchers Uncover What's Believed to Be the Oldest Shipwreck in Lake Erie
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iStock

In the fall of 1829, a ship had departed from Put-in-Bay, Ohio, but failed to reach its final destination. Now, researchers believe they have finally found its remains, which would make it the oldest shipwreck ever recorded in Lake Erie, if their theory is confirmed.

Remote sensors detected the wreckage three years ago, and the National Museum of the Great Lakes in Toledo, Ohio, has been working to identify the ship ever since then, according to The Blade newspaper in Toledo. Experts believe they have narrowed down their search from 200 possible shipwrecks to three. The museum is now raising money via Indiegogo to fund an underwater survey and partial excavation of the ship.

Strong evidence suggests that the wreckage belongs to one particular schooner—a sailing vessel with at least two masts—that was built in Cleveland in 1821. It was named the Lake Serpent in reference to a carving of a sea serpent on its bowsprit, according to the museum. In the fall of 1829, it left from Put-in-Bay on South Bass Island in Lake Erie, where crews loaded limestone onto the ship. It's unknown what happened after that, but we do know that the ship never reached its final destination. Local newspapers reported that the bodies of the captain and other crew members washed ashore in Lorain County, located about 25 miles from Cleveland, the ship’s intended destination.

It’s a wonder that the shipwreck was even detected at all. Tom Kowalczk, director of remote sensing for the Cleveland Underwater Explorers, which has a partnership with the Toledo museum, nearly wrote off the wreckage as a “small, barely noticeable anomaly” when he first detected it in 2015.

“The target was so small it was almost dismissed as a natural artifact,” Kowalczk wrote in a discovery report. “We were looking for shipwrecks! Curiosity got the upper hand and the boat was turned for a second look.”

Museum officials hope this finding will reveal unknown details about the design of early 19th-century ships from that region. Shipwreck hunters continue their search for another schooner called Lexington, which sank in the 1840s.

[h/t The Blade]

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