Sniffing out Amelia Earhart’s bones… with dogs.

National Geographic is following the Amelia Earhart research group TIGHAR – the same group that held the chilling experiments involving coconut crabs and pig carcasses – back to Nikumaroro atoll. Only this time, they’ve got some cute – and extraordinarily clever – dogs in tow:

An expedition organized by the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) sets sail on June 24 from Fiji. On board will be a team that’s proved astonishingly adept at locating human remains—specially trained forensic dogs.

The expedition’s destination is Nikumaroro, an uninhabited island some 1,000 miles north of Fiji. The members of TIGHAR have devoted the last three decades to testing what they call the Nikumaroro hypothesis—that when Earhart and Noonan couldn’t find Howland, they landed on Nikumaroro.

TIGHAR has launched 12 missions in search of Earhart. “This expedition is less of a shot in the dark than any expedition we’ve had,” says Tom King, TIGHAR’S senior archaeologist.

Nikumaroro, then called Gardner Island, has a reef flat where Earhart could have landed the Electra during low tide. More intriguingly, when the island was temporarily colonized in 1940, during the last gasp of the British Empire, 13 bones were discovered, shipped to Fiji, measured—and subsequently lost. The colonial administrator suspected they might be Earhart’s, and the TIGHAR researchers suspect they know the site where the bones were found.

“There’s real potential for there to be more bones there,” says King. “There are 193 bones unaccounted for.”

That’s where the dogs come in. Human remains detection dogs from the Institute for Canine Forensics (ICF) have nosed out burial sites as deep as nine feet and as old as 1,500 years. “No other technology is more sophisticated than the dogs,” says Fred Hiebert, archaeologist in residence at the National Geographic Society, which is sponsoring the canines. “They have a higher rate of success identifying things than ground-penetrating radar.”

That’s where the dogs come in. Human remains detection dogs from the Institute for Canine Forensics (ICF) have nosed out burial sites as deep as nine feet and as old as 1,500 years. “No other technology is more sophisticated than the dogs,” says Fred Hiebert, archaeologist in residence at the National Geographic Society, which is sponsoring the canines. “They have a higher rate of success identifying things than ground-penetrating radar.”

But this mission will be a challenge. The dogs—four border collies named Berkeley, Piper, Marcy, and Kayle—will have to endure a trans-Pacific flight as well as a nearly week-long ocean voyage to get to Nikumaroro.

The island itself is hot, covered in dense vegetation, and teeming with crabs, including coconut crabs, the world’s largest land arthropod. “The dogs are not effective when the ground temperature is over 80 degrees,” says Lynne Angeloro, vice president of ICF and Berkeley’s handler. But she thinks they’ll be able to work through and around the underbrush. “I have no doubt they’ll be able to at least get scents.”

“The crabs are our friends,” says Hiebert. Voracious scavengers, they drag booty—the remains of coconuts, say, or rats—back to their burrows. If their stash includes human bones, “that would provide the environment to retain those decomposition smells.”

[via Outside Online]

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