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On June 17, 1928, Amelia Earhart embarked on a trans-Atlantic flight from Newfoundland to Wales with pilots Wilmer Stultz and Louis Gordon, becoming the first woman to make the trip as a passenger.
AP Photo/FILE/Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe College

A collection of lost bones discovered on a South Pacific Ocean island "likely" belonged to famed aviator Amelia Earhart, a new study claims. 

Richard Jantz, an anthropology professor at the University of Tennessee, determined the bones found nearly 80 years ago "have more similarity to Earhart than to 99% of individuals in a large reference sample," a university statement said. 

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Put simply, Jantz said, "until definitive evidence is presented that the remains are not those of Amelia Earhart, the most convincing arguments is that they are hers." In the same statement, the university said the bones "were likely" Earhart's.

The study was published in the Winter 2018 edition of the journal Forensic Anthropologywhich is published by UF Press at the University of Florida.

Theories abound on what happened to Earhart and her navigator Frederick Noonan once they disappeared July 2, 1937, during an attempt to fly around the world. One speculation supported by Jantz is Earhart found herself a castaway on Nikumaroro Island, located east of Papua New Guinea. 

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Three years after her disappearance, in 1940, a working party stumbled upon a human skull, humerus, radius, tibia, fibula and two femora on Nikumaroro, the study said. That same year, a physician, Dr. D.W. Hoodless of Central Medical School in Fiji measured the bones and determined they came from a man.

But Jantz reanalyzed the bone measurements —  the bones have since been lost — and determined they not only belonged to a woman, but likely Earhart. 

To do this, he compared the measurements of the skull, humerus, radius and tibia to Earhart's dimensions, which were based off photographs and clothing found in the George Palmer Putnam Collection of Amelia Earhart Papers at Purdue University. 

"The bones are consistent with Earhart in all respects we know or can reasonably infer," reads the study.  "Her height is entirely consistent with the bones. The skull measurements are at least suggestive of female. But most convincing is the similarity of the bone lengths to the reconstructed lengths of Earhart’s bones."

Jantz blames Hoodless' error on the undeveloped state of forensic anthropology at the time.

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"There are many examples of erroneous assessments by anthropologists of the period," he said. "We can agree that Hoodless may have done as well as most analysts of the time could have done, but this does not mean his analysis was correct."

The study appears to point to the castaway theory. Jantz said he even considered the bones perhaps belonged to others thought to have died near or on the island, before making his near-conclusion. 

Ric Gillespie, executive director of the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery,  said radio logs indicate Earhart made distress calls for several days after the plane went missing.

Also found at Nikumaroro, the university said, were part of a woman's shoe, a surveying kit similar to the one used by Earhart's co-pilot and a Benedictine bottle, "something Earhart was known to carry."

Follow Sean Rossman on Twitter: @SeanRossman