Six Questions with Tom King: Senior Archaeologist and Investigator of Amelia Earhart’s Disappearance
Tom King is Senior Archaeologist with TIGHAR (The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery), holds a PhD in Anthropology, and is the author of numerous books concerning Cultural Resource Management. With these credentials, and experience gained through many of his adventures, he has become passionate about preserving historical sites and places.
But he has also developed a passion to solve a mystery; ‘what happened to Amelia Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan?’ He and his TIGHAR colleagues have discovered much during his investigative research for Amelia Earhart already, but they continue to seek a conclusive answer to where her plane might have landed. I was excited for the opportunity to ask Tom a few questions on this enduring and enticing mystery! Enjoy!
- 1) You have quite an extensive and impressive background. Can you share a little about what you love about Archaeology? And what you feel was the decision maker for you to pursue this interesting field of study and teaching?
I got interested in archaeology as a child, and was encouraged by my parents, teachers, and local librarians. By serving in the U.S. Navy I was able to get veterans’ loans to support me through college, and have gone on from there. I think my main motivation is that I just find it very sad when people’s stories are lost. Archaeology is an important way to reclaim those stories, and add them to our collective body of knowledge. It bothers me a lot when the places that represent such stories and knowledge are destroyed, so I try to work to preserve them.
- 2) Amelia Earhart’s disappearance is one of greatest mysteries. Solving this enigma would truly be an exciting event. Do you think there is a chance a conclusive discovery can be made? Do you feel there is enough evidence left or retrievable to do so?
I think the quest for “a conclusive discovery” about almost anything can be a fool’s errand. In a business like archaeology – as in detective work – we often base our conclusions on a preponderance of evidence. I think that our evidence is pretty strong already, but it’s certainly not “conclusive,” and I don’t know whether it ever will be.
- 3) What evidence have you found to suggest Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan might have survived for a time? And where?
On Nikumaroro Island, in Kiribati, there’s a site we call the Seven Site (because of a natural 7-shaped clearing in the vegetation there), where we’ve found evidence that someone who wasn’t a Pacific Islander camped for a time in the late 1930s – that evidence includes atypical fish and turtle remains in campfires, bottles that contained skin care products and medicine of the period, made in the U.S., a jar that we’re pretty sure contained freckle crème, what we’re pretty sure are the remains of a woman’s compact of the type and size that Amelia carried, and other artifacts suggesting that the camper was American, female, and there in the late 1930s. The Seven Site is also most likely where human bones were reportedly found in 1940.
- 4) Although others may not be ready to agree, is the Seven Site enough for you to feel like the mystery is solved, or not quite yet? What do you feel is needed for everyone to have a conclusion to the mystery?
Between the Seven Site and our other data (See Pacific Studies/Article), I think we’re pretty close to knowing BASICALLY what happened to Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan, but there are plenty of details to be worked out. As to a conclusion that “everyone” will buy, I doubt if we’ll ever have it – even if we find definitive parts of the airplane and/or bones with definitive DNA, and we haven’t found either of those yet.
- 5) Your work has led to preserving sites that would have been destroyed by expansion and development. What are some of the most memorable Historical places that had been set for destruction, but saved, and why do you feel it was important to do so?
Much of my work in recent years has been with and for American Indian tribes and other indigenous groups, and local communities trying to fight off destructive developments.
A couple of the more memorable victories that come to mind are stopping a planned surface gold mine in southern California that would have wiped out a landscape that’s of great cultural significance to the Quechan Tribe, and saving Xwe’chi’eXen, a landscape/seascape important to the Lummi Nation in Washington State, from a proposed coal transshipment port.
And a few years back, stopping a zinc mine that would have gone in on a landscape treasured by the Mole Lake Ojibwe of central Wisconsin.
In these and other cases, though, it’s been the people who’ve done the hard work and emerged victorious; I’ve just been a helper.
- 6) Besides your passion for archaeology, what are some other things you enjoy? Do you plan on writing more books? Or do you have other challenging mysteries you would like to investigate more?
I’m getting pretty old, so the range of my interests is shrinking. I enjoy reading and writing, playing with grandchildren, the outdoors, and indulging in political debates. I’ve written a novel about what happened to Earhart that I’m trying to market, and have an update of one of my textbooks in progress. I’m also writing stuff in connection with the 50th anniversary of the U.S. National Historic Preservation Act this year (I’m a critic).
Thanks Tom! So the mystery of Amelia continues! How exciting it must be to know you will be leading a tour cruise to Nikumaroro next year and visiting again soon. For those interested, please read about the various ways you can participate in with Tom and his Team and help them solve this mystery. (IN SEARCH OF AMELIA)
I appreciate you sharing some of your findings and thoughts, on not only Amelia’s ongoing search, but on the other works you pursue too. Truly wonderful.
Please keep us informed of any new and interesting developments. Thanks again!
Tom King’s Amazon author page: Check it out!