June 1, 2012 — -- On the 75th anniversary of Amelia Earhart's departure on her doomed around-the-world flight, the intrepid pilot is in the news again with a group of researchers touting a find they say puts them on the precipice of solving one of history's greatest mysteries.
The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) found on a remote Pacific island a small cosmetic jar that is almost identical to a jar of Dr. Berry's Freckle Ointment, a once-popular American face cream for fading freckles.
"We do know that Earhart had freckles and she was conscientious about them," TIGHAR executive director Ric Gillespie told ABCNews.com today. "It's not an unreasonable thing to think."
He said they do not know indisputably that the jar was the same freckle cream, but they are certain it was a female cosmetic product.
Earhart mysteriously vanished while flying over the Pacific Ocean on July 2, 1937 in the middle of an attempt to fly around the world along the equator. She and navigator Fred Noonan were never found.
"Once something like this gets started, it becomes iconic and it keeps connecting with generation after generation," he said. "One thing after another has kept this thing alive."
TIGHAR has long been investigating Earhart's disappearance and has conducted nine archaeological excavations on the uninhabited island Nikumaroro in the southwestern Pacific republic of Kiribati.
"This is one of several bottles that we've identified from the castaway campsite that seem to be and, in some cases, are very definitely personal care products that were marketed exclusively to women in the United States in the 1930s," Gillespie said.
The jar was found broken into five pieces, four of which were together. The fifth piece was about 65 feet away near the bones of a turtle and appeared to have been used as a cutting tool.
Fish bones and eel remains were also discovered, and the remains indicated that they had not been prepared the way natives would have prepared their food.
"This is not a Pacific Islander," Gillespie said. "This is a westerner grabbing anything they can find and cooking it and preparing it the way westerners do."
Gillespie said that according to recovered documentation, the partial skeleton of a female castaway was discovered in 1940 in the area along with part of a woman's shoe, part of a man's shoe and a navigational tool, but the artifacts were later lost.
Along with the cosmetic jar, TIGHAR found pieces of a woman's compact, a zipper that was manufactured in the 1930's, and a bottle of hand lotion that has been chemically analyzed to match Campana Italian Balm, which was popular during Earhart's time.
The researchers also discovered a bone-handled pocket knife that was similar to one Earhart had taken onboard a previous expedition. The team found the handle of the knife without the blade and it appeared that someone had beaten it apart with a blunt object—perhaps a big chunk of coral—to remove the blades.
"It's an archaeological site telling us a story of an American woman of the 1930s who's trying to survive in a hostile environment," he said.
The TIGHAR team will be conducting its next expedition in July and hopes to find an artifact that will provide irrefutable proof that Earhart died as a castaway on the island.
"What we're hoping for is that smoking gun diagnostic artifact, something called the 'any idiot artifact,'" Gillespie said. At the same time, Gillespie acknowledged that no matter what his team finds, there will always be people who ardently stick to their long-developed theories of what happened to the infamous pilot.
"She's turned into this legend that has been an inspiration and continues to be an inspiration. All the elements are there of a real mystery, [including] an iconic American pioneer. It will almost be a shame to solve it," Gillespie said before a pause and a laugh. "Almost. We really want to solve this thing."
In March, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed her support and encouragement for a new search for Earhart, who she said was one of her childhood heroes.