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Pearl Harbor skull unearthed, may be Japanese pilot

Pearl Harbor skull: An excavation crew dredging the harbor recently made the startling discovery of the skull, which archeologists believe is from one of the Japanese aviators in the surprise attack.

By Jennifer Sinco KelleherAssociated Press / July 22, 2011

In this undated file photo, wreckage identified by the US Navy as a Japanese torpedo plane was salvaged from the bottom of Pearl Harbor following the surprise attack Dec. 7, 1941. An excavation crew recently made a startling discovery at the bottom of Pearl Harbor when it unearthed a skull that archeologists suspect is from a Japanese pilot who died in the historic attack.

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HONOLULU

Forensic scientists are conducting tests on a skull unearthed at the bottom of Pearl Harborto determine if it belonged to a Japanese pilot who died in the historic attack on Dec. 7, 1941.

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An excavation crew dredging the harbor recently made the startling discovery of the skull, which archeologists believe is from one of the Japanese aviators in the surprise attack.

Archaeologist Jeff Fong of the Naval Facilities Engineering Command Pacific described the finding to The Associated Press and the efforts under way to identify the skull. He said the early analysis has made him "75 percent sure" that the skull belongs to a Japanese pilot.

He did not provide specifics about what archaeologists have learned about the skull, but said it was not from one of Hawaii's ancient burial sites. They also contacted local police and ruled out the possibility that it's from an active missing person case, said Denise Emsley, public affairs officer for the Naval Facilities Engineering Command Hawaii, which was being inundated with media calls Wednesday about the skull from international news organizations.

The skull was in water between 35 and 40 feet deep, Don Rochon, public affairs officer for NAVFAC Pacific said Thursday.

The items found with the skull, which was determined not to be from a Native Hawaiian, provided some clues: forks, scraps of metal and a Coca-Cola bottle Fong said researchers have determined was from the 1940s.

Fifty-five Japanese airmen were killed and 29 of their aircraft were shot down in the attack, compared with the 2,400 U.S. service members who died. No Japanese remains have been found at Pearl Harbor since World War II.

Pearl Harbor is home to the USS Arizona Memorial, which sits on top of the battleship that sank during the attack. It still holds the bodies of more than 900 men.

"I think it is important and an interesting find," said Michael Pietrusewsky, professor of anthropology at the University of Hawaii. "It would be interesting because finding the remains of Japanese servicemen from that long ago at Pearl Harbor is quite rare."

Pietrusewsky noted that Fong, a former student of his, is one of a handful in Hawaii with expertise in areas including physical and forensic anthropology and excavation of ancient Hawaiian remains.

It was April 1 when items plucked from the water during the overnight dredging were laid to dry. When it was determined a skull was among the dredged items, contractors were ordered to stop the work, Emsley said. "We definitely wanted it to be handled correctly," she said.

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