A metal box that may have come from the plane of missing aviator Amelia Earhart was painted with coatings like those used in 1937 when the airplane disappeared, an FBI report says.

James E. Corby, chief of the materials analysis unit of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, said Thursday he tested the paint on the small box and found it was "consistent with the materials that were being used" in the Earhart era.Corby said the tests do not prove the origin of the aluminum 14-by-9-by-9 1/2-inch box, but that he found nothing "which would disqualify this artifact as having come from the Earhart aircraft."

Richard E. Gillespie, executive director of The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery, said at a

news conference Thursday that the aluminum box was found on Gardner Island, a small South Pacific atoll where some speculate the Earhart plane was forced to land.

He said the box bears a serial number that enabled it to be identified as a navigator's bookcase of the type used in the 1930s.

"We've got the first artifact alleged to be from the Earhart aircraft that has passed muster of testing," Gillespie said.

He said members of his group, an organization of hobbyists who research and restore historic aircraft, must return to the island to gather more evidence before the theory can be proved.

Earhart was a pioneering aviator who in 1932 became the first woman to make a solo flight across the Atlantic. She and her navigator, Fred Noonan, disappeared July 2, 1937, while trying to complete an around-the-world flight in a twin-engine Lockheed 10-E Electra.

Gillespie said Earhart was trying to fly from New Guinea to Howland Island when she disappeared. He said a navigation error may have forced her to land at Gardner Island when her fuel ran low.

An expedition sponsored by the organization of aircraft buffs searched uninhabited Gardner Island in 1989 and found the metal box. A number stamped on the artifact enabled the group to trace it to the Consolidated Aircraft Co. of San Diego, Calif., where it was manufactured in the 1930s as a navigator's map case.

Gillespie said the only place Earhart could have landed on Gardner is a strip of reef shelf exposed at low tide. He said federal experts calculated that the tide would have been out when the plane arrived at Gardner. High tide on Gardner puts four feet of water over the landing area, which could have washed the plane over the reef and caused it to sink into 2,000 feet of water, Gillespie said. As a result, by the time the area was searched on July 9, the plane would no longer have been visible from the air, he said.

The British government established a colony on the island in 1938, abandoning it in 1963. There was no record of a civilian airplane visiting the area during that time, and Gillespie said the box was found in a garbage dump left on the island.

The possibility that Earhart was on Gardner, Gillespie said, is further boosted by Coast Guardsmen operating a navigation station there in 1944 who reported finding a rain collection device that included a container of the type and size used on the Earhart plane as a fuel tank.