Archaeologists are Digging at Roanoke to Finally Solve America’s Oldest Unsolved Mystery

In the annals of post-Columbian American unsolved mysteries, none is bigger than Lost Colony of Roanoke Island. Known before it was lost as the Roanoke Colony, the English settlement was established in 1585 by Sir Walter Raleigh, and 120 men, women and children settled there in 1587 under Governor Joh White, grandfather of Virginia Dare, the first English child born in North America. White left for supplies and was unable to return until 1590, when he found the colony had vanished. The area has been scoured and studied for over 400 years to no avail. Now, the First Colony Foundation and the National Park Service are about to embark on a major archeological study that will be open for public viewing. Are they anticipating a new discovery and hoping for a big reveal?

Sir Walter Raleigh

“This dig includes new ground that’s never been tested archaeologically. So, it’s very exciting to see what may be found.”

In a National Park Service (NPS) press release, cultural resource manager/historian Jami Lanier describes plans for First Colony Foundation archaeologists to study new locations at the Fort Raleigh National Historic Site from Sept. 16-24 under the watchful eyes of the NPS and the public. The First Colony Foundation, founded in 2004, is a team of archeologists and historians dedicated to solving the mystery of the Lost Colony while preserving the historical location of America’s first English colony. Their goal is not only to find the people of the Roanoke Colony but to recreate their lives and the areas where they lived, worked, played, worshipped and … disappeared.

“The project is re-excavating specific locations where previous excavations may have missed or misinterpreted soil changes known as ‘features.’ Such features could be post holes, narrow slot trenches, shallow pits, modern intrusions, or the very common tree holes produced by the rotting of root systems. Slow and careful excavation is needed to unravel the stratigraphy of the site (the chronological record of different soil layers).”

Part of the challenge for the archeologists is to undo disturbances to the area created by a former roadbed, the construction of sidewalks, the installation of utility lines, the rotting of trees and erosion of soil, as well as the destruction from previous unsuccessful digs.

Map of Roanoke Island

“In 2012, following an inquiry from FCF, British Museum curators discovered on Sir Walter Raleigh’s map of coastal North Carolina the hidden image of a Renaissance-style fort at the head of the Albemarle Sound. Since that discovery by the British Museum, our archaeological teams have been working at what is styled ‘Site X,’ the locality indicated on the ‘Virginea Pars’ map of eastern North Carolina and southeastern Virginia as the possible location of a colonial outpost.”

Since finding the hidden fort on John White’s map, the sites have been explored but none to the extent of this new project. Will the First Colony Foundation find English America’s holy grail? The foundation’s web page is loaded with pictures and will be keeping tabs on the project. It’s also taking donations to fund it. The hunt for the Lost Colony, the first English baby born in North America and its first ‘missing persons’ case may finally be nearing its end.

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