What happened to Roanoke's Lost Colony? New clues cast a mysterious light on an old legend
GPR reveals the location of previously-unknown buried structures.
Researchers believe they have found the lost colony of Roanoke and that they may soon be able to find additional clues to solve one of history's most enduring mysteries.
The refreshed colony needed supplies from England but the outbreak of war between England and Spain plus added misfortune delayed the arrival of relief for three years. By the time a fleet finally reached the settlement in 1590, it was abandoned and the 128 souls previously inhabiting it had disappeared. Adding to the mystery, there was no sign of conflict or struggle.
The Virginea Pars map.
Reports claim that houses and fortifications had been dismantled, in an organized fashion, which suggests the colonists decided to relocate and made extensive, but unhurried preparations to do so.
Somebody had carved the word "Croatoan" on a wooden post. Another tree had the letters "Cro" carved into its bark. The clues have long been assumed to mean the settlers relocated to Croatoan Island, a nearby isle that could have provided better protection from the natives. That island is today Hatteras Island.
Unfortunately, in the face of a rising storm, the relief expedition was unable to visit Croatoan Island and the wary sailors returned to England with a mystery. What happened to the colonists?
For years afterwards tantalizing clues surfaced. There were stories of Native Americans who learned to build stone structures from lost settlers. Other stories told of whites seen in Native American settlements, possibly laboring as slaves.
Centuries later, Native Americans were reported claiming descent from European ancestors. Words in their languages had strikingly English sounds. Some of these Native Americans were even said to have blue eyes.
Yet, there were claims of hoaxes and other false leads as the Lost Colony had long captured public imagination. Were they destroyed by the Spanish? Misfortune? Had they starved? Or were they overrun and enslaved by the Native Americans? Did they ever reach Hatteras Island?
Only recently has new evidence come to light. In 2011, a privately-owned map known as the Virginea Pars map, was discovered to reveal the location of the Roanoke fort, inexplicably covered with a patch of paper. The marking is only visible by back-lighting the paper-then the fort can be seen under the patch that covers it.
Why the patch? Was it intended to correct the map after the colonists disappeared?
The secret fort hidden under a patch.
In 2012, subsequent examination of the map showed a second patch that covers another spot, possibly the place where the settlers relocated. The map was not drawn by the settlers however, so why the markings were placed there, then covered up, remains a mystery in itself.
Meanwhile, a DNA project known as the Lost Colony Project is seeking anyone who thinks they may be descended from Lost Colony settlers that intermingled with Native Americans in the region.
For now, the mystery remains, but as new tools such as ground penetrating radar and DNA testing are employed, and as researchers reexamine old evidence, clues are emerging from the parchment and ground that have long remained silent.
The most recent effort to solve the mystery uses ground penetrating radar near the site of the first covered fort. That survey has revealed, for the first time, the presence of long-lost wooden structures under about a yard of soil. Researchers propose to excavate these structures to see if they can find any clues buried in the lost structures.
The excavations will be a long-shot in terms of revealing anything that solves the mystery itself, but they will provide an additional clue to things that happened there before the colonists decided to leave.
Just as sailors will proclaim, "any port in a storm" historians may say, "any clue in a mystery."
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