on the Internet may prove to be more fruitful than decades of digging
in the earth has been in deciphering the stubborn mysteries of early
English exploration of the New World.
to new digitalization of some British historic records, a previously
unseen document likely dating from 1584 to early 1585 appears to be
communication from Sir Walter Raleigh about the first of the
1584-1587 Roanoke Voyages and details of the visit to England by
Native Americans Manteo and Wanchese.
more interesting than anything that has come to light in the last 50
years,” said Phil Evans, a founding member of the nonprofit First
a team of veteran archaeologists dedicated to finding evidence of
century English settlements and forts on Roanoke Island and the
foundation announced this month that it will open an office in
Manteo, near where most of their work is being done at the Fort
Raleigh National Historic Site.
The archaeologists are in a race against time in exploring a
rapidly-eroding shoreline on the Croatan Sound that could hold clues
about English colonization, perhaps even the fate of the so-called
117 men, women and children who came to Roanoke Island in 1587
disappeared without a trace. Despite numerous attempts by
researchers, historians and archaeologists to determine their fate,
it remains the oldest unsolved mystery of early America.
one reason that any new information is so exciting. Not only does the
new-found document give insight into Raleigh’s thinking, it also
illuminates what was going on with the two natives, who went to
England in 1584 and returned in 1585. Raleigh himself never came to
the New World.
gives us a look at what they would have been doing when they were in
England and what was their role to Raleigh,” Evans said. “This
gives us an idea what their purpose was . . . Anything that puts us
in England with them is interesting.”
document, which is in the process of being transcribed, he said,
could be one of many that have been or will be digitalized and posted
online for anyone to see ญญญ-- essentially transferring
reams of previously hard-to-find information from the dusty shelves
of historic archives into readily searchable databases.
documentation could be found that leads archaeologists to significant
sites to explore or new understanding of early exploration. “This
is a good one,” he said, “and it gives us hope that there may be
instance, Evans said that it is known that Thomas Hariot, a scientist
on the 1585 Roanoke Voyage and author of A
Briefe and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia,
published in 1588, had written another chronicle of colonization that
has never been seen.
lost treasures that could be in an archive somewhere, Evans said, are
the letters that the 1587 colonists gave artist John White, the
colony’s governor, before he departed for England in August 1587 to
get supplies. War between England and Spain prevented White from
returning to Roanoke Island until 1590, when he found no trace of the
said that more information about the Raleigh document is expected to
be released soon.
in 2004 by a handful of veteran Early American archaeologists and
historians, the foundation picked up where previous archaeologists
had left off at Fort Raleigh. Despite its name, virtually nothing has
been discovered in the park that links it definitely to an English
fort, an Indian village or a colonists’ settlement.
of the foundation’s research has been led by Eric Klingelhofer, a
professor at Mercer University in Macon, Ga., and Nick Luccketti, the
principal archaeologist at the James River Institute for Archaeology
in Williamsburg, Va.
re-examining sites of previous digs in the park, the team in recent
years found several 16th
century artifacts in an area that is targeted for further
analysis is also being conducted on an original John White map that
was discovered in 2012 to have had a patch covering what could
indicate an Elizabethan fort at an area in Bertie County where the
colonists may have fled. The patch had not been noticed before.
said that a Tudor map expert at the British Library has been studying
the significance of the mark under the patch, but it’s still not
definitive. It appears that there is a patch under the patch, and
that the ink is disappearing where there were marks made by a quill
pen. But so far, researchers are at loss to explain what has happened
to the ink.
Luccketti has been exploring the Bertie site with the aid of
satellite imagery. Underwater surveys and an inventory of all
artifacts found in the area have also been done.
Klingelhofer said there has been no evidence found yet of a major
earthen fortification. It is possible, he said, that the fort
symbol on the map was indicating what was a prospective fort.
core sight for exploration is focused in and around Fort Raleigh, the
most likely location of the “Indian town” that 1584 explorers
referenced when talking about being greeted by the wife of an Indian
nobleman when they first landed.
was the first contact between the natives and the English,
Klingelhofer said, and that was why the explorers decided to stay on
Roanoke Island. “The only thing earlier than Jamestown,” he said,
time is of the essence, Klingelhofer said. “We are always concerned
about these early sites with the rising sea level in North Carolina,”
he said, “and also with development.”
of what the numerous digs have found is “negative evidence,”
Klingelhofer said, which is actually good, because it’s through the
process of elimination that archaeologists are able to find
artifacts. In addition to looking at the shoreline, the team will
reexamine the earthworks in Fort Raleigh.
he said, the goal is to find evidence of the Indian town, the English
fort and the colonists’ settlement.
group has an agreement with the National Park Service,and is hoping
to be able to work on private property, possibly along Shallowbag Bay
and off Mother Vineyard.
could be fruitful to include the public in more of the research,
since members of the community often have institutional knowledge and
insight that could be helpful, Evans said. Some people may even have
artifacts stashed away that the foundation could examine without the
public fearing it would taken from them.
is one benefit, he said, to having a location in downtown Manteo,
which has been offered at no cost by Dare County. The office is
expected to be opened this fall.
are going to have to be within the community and engage the community
to do that,” said Evans, a Durham attorney who was formerly a park
ranger at Fort Raleigh.
local people there, they mention regularly ‘You should look here,
you should look there.’ I think if we’re in the community, we can
have those conversations.”
(This story is provided courtesy of Coastal Review Online, the
coastal news and features service of the N.C. Coastal Federation. You
can read other stories about the North Carolina coast at
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