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It's a mystery that has intrigued Americans for centuries: What happened to the lost colonists of North Carolina's Roanoke Island? See "America's Lost Colony. The settlers, who arrived indisappeared inleaving behind only two clues: the words "Croatoan" carved into a fort's gatepost and "Cro" etched into a tree.


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John White, the governor of the Roanoke Island colony in present-day North Carolinareturns from a supply-trip to England to find the settlement deserted. White and his men found no trace of the or so colonists he left behind, and there was no of violence. White took the letters to mean that the colonists had moved to Croatoan Island, some 50 miles away, but a later search of the island found none of the settlers. The first Roanoke colonists did not fare well, suffering from dwindling food supplies and Indian attacks, and in they returned to England aboard a ship captained by Sir Francis Drake.

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Appointed governor of the fledgling Roanoke colony by Sir Walter Raleigh, White was returning from England with desperately needed supplies. But when he stepped ashore on August 18,he found the settlement looted and abandoned. Now two independent teams say they have archaeological remains that suggest at least some of the abandoned colonists may have survived, possibly splitting into two camps that made their homes with Native Americans. A collection of newly discovered European objects, including a sword hilt, broken English bowls, and a fragment of a slate writing tablet still inscribed with a letter, could point to the presence of the colonists on Hatteras Island, some 50 miles 80 kilometers southeast of their settlement on Roanoke Island, as well as at a site on the mainland 50 miles to the northwest.

Part of an iron rapier handle was unearthed in the spring of at the Cape Creek site on Hatteras Island. Such weapons were used by Englishmen of high status. Meanwhile, at the mainland site on the Albemarle Sound near Edenton, N. And many of their colleagues are skeptical that the artifacts can be definitively tied to the ill-fated colonists, given difficulties in dating them precisely.

Hume met with Horton and Luccketti last month to discuss their finds.

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But the digs al an important shift away from Roanoke Island, where researchers have found frustratingly few s of an early European presence. Hidden in a live oak forest close to Pamlico Sound, Cape Creek was the site of a major Croatoan town and trade hub. During a two-day excavation in July, the sieves produced ample Native American as well as European materials, including deer and turtle bones, homemade and imported brick, Native American pottery, hunks of European iron, parts of a 16th century gun, and a tiny copper eyelet that may have been used in clothing.

Inarchaeologists from East Carolina University found a ten-carat gold et ring here engraved with a prancing lion or horse, an unprecedented find in early British America. The well-worn object may date to the 16th century and was almost certainly owned by an English nobleman. Like most of the European finds at Cape Creek, however, the artifact was mixed in with objects that date to the midth century, a full lifetime after the Roanoke colony was abandoned. Horton argues that members of the lost colony living among the Croatoan may have kept their few heirlooms even as they slowly adopted Indian ways.

One of the most unusual recent discoveries is a small piece of slate that was used as a writing Roanoke t want to date, along with a lead pencil. A similar, though much larger, slate was found at Jamestown. Another artifact unearthed recently at Cape Creek is part of the hilt of a rapier, a light sword of a type used in England in the late 16th century. In addition, a large copper ingot, a long iron bar, and German stoneware show up in what appear to be late 16th century levels. These may be s of metallurgical work by Europeans—and possibly by Roanoke settlers—since Native Americans lacked this technology.

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One theory is that the symbol may have marked the location of an inland fort. If such a fort was built in that location, or even planned or discussed, then it might have been a logical destination for at least some of the displaced colonists. There they found a massive quantity of Indian pottery.

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Archaeologists suspect the site is a small Native American town named Mettaquem. More recently, in an area adjacent to the village, the First Colony team uncovered English pottery similar to that dug up on Roanoke Island and common at Jamestown—but not typical in the second half of the 17th century, when English settlers filtered south from Virginia to settle North Carolina. Other pottery typical of the later 17th century is absent. Excavators also found a metal hook possibly used to stretch hides or tents, as well as an aglet, a tiny copper tube used to secure wool fibers.

Aglets were largely replaced with hook and eyes in the first half of the 17th century. In all the team has found pounds kilograms of Indian pottery covering several centuries of settlement, Swindell says. The English material—called Border Ware —s for a few dozen pieces amount to three or four pots.

We finally have clues to how the lost roanoke colony vanished

He notes that the first recorded English settler in the area did not arrive until about Luccketti adds that, unlike the Cape Creek site, there are no obvious trade goods that suggest exchange instead of resident colonists. But Brett Riggsan archaeologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill not involved with the dig, notes that Native Americans were quick to scavenge any material left by Europeans.

Foundation volunteers admit they have not clinched their case. Dating material within a few decades to distinguish lost colonists from later settlers is difficult. For example, remains of a Border Ware pot found across the river in Edenton date to the late 17th century.

It is very hard to know. Amid the new finds and trenches yet to be dug, archaeologists say they are hopeful new clues may yet crack the case of the missing colonists.

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And none of the groups have yet published detailed scholarly articles analyzing and cataloguing their discoveries. Follow Andrew Lawler online at www. All rights reserved. Share Tweet. Read This Next A photographer gives an inside look at the fall of Kabul. Giant sculpture of Aztec god makes a big statement about Mexican identity. A troubling picture emerges. Researchers find that people who only suffered mild infections can be plagued with life-altering and sometimes debilitating cognitive deficits.

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