First Colony Foundation Using Archaeology and Historical Research to Find Sir Walter Raleigh's Roanoke Island Colonies
In Search of the First Colony


Dig Reports
Paul Green's The Lost Colony begins when the actor portraying the historian steps upon the stage of the Waterside Theater to evoke the memory of Sir Walter Raleigh's Roanoke colonists. He reminds the audience that events portrayed actually took place all around where they are sitting. Although this historian is one of the cast of the celebrated outdoor drama, he is paralleled by a real life, present day, blue ribbon team of archaeologists and historians continuing the search into the mysteries of the Roanoke Colonies.

First Colony Foundation archaeologists Nick Luccketti, David Hazzard, and Luke Pecoraro with a copper square necklace found in 2008
First Colony Foundation archaeologists Nick Luccketti, David Hazzard, and Luke Pecoraro with a copper square necklace found in 2008
Assembled and supported by the First Colony Foundation, a North Carolina non-profit organization, this team continues in 2008 a program of ongoing archaeological and historical research focusing on the Roanoke Voyages. First Colony Foundation is conducting multi-disciplinary research that combines highly technological remote sensing with the traditional excavation of terrestrial archaeology, diving of underwater archaeology, and careful reading of archival research.

In the bleak winter months of 2008, First Colony archaeologist Dr. Eric Klingelhofer brought experts from Witten Technologies from Tallahassee, Florida, to Fort Raleigh to conduct ground penetrating radar surveys between the theater entrance and the parking lot. The advanced capacity of the Witten radar tomography techniques allows archaeologist to see a "virtual excavation" -- an almost x-ray quality, vertical video of what is below your feet.

Another of First Colony's archaeologists, Nick Luccketti, put the finishing touches on the final report of excavations funded by the Bloedorn Foundation of Washington, DC in the fall of 2006 between the theater parking lot and Roanoke Sound. Shoreline erosion in that area had over time revealed artifacts from the time of the Lost Colony. Several pottery sherds with a green interior glaze datable to the days of Sir Walter Raleigh have been found along the shore a short distance from the theater. Although styled "Spanish olive jars" by archaeologists today, these wares were used as containers for a variety of items in addition to olive oil and widely distributed by trade in the late 16th century. The shallow sound waters in the same area have also exposed the remains of what are thought to be the wooden casings of rain barrels or early wells. Carbon dating by the National Park Service has identified the wood to the time of the Raleigh colonies as well. First Colony test excavations uncovered examples of the pottery made by the original inhabitants of the Outer Banks, the Roanokes and Croatoans, and believed traded to the English colonists.

A necklace of copper squares found in 2008.  It was probably worn by a Roanoke Indian.
A necklace of copper squares found in 2008. It was probably worn by a Roanoke Indian.
2008 saw Klingelhofer and Luccketti leading another season of test excavation at Fort Raleigh. That year the concentration was on Ground Penetrating Radar targets identified in the Witten Technologies data and through National Park Service research in the area of the Thomas Hariot Nature Trail. This area had already revealed traces of Elizabethan activity in limited tests in 1995, so it was hoped that more evidence of the Roanoke colonies could be found there. And it was. With the assistance of archaeologists from Oregon Public Broadcasting's upcoming series "Time Team American," First Colony opened an area where remains from the late 16th through early 18th centuries were found in undisturbed contexts. Artifacts recovered in this area include sizeable pieces of Algonquian tobacco pipes and pottery, fragments of French ceramic flasks and metallurgist's crucible, Venetian white glass trade beads, wrought nails, and an entire necklace of copper squares that was likely the elaborate personal ornament of a Roanoke Indian.

Late in 2008 First Colony archaeologist Clay Swindell, under the direction of Nick Luccketti, continued survey testing in the area of the Hariot Trail and he has found a site from dating from 1680 through about 1730, which appears to be the earliest archaeological evidence of the permanent European resettlement of the island a century after the Lost Colony.

Randy Little using a hand held magnetometer to relocate anomalies south of Ballast Point.
Randy Little using a hand held magnetometer to relocate anomalies south of Ballast Point.
Gordon Watts and his team of underwater archaeologists continued their research dives in Roanoke Sound and Shallowbag Bay in both 2006 and 2007. Although all the targets examined by them so far have revealed only material dating from the time of the Civil War or later, there are many targets still to be examined in areas of expected colonial activity. Their research is expected to resume in Broad Creek near Wanchese during 2009.

First Colony Foundation historians and board members are also supporting further historical research into the mysteries of the Roanoke colonies, including the Lost Colony. Roanoke Island Historical Association historian Lebame Houston is joining with Dr. Jim Horn of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation and William S. Powell, UNC's emeritus professor of North Carolina history in this important initiative. Dr. Horn is currently assessing a large collection of documents gathered from Spanish archives in the past few years by National Park Service historian Milagros Flores. In the summer of 2009 Dr. Horn is scheduled to be working in London and Dublin to see if Anglican Church records in those cities hold more clues to the mystery. These research efforts may eventually tell us more about both the origins of such colonists as Eleanor and Ananias Dare, as well as what may have happened to them and their famous daughter Virginia.

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