CHARLOTTE, N.C., Aug. 11, 2015 – If homespun television star Andy Griffith were alive today, he would be giddy about news of excavations that have been uncovered at his coastal home in Manteo, Roanoke Island, in North Carolina.
The story of America’s first colony is a combination of tragedy and historical mystery that has puzzled archaeologists for decades. What happened to the intrepid group of more than 100 English settlers who colonized Roanoke Island in 1587 and then curiously disappeared?
The fate of the English settlers in the chain of barrier islands along North Carolina’s Outer Banks has never been determined. It was Sir Walter Raleigh’s second attempt at colonization in North Carolina, but, unlike his first, this time Raleigh brought civilians and families with him.
The leader of the small band of explorers was John White, whose granddaughter, Virginia Dare, was born just a few weeks after the pilgrimage arrived. Virginia Dare thus became the first child to be born in the New World to English parents.
In his later life, Griffith, who was originally from Mount Airy, N.C., the small town from which Mayberry became his setting for “The Andy Griffith Show,” took up residence on Roanoke Island and became an enthusiastic advocate in the search to discover “The Lost Colony.”
Now there appears to be at least a smattering of evidence that there were colonists in a place known as “Site X” on the Albemarle Sound.
The findings of 66-year old Nicholas M. Luccketti and his colleagues with the First Colony Foundation will be presented at Griffith’s alma mater, the University of North Carolina.
As Luccketti explained, “I’m trying to make sure that I say this correctly. We have evidence from this site that strongly indicates that there were Roanoke colonists here.”
Along with Luccketi’s announcement, separate findings from another coastal island excavation are expected to stir considerable excitement while typically raising more questions and additional speculation.
John White returned to England for more supplies in the late 16th century. During his travels, a naval war between England and Spain delayed his return. When Smith finally made his way back to Roanoke Island three years later, the settlers had vanished. In the process, they left behind some cryptic, yet still undeciphered clues. The first was the word “Croatoan” carved into a fence post. The second was the letters “CRO” etched into a tree.
Many people believe the two references were to what is today called Hatteras Island, 50 miles south of Roanoke.
As recently as 2012 another beguiling clue was revealed after the British Museum re-examined one of John White’s coastal maps using X-ray spectroscopy. The imaging techniques revealed a patch that hid a four-pointed blue and red star situation at the west end of Albemarle Sound. The spot more or less corresponds to the outlets of the Chowan River and Salmon Creek that White referred to as a site 50 miles inland.
Among the artifacts uncovered in Luccketti’s most recent discoveries is a high concentration of Border ware, which was a type of ceramics popular among colonial settlers of the time. A few other items such as a food-storage jar, early gun flintlocks and a buckle have been uncovered, but there is no evidence of dwellings, a fort or other structures. Some archeologists conclude that this is evidence that a small number of the pilgrims may have journeyed there.
In recent years, British archaeologist Mark Horton has also discovered some 16th-century relics mixed with other items from nearly a century later. Horton, who has not published his findings or submitted them for peer review, believes the colonists went south to Hatteras and assimilated with the Native American tribe there in about 1590.
Horton opines that many of the European items could have gradually been abandoned after a lengthy period of cohabitation.
Whether or not these latest findings will lead to future answers to the mystery of the “Lost Colony” remains to be seen.
Even so, as Gomer Pyle might say, “Gohhhllleee Andy. That’s exciting!”
Bob Taylor has been traveling the world for more than 30 years as a writer and award-winning television producer focusing on international events, people and cultures around the globe.
Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
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