At the end of the 16th century, a group of English settlers to North America mysteriously vanished without a trace from Roanoke Island, today part of North Carolina. Now archaeologists are preparing to search for them again, in the hopes of finally solving this enduring mystery.
Often referred to as The Lost Colony, the Roanoke settlers were thought to number more than 100 men, women, and children. But after the outbreak of the Anglo-Spanish war in 1585, with supplies from the English dwindling, the colony disappeared. When governor John White returned in 1590, having left for supplies in 1587, the colony was deserted.
As Science Magazine reports, archaeologists are planning to resume digging later this year. Aside from finding the colonists themselves, they’re also hoping to find any trace of their town, which also went missing.
"I firmly believe that our program of re-excavation will provide answers to the vexing questions that past fieldwork has left us," archaeologist Eric Klingelhofer, vice president for research at the nonprofit First Colony Foundation in Durham, North Carolina, told Science Magazine.
That’s not the only bit of news to come out regarding Roanoke recently. As National Geographic also reports, there are updates on a famous stone once thought to bear a message from the colonists, and later declared a hoax.
The stone was brought to Emory University in Georgia by a middle-aged tourist, who claimed to have found it near the border of North Carolina and Virginia. It appeared to have carvings on its surface, which scholars found appear to be a message from the lost colonists of Roanoke.
Written by Eleanor Dare, the daughter of the governor John White, it purported to tell of the death of half of the settlers, with the rest seemingly killed by local Indians. Other stones were later also reported, also said to have been written by Dare.
In the 1940s, however, closer scrutiny led many to the conclusions that the stones were a hoax, with those later stones being made by a Georgia stonecutter. Questions remained over the initial discovery, however.
Now archaeologists from Brenau University in Georgia and others are hoping to get to the bottom of it. Scientists plan to study the inscriptions, noting that they do not appear to look like a forgery. Others suggest the rock itself is more likely to date from the 16th century than be a recent hoax.
Whatever the case, it looks like one of the most enduring mysteries of North America is back in the spotlight. Now we just need to know what trace, if any, those missing colonists left behind.