Mercer History Professor, First Colony Foundation Discover New Clues Concerning the Fate of the Lost Colony

Lost Colony

The Lost Colony of Roanoke is one of America’s greatest mysteries, and thanks in part to the work of a Mercer professor, that mystery may be solved sooner rather than later.

Dr. Eric Klingelhofer, professor and chair of the Department of History, is vice president of research for the First Colony Foundation, a non-profit organization founded in 2004 to gather evidence of Sir Walter Raleigh’s attempts to establish English colonies on Roanoke Island, N.C., in the 1580s under a charter from Queen Elizabeth I.

The foundation’s latest discovery, which gained international attention due to an article by National Geographic in December 2013, was made thanks to the removal of a patch from an original map being held in the British Museum. A previously hidden illustration of a fort indicated apparent interest by Elizabethan authorities in an area quite far from Roanoke Island, and

lostcolony-02A popular theory had existed that the colonists abandoned the island and traveled some 50 miles south to Hatteras Island, then known as Croatoan Island. That would explain the only two clues found by the search party sent by Raleigh in 1590: the word “Croatoan” carved into a post and “Cro” carved into a tree. However, it now appeared that the colonists did travel 50 miles, but in a different direction, west via Albemarle Sound toward the mouth of the Chowan River.

“That is where we’ve been doing our most recent excavations, and we believe we have locked in on the site that is marked on the map, adjacent to an Indian site that is also marked,” said Dr. Klingelhofer.

The First Colony Foundation employed magnetometers and ground-penetrating radar (GPR) to investigate this newly identified area that might help explain the fate of the lost colonists. The findings indicated the possibility of one or more structures, formerly made of wood, as well as numerous prehistoric features. However, these structures could be left from later colonial sites that populated the area through the 1700s. Excavation will be the next step.

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