A Durham Organization Uncovers New Clues to the Lost Colony

Sometimes the simplest question leads to major discoveries. 

This is certainly true in the search for the Lost Colony.  

But first, a little background.   

Back in 1585, British explorer John White traveled to Roanoke Island and produced an excruciatingly accurate map of the North Carolina and Virginia coast and other drawings of the island. Two years later, White led a colony of 116 English settlers to the area. 

He left the island for England for more supplies but couldn't return again until 1590 because of the war between England and Spain. 

When he came back, the colony was gone—lost in the wilds of a young America. As most North Carolina school children will attest, the only signs left behind were the letters "CRO" carved into a tree and "CROATOAN" cut into a fort post. 

Those words have kept histories focused south, towards Hatteras Island. But in his journal, White wrote the group had always planned to move “50 miles into the marine” referring to the mainland. Those words have new meaning. Here’s why. 

White’s map is called the “Virginia Pars” map. White drew it using graphite, brown ink and watercolors. The British Museum has owned it since 1866. But it wasn’t until Brent Lane, a member of the First Colony Foundation, asked a pretty obvious question, “What’s under those two patches?,” that anyone gave the map a second look. 

Indeed there are two patches on the map. Experts say the patches were made with ink and paper matching the map. One corrected mistakes on the shoreline of the Pamlico River and the placement of some Native American villages. But the other covered what appears to be a symbol of a fort. It’s only visible when the map is viewed on a light box. 

Lane asked the question because of the importance of the map. This is the document Sir. Walter Raleigh used to attract investors to his exploration plans for the New World. He needed it to convince Queen Elizabeth I to let him keep his charter. Colonists used it for navigation. 

So why the patches? And why the symbol on what archaeologists today are calling Site X? 

Some researchers speculate White may have hidden the fort or left other obscure clues to keep French and Spanish spies from discovering the plans of the English. One of the goals of the settlers was to discover gold, copper and other lucrative resources. 

But the real reason for the patch remains a mystery, as does the fate of the Lost Colony.

—Frank Graff

Frank Graff is a producer/reporter with UNC-TV, focusing on North Carolina Science Now, a weekly science series that airs Wednesdays, beginning in August 2013, as part of North Carolina Now on UNC-TV. In addition to producing these special segments, Frank will provide additional information related to his stories through this North Carolina Science Now Reporter's Blog! 

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