More promising was the area of the dunes at the park’s Nature Trail. This area revealed traces of Elizabethan activity in limited tests in 1995, and NPS archaeologists had undertaken GPR surveys there. Their testing had yielded no tangible success, but 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 series “Time Team American,” in 2008 First Colony opened an area where remains from the late 16th through early 18th centuries were found in undisturbed contexts. Then and in subsequent years, artifacts recovered under the dunes include sizable pieces of Algonquian tobacco pipes and pottery, fragments of French ceramic flasks and metallurgist’s crucibles, Venetian white glass trade beads, wrought nails, and an entire necklace of cut diamond-shaped copper sheets that was likely presented to a Roanoke noble. The site also produced scientific data. Most important were the results of Optical Stimulated Luminescence, which determines how long crystallic grains of soil have been buried (away from sunlight). Here, it was determined that a massive sand intrusion had covered the site in the late 1760s. The Great Chesapeake Hurricane of 1769, which devastated coastal North Carolina, is undoubtedly the cause.
First Colony archaeologist Clay Swindell expanded survey testing in the area of the Nature Trail late in 2008. There he found a site from dating from the 1690s through the 1760s, which appears to be the earliest archaeological evidence of the permanent European resettlement of the island a century after the Lost Colony. It also explained why later colonial artifacts have turned up in previous excavations.
Additional remote sensing techniques were employed as First Colony researchers followed up on the 2012 discovery in the British Museum of a fort symbol on John White’s manuscript map of Elizabethan America, entitled “La Virginea Pars.” Although it was presumed that such a fort had never been built, it did show that London was interested in a site outside of Roanoke Island. Consequently, with a Waitt Discovery Grant from the National Geographic Society, we were able to bring satellite imaging techniques from Elizabeth City State University to bear on the head of the Albemarle Sound in Bertie County, where Cashie-type pottery may have had its source. The aerial remote sensing was followed by much GPR after examination of artifact collections showed potentially very early English finds close to a large Native village, one designated on the Elizabethan printed map of Raleigh’s explorations as “Mettaquem.” The GPR survey, and later use of a drone, showed that not only was there no European fort on what we named “Site X,” but that it was very limited in area and could not have contained the full group of Lost Colonists.
But that research still continues, more in the laboratory by Curator Bly Straube analyzing the Site X artifacts than the field team in the ground searching for more. And First Colony archaeologists have returned to Fort Raleigh, with Deetz leading a University of North Carolina team in 2016 surveying coastal erosion for clues to both the Roanoac village that first welcomed English explorers in 1584 and to the English settlement itself, while others join FCF in 2017 and in the future, tackling the unanswered questions about the fort, the scientific workshop, and what lies beneath the dunes.