Elizabethan Gardens Dig Reveals Native, English Connection

FCF is to Finalize Gardens Project in 2024

Artifacts found during First Colony’s Elizabethan Gardens dig on Roanoke Island last summer identified the elusive location of Roanoac, the tribal village where Native Americans entertained Sir Walter Raleigh’s first expedition to America back in 1584. A follow-up dig to finalize field work and better understand the site is planned for early March 2024.

Led by Eric Klingelhofer, First Colony’s Vice President for Research, the three-day excavation found sherds of Algonquian pottery of the right vintage – interesting enough, in itself — but the most intriguing discovery was a ring of copper wire. About the size of a quarter, the loop could have been an earring that once adorned a Native American warrior.

“This find is highly significant.” Klingelhofer explains, “It’s made of drawn copper wire and, as such, was almost certainly brought here by English explorers to use in trade with native people they encountered. Local Algonquians didn’t have the technology to craft round wire strands. And neither the French nor the Spanish ventured this far north.”

Copper was prized by Native Americans, he says, the way the English valued silver or gold. For them, copper had an almost spiritual significance and chiefs would honor the valor of brave warriors with copper trinkets.

The finds came to light only after the excavation team peeled back three feet of golden sand, blown ashore by a fearsome hurricane that raked the Outer Banks in the 1760s, piling up a new dune on the north end of Roanoke Island – long after the English visited the island.

Below the dune sand, the team’s patient work revealed a dark layer of buried topsoil — ground level at the time of Sir Walter Raleigh’s expeditions — where the recent finds were discovered.

“Given that there is no evidence of Algonquians or any other tribe living on Roanoke Island after the 1500s, this only underscores the English connection” Klingelhofer says.

Unseasonably cool temperatures in late May, early June made for great digging conditions, hampered only by an overnight rainstorm that left large pools of water on the (fortunately) tarpaulin-covered excavation units, which stayed dry despite the deluge.

The summer 2023 Elizabethan Gardens dig drew enthusiastic local press coverage that included articles in both print and online outlets, along with a television news feature aired on WAVY-TV, an NBC affiliate covering the Hampton Roads area.