Monday, January 28, 2008

Search for Lost Colony takes a high-tech turn

By Catherine Kozak

The Virginian-Pilot©
January 28, 2008

An innocuous-looking golf course tractor pushing a platform on wheels could help illustrate the nation's oldest mystery.

In the quest for the Lost Colony, the vanished 1587 English settlement on Roanoke Island, archaeologists have conducted numerous explorations in Fort Raleigh National Historic Site, digging and surveying and scanning and scoping.

But they've never used high-tech radar tomography that can produce 3-D images out of data collected from 6 feet, more or less, under ground.

The refined technology, which can also use sound and light waves, gained early fame when inventor Alan Witten used it to help locate fossils from a 120-foot-long dinosaur - called "seismosaur us " - in the late 1980s in New Mexico. The find was fictionalized in Michael Crichton's "Jurassic Park."

"This is fantastic, cutting-edge technology," said Eric Klingelhofer, vice president of the First Colony Foundation, in a telephone interview. "I am eager to see the findings and then compare them with what we know of the archaeology of the site."

On a recent, rainy Saturday morning, Klingelhofer, who is a professor at Mercer University in Georgia, watched as a contractor with Witten Technologies drove the tractor back and forth in the parking lot and grass borders near the ticket booth at Waterside Theatre, where "The Lost Colony" outdoor drama is performed each summer.

"We're picking up the utilities, which is good, because that's what the equipment is designed to do," he said. "But we have picked up some anomalies, which is good."

The veteran archaeologist said the foundation, which has an agreement with the National Park Service to do archaeological investigations at the park, dug on the sound side of the parking lot in 2006. And in the 1990s, archaeologists dug between the earthworks and the theater. The hope, he said, is that Witten's technology, which is costing a couple of thousand dollars, can help pinpoint where significant anomalies, or irregularities, are located before the archaeologists touch a shovel.