Monday, July 6, 2009

Why the Time Team Went to Roanoke......

Time Team could not have picked a better site for its maiden voyage in the New World. Both the story of Britain's first attempt at American colonization and one of the oldest unsolved mysteries in American history, the location of the Lost Colony of Roanoke is truly one question that only archaeology can answer. But finding the Lost Colony is no small task. Over the last 400 years, the fragile footprint left by the vanished colonists has become even harder to find. In that time, the site has been host to all manner of disturbances, namely: various military garrisons, farmers, the Civil War, treasure hunters, enthusiastic re-constructionists, a movie set, thespians, erosion, dune formation, and finally, modern archaeologists. As a result, the site of the Lost Colony has remained hidden. Like the proverbial needle in a haystack, the traces of this short-lived and ephemeral settlement have continued to elude even the best of efforts.

The biggest break in this centuries-long search came in 1991, with the discovery of Thomas Hariot's science center. This discovery provided the first tangible link to the colonists on the island. It also firmly established that the modern fort reconstruction was not the site of the original colony. The visible ruins are now thought to date to a period long after the colonists' disappearance. Speculation of the colony's whereabouts had always been strategically linked with the fort's layout, and now archaeologists were free to look at the site with fresh eyes. Most still presume the settlement lies somewhere within the Fort Raleigh National Historic Site, buried under the forested sand dunes. Some speculate that the colony may be underwater or washing out to sea from an eroding beach. Others suspect it could be located on an entirely different part of Roanoke Island.

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