Frank Hawkins Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise

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Clue to possible fate of ‘Lost Colony’ discovered on 425-year-old Elizabethan map


Lost Colony Discovery
"La Virginea Pars," a map of the east coast of North America (c. 1585-87) produced by the Elizabethan artist and gentleman, John White (P&D 1906,0509.1.3, c. British Museum,) © Trustees of the British Museum

Archaeologists and scholars from the First Colony Foundation and the British Museum today (May 3) revealed recently discovered information on a 425-year-old watercolor map that could be a clue to the eventual fate of North Carolina’s famous “Lost Colonists.”

Poster-size reproductions of details of the original “Virginea Pars” map drawn by artist, explorer and Roanoke Colony leader John White were on display at the scholarly gathering at Wilson Library at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The discovery involves images long hidden from view by paper overlays called “patches” on the original map. (This map was one Sir Walter Raleigh probably used to document the accomplishments of the Roanoke Colony to Queen Elizabeth and to his investors and as a plan for the colony’s future development.) Intrigued by the paper patches, Brent Lane, First Colony Foundation scholar, contacted the British Museum in London to determine if the patches covered any words or images. Lane, director of the Carolina Center for Competitive Economies at UNC’s Frank Hawkins Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise, is an expert in heritage and tourism-based economic development.

The British Museum researchers examined the map using a variety of non-contact scientific methods carefully chosen to be safe with early paper. Underneath one of the patches, the researchers discovered a large fort symbol in bright red and bright blue, where the Roanoke and Chowan rivers meet in present-day Bertie County.

Scholars of the First Colony Foundation note that this area was explored by Raleigh’s colonists in 1585 and 1586 and may be where the 1587 “Lost Colony” tried to resettle. The First Colony Foundation is a historical research not-for-profit organization that has conducted archaeological excavations at other North Carolina locations associated with Sir Walter Raleigh’s colony.

Its scientists are analyzing existing historical information in the region of the previously hidden fort symbol to see what evidence of the colonists may have been overlooked. They are also planning new archaeological investigations to uncover more information about early English settlements, and perhaps even artifacts from the Roanoke colonists themselves.

Link to discovery details:

Images and captions: The following images are the property of the British Museum. Images must be issued with the full captions (see below) and the copyright line must be printed if the images are reproduced in the press.