DATE: Sunday, June 15, 1997 TAG: 9706160222 SECTION: FRONT PAGE: A1 EDITION: FINAL SOURCE: BY LANE DeGREGORY, STAFF WRITER DATELINE: HATTERAS ISLAND LENGTH: 144 lines
After unearthing artifacts from two living room-sized sand pits, archaeologist David S. Phelps may well be on the trail of the famed ``Lost Colony'' of Roanoke Island.
Phelps, director of East Carolina University's Coastal Archaeology Office, has been digging on North Carolina's Outer Banks for more than a decade. This spring his team uncovered objects that could indicate that at least a few of the first English settlers in America who mysteriously disappeared from Sir Walter Raleigh's colony migrated south onto Hatteras Island.
Colonists who left the Fort Raleigh area between 1587 and 1590 may have mingled with the Croatan Indians, whose capital was the present town of Buxton - now the home of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse.
``The Native Americans of this area were at least trading artifacts with the English - if not living with some of the Lost Colonists,'' Phelps said Thursday from alongside one of the 8-foot-deep dig sites. ``We found much more than we'd hoped to here. This is certainly part of the Lost Colony story.''
Handmade lead bullets, pieces of white and red clay pipes, a leather clasp, fragments of European pottery and even a nickle-sized corroded brass or copper coin with a tiny hole drilled in each end are among Phelps' favorite finds from the recent dig. The coin, he said, is similar to a 1563 coin found on Roanoke Island, about 50 miles to the north.
His team also discovered two fire hearths where Phelps said American Indians and colonists may have manufactured weapons and tools together.
Bill Kelso, who directs Jamestown's Rediscovery archaeological project near Williamsburg, Va., said he is ``very excited'' about Phelps' finds.
``It is entirely possible that some of the Lost Colonists went in that direction, toward Hatteras,'' Kelso said Friday. ``That may have been why they left that word `CROATOAN' carved in the tree. We really have no information about European artifacts found in America that date to the 16th century.
``I'd really love to see what Dr. Phelps has found.''
The ``Lost Colony'' legacy began in 1584 when Philip Amadas and Arthur Barlowe first explored North America for England's Queen Elizabeth. Outer Banks History Center curator Wynne Dough said there is ``considerable controversy over where Amadas and Barlowe first set foot on land. Some say it was between Cape Hatteras and Cape Lookout.''
Those men never set up camp in America. But the next year, Englishman Ralph Lane led an expedition back to the Outer Banks to establish an encampment on Roanoke Island. Capt. John White organized Raleigh's colony of 117 men, women and children the following year - in 1587.
Colonists were supposed to establish a permanent settlement on Roanoke Island. White returned to England for supplies later that year. But war broke out in Europe and he didn't return to America until 1590.
By then, all of the colonists had disappeared.
``When he came back, he found little evidence of the settlement site, except for a few cannon balls and a log stockade that enclosed the area where the housing had been,'' Dough said. ``White didn't find any of the boats he'd left with the colonists. But he found the letters C-R-O carved in the trunk of a tree near the shore.
``At the colony site, he found the word `CROATOAN' carved in one of the stockade posts.''
That mysterious last message from the colonists has long led some historians to believe that at least a few of the settlers went to join the Croatan Indians on Hatteras.
But no one has found evidence of that journey - until now.
``We've unearthed twin hearths and all this debris that has nothing to do with household living: lead droppings from molding bullets, copper and brass pieces, and all kinds of clay pipes made from red North Carolina soil as well as white English clay. We think this was their workshop area,'' Phelps said of the Croatan site near the Pamlico Sound in Buxton.
``There was a tremendous amount of European influence here - a lot of borrowing of European technology for such an early time period. Our guess is that these artifacts go back to at least the era between 1650 and 1729.''
The coin and some pottery pieces, however, are probably even older - and could have been brought down the barrier islands by the Lost Colonists.
``I've always believed they came down here,'' said Lynette Wyche, a volunteer digger who manages marketing for ``The Lost Colony,'' an outdoor drama in its 60th season on Roanoke Island. ``Some of them, I'm sure, went north to Chesapeake Bay where they were supposed to settle in the first place. But `CROATOAN' was what they carved in the tree. So doesn't that mean at least a few went to Hatteras?''
Not necessarily, said National Park Service historian John Gillikin. ``We know what the name `Croatoan' meant. But not what the message meant,'' Gillikin said Friday from his office at Fort Raleigh National Historic Site. ``It could've meant that's where the colonists went. Or it could've been meant as a warning: that the Croatan Indians were no longer friendly.''
``Nobody has any idea whatsoever what happened to the colonists. We simply do not have enough evidence to even come up with a theory,'' Gillikin said. ``All those artifacts show is that the natives were voracious traders with the Europeans - whether colonists, or shipwreck victims or what.
``I'm not doubting that site is where some of the Lost Colonists may have gone. This could be a very important discovery in finally finding what happened to at least some of them. But I'd need more evidence before I'd say so.''
Erosion from Hurricane Emily in 1993 unearthed the first remnants of Croatan Indian civilization along a dirt road in Buxton. Phelps has led week-long digs in that area for the past three years. But this month's project - which included five East Carolina University students and a dozen Hatteras Island volunteers - was the biggest effort yet to unearth European artifacts. Private donations paid for the $7,000 study. The dig sites extended about a half-mile along Buxton's dune ridge.
Phelps said as many as 5,000 Native Americans could have inhabited the southern end of Hatteras Island from A.D. 1000 to 1700.
``There's no way to say how many colonists may have been here, too,'' Phelps said. ``Possibly a few single men were sent down to Hatteras to wait for John White to come back with supplies while the remaining settlers headed up the Chesapeake Bay.''
Dough agrees that the colonists may have split up when they evacuated Roanoke Island. ``They probably knew the Croatoans were very friendly and some of them may have said, `Hey, they have food down there. Let's go stay with them,' '' Dough said of the settlers. ``But all that word `CROATOAN' on the post indicates to me is that at least one literate colonist headed south to Hatteras. They probably didn't leave in a group.''
Phelps plans to continue digging on Hatteras Island for at least five years. He said he hopes someone looks for evidence of the Lost Colonists in the Jamestown area. And he returned to his Greenville, N.C., laboratory this weekend with thousands of Indian and European artifacts that need to be identified.
``Eventually, these things should come back to Hatteras Island. They belong here,'' he said of his findings. ``What we're trying to do with them now is understand the Croatoan society and how those Native Americans related to the original European colonists.'' ILLUSTRATION: EILEEN RIDGE color photos
THE ARTIFACTS: A clay pipe and a coin similar to one found on
Roanoke Island and dated 1563 may be two of several clues that the
Lost Colonists migrated to the Outer Banks.
THE ARCHAEOLOGIST: David S. Phelps, director of East Carolina
University's Coastal Archaeology Office, says, ``We found much more
than we'd hoped to here. This is certainly part of the Lost Colony
WANT TO HELP? If you would like to donate time, money or in-kind
contributions to David S. Phelps' team of archaeologists trying to
unearth remains of the Croatan Indians, and possibly the Lost
Colonists, on Hatteras Island, call Tom Hranicka at (919) 995-4477.
Bob Heyl, a retired mechanical engineer from Frisco and volunteer on
the dig, records where some artifacts were found.
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