Roanoke Colony Archaeologists Find Pieces Of Pottery That May Provide Clues To The ‘Lost Colony’

Archaeologists digging at the site of the lost Roanoke colony in North Carolina have found shards of pottery, possibly from a medicine jar, that they believe are linked to the English settlers who disappeared from the mysterious colony more than four centuries ago.

The pottery fragments, no larger than a quarter, are the most significant find connected to the lost colony of Roanoke since the 1940s, says Eric Deetz, an archaeologist with the First Colony Foundation, who, along with the National Park Service, headed the dig. According to WTKR, the shards are blue, brown, and white, and archaeologists believe they are from a jar once used to mix salves and medicines by people of the lost Roanoke colony.

“It was an exciting find. That pottery had something to do with the Elizabethan presence on that island.”

The pottery fragments found by archaeologists at the site of the lost Roanoke colony proves, at the very least, that the lost colony did, at one point, inhabit Roanoke island. Although the pieces are “small and very fragile,” according to Deetz, “a single piece is as good as a whole pot” for identifying purposes. The particular glaze of the fragments dates them to the same time frame as the English settlers inhabiting Roanoke.

“There’s no doubt that those pieces of pottery are from that time period. The pottery itself is a type of pottery which is a tin-glaze. This form was pretty much only used between the 1570s and 1620s.”

The fragments were found about two feet underground, roughly 75 yards from an earthen mound that archaeologists believe was once a fort during the time the Roanoke colonists inhabited the island, reports Newsmax. Other pottery pieces have been found in the area, but because of their typically small size and fragility, these particular pieces are the only ones that have been large enough to classify as having come specifically from the lost Roanoke colony.

Roanoke Colony Archaeologists Find Pieces Of Pottery That May Provide Clues To The 'Lost Colony'
Quarter-sized fragments of pottery found at the site of the lost Roanoke Colony [Image via National Park Service]

In 1998, archaeologists studying tree rings at the site of the lost colony discovered that a drought persisted there between 1587 and 1589. These conditions very likely could have contributed to the downfall of the colonists as well as to the reasoning behind their being so little evidence left over.

According to, the Roanoke Island colony was first established in 1585 by Sir Walter Raleigh, but the first group of settlers — made up of only men — didn’t fare very well with decreasing food supplies and increasing Indian attacks. Within the year, they returned to England.

In 1587, Raleigh sent out another group of 100 colonists — made up of men and women, one of whom eventually bore the first English child in the New World, Virginia Dare — with John White as their governor. Eventually, White had to return to England to gather more supplies but took longer than expected to return to Roanoke due to the war with Spain. When he finally returned to the colony in 1590, he found it completely deserted without a single trace of the 100 colonists who had previously inhabited the place. The only clue to the disappearance of the colony was the word “CROATOAN” scrawled across a palisade.

When John White returned to Roanoke to find his people missing and the strange word adorning the palisade, he originally took it to mean that the settlers had moved to Croatoan Island, about 50 miles from Roanoke, but later searches of the island turned up no evidence of the colonists. Further theories on the disappearance of the Roanoke settlers have them being assimilated into a local Indian tribe known at the time as the Croatans.


Was the word “CROATOAN” scrawled around the colony meant to point White in the direction of their new settlement, Croatoan Island, or a misspelling of the name of the Indian tribe? Was it perhaps a note of where to look for them — it is believed that the Roanoke settlers had friendly relations with the Croatan tribe — or to put the blame on the tribe who slaughtered them? We may never know, but at the very least, the pottery fragments found by archaeologists at the site of the lost Roanoke colony prove that the first settlers in the New World did, in fact, live on the mysterious island at some point.

[Image via National Park Service]