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Sir Walter Raleigh sent more than 100 colonists from England to establish a colony at Roanoke Island. (Chris Newbert / Minden Pictures / Corbis)

A Lost Colony Found?

An old map holds a clue about settlers who vanished more than 500 years ago

By Jennifer Marino Walters | June 14 , 2012
<p> TOP MAP: Experts believe they found a fort symbol hidden on the map that indicates the Lost Colony’s location. (Trustees of the British Museum) </p><p> BOTTOM MAP: A potential dig site for the Lost Colony is currently a golf resort.  (Jim McMahon)</p>

TOP MAP: Experts believe they found a fort symbol hidden on the map that indicates the Lost Colony’s location. (Trustees of the British Museum)

BOTTOM MAP: A potential dig site for the Lost Colony is currently a golf resort. (Jim McMahon)

In 1587, Queen Elizabeth I’s most trusted adviser, Sir Walter Raleigh, sent more than 100 people from England to America. They settled on Roanoke Island near the coast of North Carolina. Soon after, they mysteriously disappeared.

For centuries, historians have been trying to figure out what happened to the Lost Colony. Now, a 425-year-old map of the Virginia-North Carolina coast may hold the answer.

The watercolor map was created in the 1580s by the colony’s Governor, John White, and is housed in London’s British Museum. The museum decided to take a closer look at the map using 21st-century imaging techniques after Brent Lane, a board member of the First Colony Foundation, noticed two small patches on it.

The first patch, it was found, simply covered an error on the map. But the second patch hid a red four-pointed star outlined in blue that can only be seen when the map is placed on a light box. Historians say the star may represent a fort in northeastern North Carolina where the colonists likely resettled.


The Lost Colony was the second English settlement on North Carolina’s coast, but only the first to include civilians—people who were not members of the military. White’s granddaughter, Virginia Dare, was born there—the first baby of English descent born in the Americas.

Soon after the settlers’ arrival, White returned to England for supplies. But a war between England and Spain delayed his return for three years. When he finally came back to America, the settlers were gone.

Through the years, historians had developed many theories about the fate of the Lost Colony. Some believed that the colonists mixed into American Indian tribes. Some thought they were killed by disease or during attacks by Spaniards or Indians. Other theories were more far-fetched: that the colonists were eaten by local tribes or abducted by aliens.

But experts say that the theory based on the old map is most likely to be accurate. The possible site of the Lost Colony is currently a golf resort near Edenton, North Carolina. The map findings will guide future archaeological digs here, which may give a definitive answer to the mystery of the vanished colony.

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