MANTEO, N.C. — Archaeologists have found pottery pieces that could have been part of a jar belonging to a medicine maker of the Roanoke voyages, and even a member of the lost colony.
The two quarter-sized fragments, colored blue, white and brown, were buried in the soil two feet below the surface not far from “The Lost Colony” theater ticket house. An earthen mound believed to be a fort from the period lies 75 yards from the discovery site.
“It was an exciting find,” said Eric Deetz, an archaeologist with the First Colony Foundation who was part of the dig in early June. “That pottery had something to do with the Elizabethan presence on that island.”
The ointment or medicine jar would have been 3 inches tall and 1.5 inches in diameter, Deetz said. He called it the most significant piece of pottery found in the area since the 1940s.
English explorer Walter Raleigh sent three groups to the coast of North Carolina in 1584, 1585 and 1587. During the 1585 exploration, John White drew pictures of the natives and, with Thomas Harriot, made maps of the region. Harriot also learned the Algonquian language and recorded flora and fauna.
The pieces found are part of a jar that might have been used by Harriot or members of the lost colony to mix salves and medicines, Deetz said. Sassafras, a plant plentiful on Roanoke Island, was thought at the time to be a cure for many ailments, including syphilis.
Raleigh’s third expedition landed in the summer of 1587. Virginia Dare was born Aug. 18, 1587, the first English child born in the New World. She was the granddaughter of John White, governor of the colony. White returned to England for supplies and never saw his daughter, Eleanor, and his granddaughter, Virginia, again.
What happened to the colony remains a mystery, but many discoveries, such as the pottery, offer glimpses into the colonists’ lives.
Researchers have uncovered artifacts over the years in and around the reconstructed grass-covered mound, where English explorer Ralph Lane had built a fort in 1585.
Evidence indicates that the colonists split up, said Jami Lanier, cultural resource manager for the National Park Service Outer Banks Group.
Artifacts possibly tied to the lost colony have been found over the years in Buxton, on mainland Dare County and in Bertie County, where researchers believe that settlers built another fort. White and the settlers had agreed they would go 50 miles inland. The Bertie site is 50 miles west of Roanoke Island.
In the latest find, archaeologists from the Southeast Archeology Center, which is sponsored by an arm of the National Park Service, dug near a shoreline that has eroded about a foot a year in the past decade. The site has become a priority before valuable history washes away, Lanier said.
In the 1980s, a barrel well was found on the beach nearby. The colonists would line the well using barrels with the tops and bottoms removed. The barrel and pottery discovery suggests that more important pieces might be found there, Lanier said.
“There is clearly a relationship to the Raleigh colonies,” he said.
This article originally appeared in The Virginian-Pilot on June 19, 2016.