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Archeologists Race Erosion, Turn Up Elizabethan-Era Artifact

pottery remains
National Park Service
Fort Raleigh National Historic Site

Archeologists have found a rare Elizabethan-era medicinal jar near the site of the Lost Colony of Roanoke Island.

The National Parks Service Southeast Archeological Center recently excavated an area at Fort Raleigh Historic Site threatened by erosion.

The dig turned up pieces of a pot that may have been used by famed British scientist Thomas Harriot, or one of his fellow explorers or early settler, according to Eric Deetz, an archeologist with the First Colony Foundation.

"There's no way of knowing if Thomas Harriot ever touched this pot or held it or if was even here, but somebody that would have been doing similar work to that [did]," Deetz said. "More likely somebody that was collecting samples of plants."

Deetz said many of the artifacts found at Fort Roanoke came from periods after the Lost Colony settlers vanished. He added that this is a new excavation site, so the find means archeologists will explore this particular area further.

"It's very significant because the total amount of 16th Century Elizabethan material found at Fort Raleigh is pretty small," he said. "To find eight fragments of the pottery from the right time period, it's a significant find," said Deets, adding that like most archeological finds, it'll likely raise more questions than it answers.

Deetz said the discovery doesn't provide any insight into why the settlers vanished or where they went. He said the pottery fragments will be cleaned and cataloged in Florida before returning to Fort Raleigh.

Rebecca Martinez produces podcasts at WUNC. She’s been at the station since 2013, when she produced Morning Edition and reported for newscasts and radio features. Rebecca also serves on WUNC’s Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accountability (IDEA) Committee.
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