What happened to the Roanoke colony in North Carolina is one of America’s oldest mysteries. Over 100 people seemingly vanished off the face of the earth, stirring up theories as banal as a harsh winter and as wild as alien abduction. The answer might lie in what are known as the “Dare stones.”
The lost colony
In the late 16th-century, Queen Elizabeth I wanted to establish an English settlement in North America. Sir Walter Raleigh took on the job, and after failing with his first group, a second one arrived in 1587. They were led by a friend of Raleigh named John White, who became governor of the young colony. At the end of the year, White returned to England for supplies, but he became delayed by war. He wasn’t able to return until late summer in 1590. He found Roanoke abandoned, the buildings collapsed, and no sign of the colonists. There were no signs of battle, so a raid by the local Native American tribes was unlikely. On a post, he found a carving of the “Croatoan.” White took this to mean the colony had moved to Croatoan Island nearby, but he was never able to go look.
In 1607, John Smith began looking more into Roanoke’s fate. One surviving report says the colonists went to live with the Chesapeake Indians, but according to Smith, the chief said the tribe had killed them. Neither theory has been confirmed.
The Dare stones
In 1937, a 21-pound stone with odd markings was discovered near the North Carolina-Virginia border. When Emory scholars took a look, they were able to decipher the tale of Eleanor Dare, John White’s daughter, and one of the colonists who vanished. According to the writing, most of the colonists died over a period of two years from war with the neighboring native tribe. After a warning from the shamans that the colonists had angered the spirits, all but seven colonists suddenly died, including Eleanor’s daughter Virginia and husband Ananais.
Not longer after the discovery of the first “Dare” stone, other stones were discovered in Georgia continuing the story of Eleanor and the few remaining survivors, who supposedly traveled to what is now Atlanta. With dozens of rocks to study, a large group of experts examined all the evidence in 1940 and announced they believed the stones were authentic.
The stones doubted
Not everyone was convinced by the Dare stones. In 1941, the Saturday Evening Post published an article revealing that the Georgia man who found a bunch of the stones was a fraud. The tourist who found the first stone couldn’t even be tracked down. The experts were humiliated and for decades, all but the first stone were considered definitely fakes. No chemical analysis has been performed on that first stone, however, but there are other signs that indicate forgery.
Eleanor Dare signed the stones EWD, her initials, but that was not how people signed their names back in the day. Certain word choices and the use of Arabic numerals are also odd and don’t fit with Dare’s time. However, in 2016, a new analysis revealed aspects of the original stone that might mean it’s the real deal. The interior of the stone is bright white, while the outside and carvings are darkened. This means that when the message as originally inscribed, the letters would have been bright white. A forger would have had to use chemicals to make the carvings darker so they looked aged, but in the 1930’s when the stones were first discovered, that would have been hard.
To truly determine the age of the stones, a multidisciplinary investigation that looks at the chemical aspects of the stones and the writing is needed.
The disappearance of Roanoke has become the stuff of legends. Another lost civilization, Atlantis, is just as mysterious.