Location: North Carolina
Metal Detector Used: M6
One of the most intriguing "mystery's" associated with our country's history is that of the fate of the first settlers from England that setup a camp on Roanoke Island in North Carolina in 1587. When the supply ship finally returned to the original settlement, the site was found deserted with a single cryptic word "CROATOAN" carved into the main post in the fort palisade and the letters "CRO" carved in a large tree at the water's edge. The colonists had been instructed that if they were forced to leave the settlement, they were to carve the name of the place where they were going. Unfortunately severe weather kept the supply party from searching for the Croatan Indian village and the ship returned home to England never to return. While a definitive fate of the colonists has yet to be determined, one theory many historians adhere to is that the colonists left the settlement in search of food and joined the Croatan Indians at a site located south of Roanoke Island.
Due to changes in area land masses and built-up wind-blown sand, the site of the Croatan village remained lost for more than 400 years... until Hurricane Emily exposed a layer of artifacts in 1993 near the town of Buxton, NC on the southern stretch of the Outer Banks. digs conducted over the past 15 years have uncovered period artifacts, including pottery, stone tools, iron tools, copper beads, 17th century English coins, lead musket shot, musket flints, shell and glass beads, wrought iron nails and tools, and smoking pipes.
My daughter, Leigh, and I had the opportunity to meet Fred Willard at the Treasure Expo in Myrtle Beach earlier this year and both of us were captivated by the story of his center's projects. Fred had been invited to speak to hobbyists on the use of proper archeological techniques when searching potentially-significant sites. Leigh spent hours with Fred which led to an invitation being extended to participate in an archeological survey at the Croatan village site as a junior intern.
Seeing the advantage of merging 21st century technology with The Project's research and site access, I called Alan Holcombe and Melissa Wise at White's Electronics. After a brief discussion with them, they graciously donated two M-6's and a Prism 6Talong with an assortment of accessories to The Lost Colony Project. My daughter and I offered to deliver the equipment and conduct some training in the field which Fred readily accepted.
We spent the night at the Lost Colony Project's Research Center in Williamston, NC and headed to the Outer Banks at daybreak. We were all a bit surprised when the first signal was received after only a few sweeps. Digging through the tree roots and vines, I reached the midden layer and from 10" pulled out a large flat button with engraving on the front as well as some gilding remaining dating from the early 1600's! This was the oldest North American metallic artifact I've recovered on land in more than 45 years of detecting and a great omen for the next few days.
Another area Fred wanted to try the metal detectors out on was a tract that had been examined on previous visits using the Random Shovel Test Pit method. Laying out a test square, Leigh and Renee Hoffman from Charlottesville, Virginia, commenced a methodical scan of the area with the new White's detectors flagging any metallic object located. After the section was scanned and targets flagged, a survey map was generated showing the location of each target and if the target was shown to be ferrous or non-ferrous by the metal detector. Due to time and resource limitations, only the indicated non-ferrous items were recovered. Within the test square area, Leigh and Renee located 41 metallic targets. All of the artifacts recovered were found at depths ranging from 12 inches to 30 inches.
Did the metal detectors provided by White's help evaluate the Indian village site? Well, the point that stood out after less than a day of scanning the site was that the Random Shovel Test Pit method which is considered to be standard operating procedure for most archeological surveys had in fact painted a picture totally opposite to what the metal detector survey had revealed. Fred summed it up by stating "We located and recovered more artifacts and higher quality artifacts in 3 days with only 4 people than we had using conventional methods in 10 days with 20 people at a cost of $11,000. More importantly, the metal detectors identified the existence of artifacts in a section of the site that had been deemed barren through past excavations and archeologist assessments!"
After 3 days in the field, more than 400 items were recovered. All of us that spent time at the Croatan site quickly recongnized the value that metal detectors have as a tool to increase the efficiency of data obtained in archeological surveys by locating high-value areas of standard archeological methods might otherwise fail to find. If you are interested in learning more about the various facets of the Lost Colony Project, visit their website at www.lost-colony.com.