Lost Colony Remains Lost

The signet ring at the heart of the controversy.
The signet ring at the heart of the controversy.

Evidently the Lost Colony is going to remain lost for a bit longer.

According to a Smithsonian Magazine article that was published earlier in April, what archeologists had believed was a significant find has turned out to be…well, not very significant.

The Original Find

In 1998 ECU Archeologist David Phelps found what appeared to be an Elizabethan era signet ring on Hatteras Island. Phelps took the ring to a local jeweler and asked if the metal of the ring could be determined.

Concerned about harm to the ring, Phelps specifically told the jeweler that he did not want the ring damaged in any way.  Because of that some of the basic tests that could be done at that time could not be used.

The jeweler examined the ring, weighed it and told Phelps that, based on his inspection of it, the ring appeared to be gold.

A gold signet ring would have been an important part of the tools the Colonists had wth them. Its finding seemed to confirm theories that the Lost Colony fled south to Hatteras Island where it was known the Indians were friendly to the English.

What We Have Discovered

Unfortunately the ring is not gold.

Using an x-ray fluorescent device that was not available in 1998 a team of ECU scientists examined the ring and it is brass. Unlike the analysis that would have been done in 1998 to confirm the content of the ring, this new technique causes no damage to the artifact.

Since it is not gold, the ring was most likely used for trade with the Indians in the area. When cast from brass, the rings were fairly common and were typically part of a merchant’s bag of tricks.

Although the Lost Colony disappeared around 1587, British exploitation of the East Coast of North America continued. Thirty years after the Lost Colony, disappeared, British traders were well-established with regular contact with Indian tribes.