You all know the story of Sir Walter Raleigh's lost colony at what is now Roanoke, North Carolina, and if you don't you can go to Wikipedia to refresh your memory.
This fall, new research may confirm the authenticity of an engraved stone found near the “Lost Colony” of Roanoke — a stone dismissed for decades as a forgery. “If this stone is real, it’s the most significant artifact in American history of early European settlement,” said Ed Schrader, a geologist and president of Brenau University in Georgia, where the stone is kept. “And if it’s not, it’s one of the most magnificent forgeries of all time.”
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In 1937, a California tourist walked into the history department of Emory University in Atlanta with a 21-pound engraved rock he said he’d found in a swamp while traveling through North Carolina. It immediately caught the eye of Haywood Pearce Jr., an Emory professor who also served as vice president of Brenau, a small women’s college in Gainesville, Ga.
On one side, the engraving appeared to be a grave marker, reading, “Ananias Dare & Virginia Went Hence Unto Heaven 1591 Anye Englishman Shew John White Govr Via.” On the other side, the inscription was much longer and appeared to address White as “Father”: “Soone After You Goe for England Wee Cam Hither Onlie Misarie & Warre Tow Yeere … Ye Salvages Faine Spirits Angrie Suddaine Murther Al Save Seaven Mine Childe Ananais to Slaine wth Much Misarie.”
It was signed “EWD” — the initials of Eleanor White Dare. The inscription also hinted that there were other stones to be found. According to the Brenau Window, Pearce transferred the stone from Emory to Brenau soon after, and then offered the public a bounty for the discovery of any other stones.
“And so, amazingly, all these additional stones that had been sitting around in the woods of North Carolina for 500 years just started showing up,” Schrader told The Washington Post. “You know, for 500 bucks a pop. So that’s just what happens, history of mankind, or at least, the free market.”
Within four years, nearly 50 more engraved stones surfaced from all over Georgia and North Carolina, mostly by a Georgia stonecutter. A team from the Smithsonian Institution visited and made a preliminary determination that the stones appeared authentic. Pearce published papers and made speeches, another professor wrote a play, and there was even talk of a Hollywood movie directed by Cecil B. DeMille.
And then came an 11,000-word exposé in the Saturday Evening Post, unmasking the Georgia stonecutter as a forger and hinting that Pearce, in a bid to make his college famous, might be in on the hoax.
“Isn’t it extraordinary to find [the words] ‘primeval’ and ‘reconnoitre’ when they do not appear in Shakespeare?” the article indicted. Overnight, the magnificent find was a worthless pile of rocks.
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Was it unfair to lump the first stone in with all the fakes? Could it perhaps be real?Cool, if true.
In the past few years, researchers have been taking another look. For one, the letters etched on the first stone look very different from the others. It doesn’t contain any suspiciously modern words as the others do. Plus, Dare was “moderately educated,” Schrader says, and her husband was a stonemason. It’s reasonable to think she may have learned the skill from him.
In 2016, Schrader had a sample of the stone analyzed by the University of North Carolina at Asheville, exposing the quartz’s bright white interior.
“The original inscription would have been a stark contrast to the weathered exterior,” science writer Andrew Lawler wrote for National Geographic. “A good choice for a Roanoke colonist but a poor one for a modern forger.”
Schrader said he would like to marshal the funds for an “exhaustive, geochemical investigation,” but first, this fall, a Brenau professor will assemble a team of outside experts to analyze the language more thoroughly. “The type of English that’s on the stone was really only used for about a hundred years, so it’s a nice time marker to be able to study,” Schrader said.