Pieces of broken crockery recently unearthed in a North Carolina field belonged to survivors of the ill-fated Lost Colony, the first English settlement in the Americas. That dramatic claim has stoked a long-simmering debate over what happened to the 115 men, women, and children abandoned on North Carolina’s Roanoke Island in 1587.

Working on a bluff overlooking Albemarle Sound, 50 miles west of Roanoke Island, a team from the First Colony Foundation uncovered a trove of English, German, French, and Spanish pottery pieces.


Still, the finds were mixed with soil plowed in subsequent centuries by later settlers and enslaved Africans, and the team has yet to find clear remains of an Elizabethan homestead. “One must find artifacts of known 16th-century date in a stratigraphically sealed context,” says Henry Wright, an archaeologist at the University of Michigan.