Researchers this fall might be able to confirm the authenticity of an engraved stone from a doomed 16th century colony in Roanoke Island that has been dismissed as a forgery for decades, The Washington Post reported.
"If this stone is real, it's the most significant artifact in American history of early European settlement," Ed Schrader, a geologist and president of Brenau University in Georgia, where the stone is kept, told the Post. "And if it's not, it's one of the most magnificent forgeries of all time."
In 1587, a group of English colonists sent by Sir Walter Raleigh were sent to Roanoke Island, in what is now North Carolina, after a first settlement failed three years earlier, the Post noted.
Included in the group was the colonists' leader John White and his daughter, Eleanor White Dare, and son-in-law, Ananias, a stonemason. Soon after landing, Dare had a daughter whom she named Virginia.
Though White left the group to return to England to plead for help for a colony that arrived too late to plant crops, his return was delayed by four years because of the Anglo-Spanish war. When he arrived, the colony was deserted.
It was not until 1937 the mystery of the settlement re-emerged after a California tourist handed over a 21-pound engraved rock he said he had found in a swamp while traveling through North Carolina to Emory University in Atlanta, the Post reported.
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 with Much Misarie."
It was signed "EWD" — the initials of Eleanor White Dare.
Soon afterward, additional stones started showing up — and were ultimately exposed as worthless, casting doubt on the original stone too, the Post reported.
Now, researchers are taking another look at that first stone, intrigued the letters etched on it looked very different from subsequent findings. Schrader had a sample of the stone analyzed by the University of North Carolina at Asheville, exposing the quartz's bright white interior, in 2016.
"The original inscription would have been a stark contrast to the weathered exterior," science writer Andrew Lawler reported in National Geographic. "A good choice for a Roanoke colonist but a poor one for a modern forger."
Outside experts will analyze the inscription more thoroughly this fall, the Post reported.
"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.
If the first Dare stone turns out to be real, that would mean Virginia Dare — who as the first English child born on this continent ultimately became an icon for white supremacists, the Post reported — died when she was 3 or 4 years old at the hands of Native Americans.
Schrader does not care about what white supremacists will think of that.
"They're not going to convince anyone but themselves with Virginia Dare. So, I just don't think there's anything that they will gain," he told the Post.
"But I would like to gain something through this study. I would surely like to know whether Eleanor White Dare had her hands on this stone about 500 years ago and left us a message."
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