North American history and archaeology isn’t as glamorous and monumental as Egyptian, Greek, Roman, or even European with its henges, barrows, and castles. We’re a young country and the predominant cultures (like the Algonquin, the Hopewell, etc.) of the North American Continent left little in the way of durable material remains. No marble friezes or granite pyramids, no massive stone henges or coliseums.
But that doesn’t diminish in the least the fascination and mystery that surrounds many aspects of early American history.
The Lost Colony
One of the most intriguing mysteries of American history has always been the Lost Colony of Roanoke. Even as a boy, I remember first hearing it in my fourth grade Virginia History class. The story goes like this:
Sir Walter Raleigh in the 16th century financed and set up the colony of Roanoke in what is present-day North Carolina. Several groups of colonists were left between 1585 and 1587, the last disappearing after being left on their own for three years. With not so much as a cell phone or iPod between them (or any realistic and much needed logistical support from England), the colonists “disappeared” without a trace.
They might have been slaughtered by indigenous peoples who viewed them (rightly so) as invaders; they might have been done in by the Spanish; or they may have simply set off on their own, joining the indigenous people after being left for so long by England. Perhaps they were absorbed in to an Algonquian tribe like the Hatteras or Croatans. The word “Croatoan” was alleged to have been carved into a post of the fort upon the return of Raleigh (or, I should say, Raleigh’s friend John White). It was assumed that they had moved to Croatoan Island, but no trace was ever found.
Now, in 2008 and in the Fort Raleigh Historic Park, archaeologists with the First Colony Foundation are using modern technology to remotely image the grounds of the park, working with the National Park Service. The technology is known as Computer Assisted Radar Tomography and it allows the operators to see up to 6 feet deep in 2 meter wide swaths and can cover up to 40,000 square feet per day. Already, the team operating this high-tech gear has located anomalies of interest that they might go back an excavate.
Another iconic story of American History is the tale of the boyhood Abe Lincoln growing up in a log cabin in the wilderness of Kentucky. Archaeologists, again working with the National Park Service, are exploring National Park lands in the Knob Creek region of Kentucky for the log cabin of the boy-to-be-President until his family moved from it to Indiana when he was age 7.
Long believed to be experiences that were important and memorable to Lincoln well into his Presidency, the Presidential Birth Place -a 16 by 18 foot, dirt-floor cabin- would be a welcome find during the 2-year Lincoln bicentennial celebration.
“He formed his first impressions here, and his connection to Kentucky followed him throughout his life,” says Sandy Brue, an official with the nearby Lincoln Birthplace National Historic site.
The dig at the Knob Creek site is a prelude to Kentucky’s February kickoff of a sprawling, two-year national Lincoln bicentennial — celebrating the man many consider to be the greatest leader in American history. Kentucky will play a pivotal role in that celebration, officials say.
Lincoln himself said in a letter in 1860: “My earliest recollection . . . is of the Knob Creek place.”