for National Geographic News
On a recent rainy morning in Manteo, North Carolina, three veteran archaeologists sat down at a waterfront restaurant to discuss America's oldest mysterythe disappearance of England's first New World colony 415 years ago.
The archaeologistsEric Klingelhoffer of Mercer University in Macon, Georgia; Nick Luccketti of the James River Institute in Williamsburg, Virginia; and Gordon Watts of the International Institute for Maritime Research in Washington, North Carolinaare planning a search for artifacts from the so-called Lost Colony.
The scientists' hopes have been stoked by recent research that turned up more than 200 possible artifact sites that could yield crucial clues.
The researchers have also reached a long-term agreement with the U.S. National Park Service to help with the hunt on park land, where the Lost Colony may be located.
It's only the latest boost in a search that has lasted some 400 years.
England's efforts to colonize the New World started in 1585 on Roanoke Island on the coast of what is now North Carolina. When ships carrying badly needed supplies from England reached Roanoke Island in 1590, they found the settlement abandoned and only a few inconclusive clues as to the fates of the colonists.
For four centuries, historians, archaeologists, writers, and tourists have visited the island to ponder this tantalizing, enduring mystery and the gap it has left in American history.
"It's like if we lost all the evidence of Neil Armstrong, and all the moon landings were just forgotten about, and 400 years later we had to figure it out," Klingelhoffer said. "This was the English beginning in the New World. We trace our origin to those folks standing on these sandy shores and wondering what to do."
A lot has changed on Roanoke Island since the ill-fated colony vanished.
The town of Manteo has grown on the northern end of the island, where the colonists may have lived. And as much as one-half mile (0.8 kilometer) of the land where the colonists' village may have sat has been lost to erosion.
Watts, an underwater archaeologist, found about 230 possible artifact sites during a recent magnetometer survey of the waters just off Roanoke Island.
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