Professor returns ring from Lost Colony dig to ECU

The Associated Press, January 31, 2006


    Nags Head - The retired head of East Carolina University's coastal archaeology office has returned to the school a 16th-century ring he found while exploring ties between native people and the doomed English colonists who first tried to settle the Outer Banks.

    Experts believe the ring discovered in 1988 by former archaeologist David S. Phelps during his last dig before retiring may offer evidence of early contact between the Indians and the first English colony in the Americas.

    Phelps had kept the ring at his Florida home since 2000 along with other artifacts found near Croatan, the only permanent Indian community on the Outer Banks. The site is in Buxton on Hatteras Island.

    Phelps said that he took the ring and other artifacts with him so he could conduct additional research on them. He said ill health and a hurricane that struck near his home delayed the return of the ring until Monday.

    The 10-karat ring depicts a prancing lion, a symbol of authority probably worn by an English settler of high rank.

    "Its real value is what it can tell us about the first contact between the Roanoke colonists and the native people," said Charles Ewen, director of ECU's archaeology laboratories in Greenville. "It's definitely a cool artifact."

    In 1585, 22 years before the first permanent English colony in Jamestown, Va., Sir Walter Raleigh landed on Roanoke Island and established a settlement of 117 English men, women and children.

    The settlers struggled with American Indian attacks, starvation and cold before they disappeared in the wilderness. The only clue left at the settlement site, dubbed the Lost Colony, was the word "CROATOAN" carved into a post.

    Phelps found hearths, pipes, coins, beads and bone rings from the Croatan site during digs between 1993 and 1998.

    Not long after Phelps found the ring, a researcher matched the ring's crest to the Kendall surname in England. Two Kendalls were known to have participated in the 1585-87 Roanoke voyages, suggesting early contact between American Indians and the English, Ewen said.

    Phelps also returned to ECU an iron flintlock, the firing mechanism of a gun that first appeared around 1570.

    Phelps has not yet submitted his field notes from the digs, documented the artifacts or published a report on his findings. Ewen said Phelps is expected to send copies of his field notes soon.


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