A clue uncovered in a long-forgotten, centuries-old map of the area called "La Virginea Pars"—drawn by the colony's governor John White—kicked off a reexamination of the fate of the lost colonists. An artist and employee of explorer Sir Walter Raleigh, White was later appointed governor of the new lands; he was also the grandfather of Virginia Dare, the first English child born in the New World.
Two patches on the map made Brent Lane of the First Colony Foundation (the group behind the latest archaeological trip and whose work is supported by National Geographic and the Waitt Grants Programs) in Durham, North Carolina, wonder if they might hide something beneath.
Scientists at the British Museum looked into the patches and discovered a tiny red-and-blue symbol. Could it have indicated a fort or a secret emergency location?
"Our best idea is that parts of Raleigh's exploration in North America were a state secret, and the map 'cover-up' was an effort to keep information from the public and from foreign agents," said Eric Klingelhofer of Mercer University in Macon, Georgia, a historian and the principal investigator on the project.