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The Last 500 Years

The Lost Colony and Jamestown Droughts
Stahle, David W., Cleaveland, Malcolm K., Blanton, Dennis B., Therrell, Matthew D., and Gay, David A.
Complete Scientific Reference

Jamestown/Roanoke Drought Index Reconstruction and Description
from the WDC Paleoclimatology archive.

Nottoway River Baldcypress Ringwidth, Earlywood, and Latewood Data
Blackwater River Baldcypress Ringwidth Data
from the WDC Paleoclimatology archive.

Roanoke Island, located off the NE coast of North Carolina, is some 12 miles long and 3 miles wide. The island is the site of the earliest English colony in North America (see map). The first group of colonists landed on Roanoke Island in August of 1585 but, returned to England a year later, in 1586. A second group of colonists, arriving in 1587, mysteriously disappeared and not a single colonist was found by the time additional supplies were brought from England in 1591. Historians have long wondered about the fate of those colonists, who became known as the Lost Colony of Roanoke.

Some light has been shed on this mystery by a group of scientists who used the rings of baldcypress trees (Taxodium distichum) to reconstruct the history of drought for this region. A drought reconstruction, stretching back to 1185, indicates that the most severe growing season drought and the most severe three year period of drought in 800 years coincided with the disappearance of the Roanoke Island Colonists.

In addition, a reconstruction of the severe seven year drought (1606-1612) in Jamestown, accounted from documented historical records, likely played a part in the high death rate in the colony. Only 38 of the original 104 colonists survived the first year (1607) at Jamestown and of the 6000 people that came to the settlement between the years of 1608-1624, only 3400 survived. Most reportedly died of malnutrition.

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