Roanoke Revisited

In July 1587, a British colonist named John White accompanied 117 people to settle a small island sheltered within the barrier islands of what would become North Carolina’s Outer Banks. 

kerry grens
Kerry Grens

Kerry served as The Scientist’s news director until 2021. Before joining The Scientist in 2013, she was a stringer for Reuters Health, the senior health and science reporter at...

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Jan 1, 2012

In July 1587, a British colonist named John White accompanied 117 people to settle a small island sheltered within the barrier islands of what would become North Carolina’s Outer Banks. When conditions proved harsher than anticipated, White agreed to sail back to Britain to shore up the settlement’s supplies—a trip that should have lasted a few months. When White belatedly returned in 1590, the colonists had vanished—more than 100 men, women, and young children, their shelters and belongings, all gone. Archaeological digs, weather records, historical writings, genealogy—none have fully answered the question of what happened during White’s absence. But Roberta Estes, who owns DNAeXplain, a company that interprets the results of genetic heritage tests, is looking to DNA for help. Her hypothesis is that the Lost Colonists survived, and that evidence of their salvation is tucked away in the mitochondrial or Y chromosomal DNA of living descendants.

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