Croatan Archaeological Site Collection

ca. early 17th century
Manuscript Collection #1061
Phelps, David Sutton
Physical description
0.125 Cubic Feet, 1 archival box , consisting of a ring and a musket firing lock
Preferred Citation
Croatan Archaeological Site Collection (#1061), East Carolina Manuscript Collection, J. Y. Joyner Library, East Carolina University, Greenville, North Carolina, USA.
ECU Manuscript Collection
Available for research only in the presence of a Search Room staff member. Researchers must use nitrile gloves. Any patron wanting to do extensive research on the artifacts must obtain permission from Dr. Charles R. Ewen, Director, ECU Archaeology Laboratory, and present written permission to the Search Room staff.

This collection contains two artifacts excavated at the Cape Creek site (Croatan), Buxton, Dare County, North Carolina, in 1998 during the Croatan Archaeological Project, East Carolina University Professor Emeritus David Sutton Phelps, Director. The artifacts are a signet ring engraved with a "lion passant," prancing lion, crest (Specimen Acc. No. 1283-1297) with dimensions: 0.75" (l) x 0.5" (w) x 0.25" (d) and weight: 0.25 oz.; and a musket firing lock (Specimen Acc. No. 1283-1976). Research results indicate they are probably of early 17th century origin, but late 16th century origin can't be definitively ruled out.

Biographical/historical information

Dr. David S. Phelps (deceased 2009), Professor Emeritus and retired director of the East Carolina University Archaeology Laboratory, directed the Croatan Archaeological Project exploring the Cape Creek site, ancient capital of the Croatan Indians and other sites on Hatteras Island. Although tests were made at Cape Creek in 1983 and again in 1995-1996, the major project began in 1997, and was funded by the Richard J. III and Marie M. Reynolds Foundation, the Michael Kelly Foundation and numerous private donors. In 1998 the team discovered a signet ring whose face bears an engraving of a prancing lion which Dr. Phelps believed to date to the 16th century. A musket firing lock from an English snaphance mechanism from the late sixteenth or early seventeenth centuries was also found.

Scope and arrangement

The signet ring was found during the Fall 1998 field session directed by Professor Emeritus David Sutton Phelps in the general debris around an Indian workshop/trading center dating to the period ca. 1650-1715. The remaining sections of the heavily patinated ring's shank were worn paper thin and most of the shank was broken away, indicating it was probably an heirloom at the time of its discard. The workshop was dated by coins and lead bale seals of the 1670's and other artifacts. Both Indian materials (shell beads and bone ring beads) and metal artifacts (lead shot, copper beads and figurines) were being produced there, and European goods (brass pins, brass and copper raw material, buttons, gunflints and gun parts, cloth) were obtained in trade. The workshop feature is only a small time slice of the Cape Creek site, which was first occupied at least by AD 400. It became the Croatan capital town ca. AD 800 and remained the major town of the Croatan through AD 1759, when it and 200 acres around it were granted to the Hatteras Indians (historic name given to the Croatan by Colonials) by Royal Governor Arthur Dobbs.

Project researchers under the direction of Dr. Phelps traced the prancing lion crest on the ring to one used by the Kendall family in the 16th century. Two Kendalls were associated with the Roanoke Colony of 1585-1586, the Ralph Lane colony. One, a "Master" Kendall, was listed as one of Lane's gentlemen supervisory committee. He may have been one of the twenty men sent to live at Croatan for a month in the Spring of 1586. The other, Abraham Kendall, was one of Sir Francis Drake's ship captains at the time Drake's fleet anchored at Croatan for a few days before taking the Lane Colony back to England. There were no Kendalls associated with the 1587 "Lost Colony" although much speculation on this connection has appeared in the media.

According to the research results of Dr. Charles R. Ewen (current director of the Phelps Archaeology Lab at ECU) and Erik Farrell, later testing done in 2017 on the ring by the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources' Queen Anne's Revenge Conservation Laboratory using a Bruker Tracer III-SD pXRF14 revealed that the spectrum is typical of a brass alloy with no gold present in the alloy or as surface gilding. If there ever was gold gilding on the surface, any traces still in existence at the time it was discovered in 1998 were lost after it was polished. Since the ring is not gold, but is instead brass, Dr. Ewen suggests that it may have been a trade item; also, the lion passant crest is not that unusual so it doesn't necessarily have to be traced to a well-known individual. Dr. Ewen believes the ring is probably of early 17th century origin and unlikely to be from the 16th century.

A musket firing lock from an English snaphance mechanism was also discovered in the same excavation area as the signet ring. Charles Heath was one of the graduate students who worked on the Cape Creek site in the 1998 field session with Dr. Phelps. He wrote up an analysis of the lock at the time and has continued to research the lock's origins to determine its age. The results of his continuing research have led him to say that the lock probably originates from the early 17th century rather than the late 16th century although he can't conclusively rule out the 16th century origin date.

For security and controlled environmental curation purposes, the signet ring and musket firing lock were transferred to the Special Collections Department in Joyner Library on February 1, 2006. All other specimens from the Cape Creek site are curated at the East Carolina University Archaeology Laboratory under Accession No. 1283.

Administrative information
Custodial History

February 1, 2006, 2 items; 0.1 cubic feet; Signet Ring Specimen No. 1283-1297 (possibly 16th century) engraved with a prancing lion crest; musket firing lock from an English snaphance mechanism from the late sixteenth or early seventeenth centuries. Found in 1998 during the East Carolina University Croatan Archaeological Project (1997-present), directed by East Carolina University Professor Emeritus David Sutton Phelps, at the Cape Creek site (Croatan), Buxton, Dare County, North Carolina. Dimensions: 0.75" (l) x 0.5" (w) x 0.25" (d). Weight: 0.25 oz. 10-carat gold. Transferred by Dr. Charles R. Ewen, Director, Archaeology Laboratory.

Source of acquisition

Transferred by Dr. Charles R. Ewen

Processing information

Processed by Martha G. Elmore, February 10, 2006

Encoded by Martha G. Elmore, February 10, 2006

Copyright notice

Literary rights to specific documents are retained by the authors or their descendants in accordance with U.S. copyright law.

Key terms
Archaeological assemblages--North Carolina--Dare County
Excavations (Archaeology)--North Carolina--Dare County
Firearms--North Carolina--Dare County
Rings--North Carolina--Dare County
Roanoke Colony
Roanoke Island (N.C.)--History--17th century