As always, feel free to skip to the In Summary section at the bottom, but as always, if you have a comment or question, which I do welcome, don’t be surprised if I tell you to read the whole post first.
We open to creepy horror music and someone stringing red strings between Polaroids pictures and pins on a map. We soon see it’s Wolter and he’s writing things on the Polaroids like “Revenge”, “Have Mercy”, and “Murder”. He steps back and looks satisfied with his work for a moment. We then get the standard intro where Wolter tells us history is wrong, and he’s going to get it all figured out for us.
We soon find out that today’s topic is the Lost Colony of Roanoke. The story is that in the late 1500’s, the 119 English colonists that had settle there vanish without a trace. Wolter tells us that there are 48 clues left behind that have been sitting ignored for a century. He calls them the ‘Dare Stones’
The name refers to one particular colonists, Eleanor White Dare, the daughter of John White, the colony’s governor. Supposedly, Eleanor Dare wrote 48 or so stone tables and left them like a bread crumb trail as a way of indicating where the Roanoke colony went when they left their original location. Why she chose to chiseled these messages in literal stone and then left them scattered about is never really addressed.
According to Wolter these stones began popping up during the Great Depression and were found over a period of four years. Wolter tells us that these stones are considered fakes by academics, but “academics have been wrong before so I’m going to study them myself.” Good thing we have his infallible research methods to save us all from the hap-hearted methods of ignorant, trained, professional academics.
First we go to Brenau University in Georgia to see the Dare Stone Collection. Here we meet Dr. Jim Southerland who was a professor of history (he’s retired now). As Dr. Southerland tells us about the story behind the Dare Stones, we’re shown images of sacred white people in pilgrim costumes being hunted by half-dressed, savage, Indian looking individuals. A favorite motif of this show. I guess at least in this episode we’re going to acknowledge the existence of Native Americans?
Wolter asks Dr. Southerland if the stones are real and Dr. Southerland shuts him down with a simple no. Dr. Southerland then says, in a perfect set up for Wolter, that if the stones were real, they would be in the history books, to which Wolter replies, well maybe they should be. Wolter never asks why the stones are not considered real, he also never tells us why he thinks they are real. We’re just observers on this journey and it doesn’t have to make sense to us.
So while epic music plays we watch Wolter examine a stone under the microscope and we’re given a weak definition of weathering. Wolter then tells us that “if Forensic Geology shows significant weathering, then the stone is authentic.” This is next to nonsensical as a statement. If Forensic Geology, or just Geology as the kids call it these days, find evidence of weathering, that really only tells us that the stone has been exposed to…weather. It doesn’t tell us who carved the stones, doesn’t tell us who the stone was carved by, doesn’t tell us where the stones were carved, or anything really all that important about the stones. It most certainly doesn’t prove the stone is authentic.
After a bit of song and dance, Wolter produces a fun 3d image with colors showing the grooves and valleys of the surface of the stone. Again, other than looking cool, this tells us nothing of value, and Wolter says as much. He admits that the stone is not one that will give a nice linear age. Not that knowing the overall age of the stone will tell us anything. Wolter makes a weak argument for secondary deposits, which he claims formed as a result of weathering and are useful in creating a timeline for an artifact. Witch as usual is almost true, but fails to connect it to this situation.
Still, Wolter declares the stones real, despite being told they were in-fact, not. He wants to see the other stones, claiming that if he sees as much weathering on the other stones as he did on the first, they might be legitimate clues to the lost colony. He doesn’t explain how this is, it just is. He also likes the fact that the stones don’t match, it makes him feel they are more authentic because they were carved where they were found. Sure, we’ve got nothing to support this idea, but let’s run with it anyway.
While Wolter touches the stones with his bare hands, we’re shown a map showing the locations the stones were supposedly found in. The first stone being discovered some 60-80 miles from the Roanoke Colony. Also the stones were found scattered between the colony and Atlanta, Georgia. There doesn’t seem to be a real trail to them, just clusters that don’t even pop up until 60 miles inland. Why would the colonists even come inland?
Without answers and convinced that the stones are real, we’re off to Fort Raleigh, NC National Historic Site. We meet Rob Bolling, a National Park Service Ranger at the site. Who gives us a run down of the history of the site, and tells us that the colonists from the Roanoke Colony probably assimilated in the local native tribes. We get to see the remains of the colony and we see the earth fortifications. Wolter gets all worked up over the shape of the fortification. I’m mildly supersized he doesn’t try to connect that to archeoastronomy.
After Wolter tries and sells his story to Ranger Bolling, we’re off to modern-day Cape Hatteras, NC. which was historically called Croatoan. We meet Scott Dawson the owner of the Hatteras Histories and Mysteries Museum. He tells us about the 2010 archaeology dig on the island and how he is convinced beyond a doubt that the missing Colonists came back to Croatoan when they left Roanoke.
While we’re being told all this, the show is rolling footage of Eleanor Dare being forced to leave by spear-point by dark-skinned savages. Nothing like a bit of racism to help a story along.
Wolter doesn’t like Dawson’s idea that the settlers came back. I guess he’s invested in the idea of native sages capturing and murdering innocent white settlers. Wolter begins to attempt to tear Dawson’s theory apart. Wolter says, “You’ve got a compelling story, you have documents and artifacts, but the Dare Stones stand in contrast to that.” I’m thinking Dawson needn’t be worried since Wolter is trying to trump Dawson with artifacts that accepted frauds by everyone but Wolter. Which Dawson quickly points out to Wolter. He calls out Wolter’s story as speculation and points out that no one agrees with him.
Wolter doesn’t handle people pointing out he’s wrong well, and this is no exception. He tries to bully his point to Dawson, who has none of it. Then he tries to change tactic and suggest a new theory that he’s been told is equally unlikely, and when that fails he claims to have factual evidence (which he doesn’t) and that all he can do is testify to it. Dawson is done at this point and the show sifts to images of calming waves and more footage of Wolter driving.
We end up in an airport terminal where we just happen get to overhear Wolter having a conversation with his wife complaining about how Dawson was mean to him, and how the man is keeping him down, and something about the establishment. He closes by telling us he’s not mad at Dawson, he’s just disappointed.
In order to cheer him up, Wolter’s wife gives him a new clue about a map. We see him open up to an article in his email, and after reading it he announces that he’s going to England!
We go to Salisbury, Wiltshire, England to talk with a Dr. Stephanie Pratt who the show tells us is an art historian. They have a very convenient conversation about fakes and how they are both good at spotting them. After a bit of tea, Pratt tells Wolter about the La Virginia Pars map.
The map was drawn by John White and on it there are two spots that have been covered up (British Museum). One appears to be a repair, and the other covers up a diamond-shaped fort in the bay of a waterway (Ambers et al 2012). Both of these are considered corrections and were common techniques for doing so (Ambers et al 2012).
Wolter gets excited that this drawing matches his sketch for the earth fort at Fort Raleigh. He asks if the fort could have been where the settlers meant to move to? Dr. Pratt agrees. Wolter wants to know why this would have been covered-up, and Dr. Pratt tells him it was for protection against Spanish competition in the area. Wolter then declares, “Both the Dare Stones and this map show that the colonists must have gone inland.” But why? Wolter’s own map shows no reason to think that.
So now Wolter seems to think that Raleigh actually had the colony moved secretly and then had the symbol for the fort on the map covered up to keep the colony secret.
So we’re off to St. John’s College in Cambridge England to talk with Dr. Mark Nicholls a British historian, about Sir Walter Raleigh who was John White’s boss for the Roanoke Colony expeditions. Dr. Nicholls tells us a lot about Sir Raleigh and a about a contemporary of Raleigh’s named Dr. John Dee. Dr. Dee belied that the British had been to the Americas before anyone else, and therefore had a prior claim to the land, this historically made it easier for Britain to claim the land.
Dr. Nicholls mentions sassafras as a possible cash crop that Raleigh might have been looking for. Wolter latches onto this, as he’s seen Sassafras around the Roanoke area. Dr. Nicholls mentions that Sassafras was thought of as the only treatment for Syphilis, and so Wolter accuses the then Queen of having Syphilis. This doesn’t go over well with Dr. Nicholls.
After some clever editing, Wolter launches into one of his weird “who asked” round-ups where he starts telling the random person he’s with his next steps on his journey, and what evidence he think’s he needs to prove himself right. These segments are always awkward, but I guess they need them to help keep the story on track.
Finally we are going back to America, looking for a place where the secret fort on the map, the sassafras, and the Dare Stones all come together. Wolter has decided that spot must be Scotch Hall Preserves Golf Course because it corresponds with the symbol on the map. We meet Jim Hughes the Scotch Hall spokesman. Walter launched into his newly revised story about secret forts and, Eleanor Dare running for safety to a place where she thought her father might have built a fort, and deadly natives, and sassafras. Hughes just nods politely through the whole thing, and then, in a very Southern way tell Wolter, “That’s a hell of a story, Scott.” Let it not be said that Mr, Hughes is a gentleman.
Wolter decides that he’s right to think this golf course sits where the secret fort of Sir Walter Raleigh used to sit. All he needs now it to tie the Dare Stones into it, however weakly, and so he declares, if he finds quartzite in the area then that ties the area back to the Dare Stones.How you ask? I have no clue, and I wager Wolter doesn’t either.
Quartzite is pretty much found everywhere and trust me the South-Eastern coast is lousy with it. So basically Wolter doesn’t have to look long in landscaped flower beds to find what he wants, and bam! ‘Proof’!
Wolter always tries to go out on a great quote, and this episode doesn’t disappoint. He wraps us saying:
“History ignored them because they didn’t fit into the story we were told, but now MY science tells a new story.”
Yes Wolter, Your science is best science.
Points for reading all this!
So let’s look at the not-evidence and not-clues Wolter tries to provide us.
- The Dare Stones.
- So for starts, the first stone is found almost 80 miles North from the Roanoke colony site. Which overshoots the supposed secret fort by 10 miles or more. The next set of stones don’t pop-up till 300 or more miles South and West in South Carolina.
- Secondly, No one thinks these stones are real. Most of these popped up quickly from 1937-1940 and none were found before or after. Also the language on the stones don’t match up to historical standards.
- Lastly, as Wolter presents it, are we supposed to believe that while being forcibly and violently abducted and marched south, Eleanor Dare had time to chisel 47 stone tables chronicling her story?
- The Covered Up Fort.
- This covering technique is a well know way to correct a map. So to see something like this shouldn’t be immediately suspect. However, being able to see under it to see the mistake is a neat trick. That said, this proves nothing. No one knows why this was covered up, and Wolter certainly didn’t provide any evidence. Even his chosen location didn’t pan out, so.
- Croatoan, aka Cape Hatteras, NC.
- This is the most likely place that the missing settlers went to. For starts they lived here prior to their migration to Roanoke. While here, they fostered close relations with the Coratoan tribe. It was also around 60 miles at the long end away. It just makes sense that they returned to the place they knew where there were still settlers and friendly Natives to protect them, as opposed to wandering off 80+ miles out of their way, in a direction they hadn’t explored yet, and knew there were hostile Native Peoples. The other direction, West and South towards Atlanta, Ga. Makes no sense no matter how you try to spin it.
- Ok, the main reason this still here is because Wolter got stuck on this being a cure for Syphilis and that Queen Elizabeth I has the disease. There is no evidence that the Queen had it, but Wolter pursues this idea through the last part of the show anyway.
- This stuff is all over the place, especially in the Southeastern reigns. So it’s rather easy to find in North Carolina. Now, in the show, Wolter hows himself looking for Quartzite in flower beds and in people’s yards. Not the first place I would have looked, but to each their own I guess. This also proves nothing of value to his argument. As we’ve said in almost every other show where Wolter has tried to use rocks as evidence of things, finding a random rock in a random location doesn’t link the rock you’re looking at to the rock you found.
- Also, all the science-y crap that Wolter tries to bamboozle everyone with amounts to Jack-and-… There is nothing in the weathering pattern of these stones that can tell us anything about the creators or the time periods of the stones. So all that examination and jargon is just window dressing to make everyone think something deeper is going on, when in reality it’s a shell game.
A Few Last Things.
The original topic of this show lacked any actual substance. As a result, the show quickly shifted from the topic of the authenticity of the Dare Stones to a quest to find the lost colony of Roanoke. When this didn’t pan out as well as the show seemed to hope, the show tried to turn to a weird secret conspiracy to hide the colony from possible Spanish competition.
We never really examine the Dare Stones, never look over what they say, or how they say it. Never look at the actual discovery locations, or who discovered them. We just hear the words repeated a lot in the show and are expected to know what they are, for no reason. This isn’t uncommon for the show, but given that these Stones are Wolter’s big trump card till he gets fixated on Sassafras and Syphilis, I would have expected them to spend a lot more time trying to convince me that they are real.
All said and done, I feel like the show knew it had a dud on its hands and tried to cobble something together. Well, it didn’t work to well, in my opinion.
Ambers, Janet, Joanna Russell, David Saunders and Kim Sloan
The British Museum Collection Online.