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Roanoke Colonies News

New Technology in Archaeological Efforts at Fort Raleigh

By Megan Roberts, East Carolina University

April 10, 2008

Cutting-edge technology and historical curiosity met on Roanoke Island in early January. The search for remnants of the 1580s English colonists at Fort Raleigh has brought computer-assisted radar tomography (CART) to the area. Witten Technologies has been hired by the historical team of the First Colony Foundation, and these two teams have joined forces in the continual search for artifacts. Specifically, Dr. Eric Klingelhofer, a member of the First Colony Foundation, is partnering with John Krause, senior vice president of Witten Technologies on this project.


No solid evidence has surfaced in proof of where the Roanoke colonists lived on the island aside from those artifacts found near the reconstructed Fort Raleigh, so the new technology is an exciting endeavor for those committed to finding further artifacts. The CART is the most high-tech approach to locating artifacts yet. The CART has a successful reputation from a find in the 1980s of a 120-foot-long dinosaur, which is famously represented in “Jurassic Park.” The CART is made by Witten Technologies, who will charge a few thousand dollars for specifying places the First Colony Foundation should dig. Witten’s customers have mostly been groups in search of oil and gas as well as mapping underground water and sewer lines, so the company welcomes a widening in the uses of CART.


The CART works somewhat like an MRI, in that it can produce 3-D images while combing the ground for anomalies. The new technology of the CART compared to the old technology of the ground penetrating radar (GPR) is immense. The standard CART contains a fixed array of nine transmitters, and each radar element in the array is an ultra-widened GPR that broadcasts any impulses. The CART’s 3-D images show the estimated size, shape, and depth of underground structures. This new technology is specific and more thorough in comparison to the limitations of the single GPR.


The radar imaging can detect anomalies up to six-feet underground, which guide searchers in deciphering where to dig. Before this technology, digging in the Fort Raleigh area has been mostly educated guess work. Krause explains the CART’s abilities as, “We’re able to take snapshots of the underground, basically a picture.” However, on the surface the CART looks rather simple, a large tractor with a long flat platform on its front. “It looks like a lawnmower,” commented Klingelhofer.


The goal for now is to resurvey all areas of the park where any artifacts have been previously unearthed. The Witten Company has designated results of the data to be ready before May, which is rather swift for this long-term archeological project. After results and data are available, then digging can begin in areas where anomalies were found. However, Klingelhofer looks at the exploration with realistic hopes, saying the CART has “great potential.”




Beckley, Ed. “3D Radar-Computer ‘Digs’ for Lost Colony.” Outer Banks sentinel [Nags Head, NC] 19 Jan. 2008: A1+.


Kozak, Catherine. “Search for Lost Colony Takes a High-Tech Turn.” Virginian-Pilot [Norfolk, VA] 28 Jan. 2008: News 1+.


McCleney, P., photo. “Still in Search of . . .” Coastland Times [Manteo, NC] 22 Jan. 2008: A1.


Witten Technologies, Inc. <http://www.wittentech.com/>.