In October of 2015, the History Channel broadcast a documentary in which Jim and Bill Vieira, who came to prominence on the channel in a series documenting their fruitless search for Nephilim-giants, evaluated whether the so-called Dare Stones were genuine artifacts of the Roanoke colonists’ dramatic flight from a bloodthirsty tribe of Native Americans as they escaped into the heart of Georgia. In that show, the brothers concluded that the Dare Stones were forgeries, though they held out hope that the first stone uncovered near Edenton, NC in 1937 was the one and only genuine Dare Stone, carved by the hand of Eleanor Dare herself. That was eighteen months ago.
Return to Roanoke: Search for the Seven tells us in its own narration that the show was meant to air one year after the October 2015 Roanoke: Search for the Lost Colony to which it is a sequel. You would think that History would have aired it last fall, when American Horror Story: Roanoke had made the lost colony a pop culture phenomenon again for a couple of months. Why it was delayed six months and dumped on a spring Sunday with little promotion I could only speculate. Perhaps part of the issue is that the documentary is by turns dull and confounding, and its dramatic “revelation” in the last two minutes is, at best, underwhelming and at worst deceptive.
This documentary doesn’t make much sense unless you watched the 2015 show it builds upon. To that end, you should read my review of that older show before reading this one since I don’t feel like repeating myself nearly as much as this show repeated the previous one. If you did not see that show, you were likely baffled and dumbfounded by what was going on for most of the run time. The show was apparently filmed in spring or summer of 2016 and kept on a shelf for nine months or so. I will confess to remembering little of the first show, and I needed to read my own review to remember it, so dull was it.
This installment is based on some quasi-serious “reopening” of what they call an “official” inquiry into the authenticity of the Dare Stones by the university where the stones are housed. Everyone admits that most of the Dare Stones were fakes, but the president of Brenau University, Ed Schrader, wants to investigate whether the first stone was real. This is the only stone that has never been conclusively proven either genuine or a modern fake, and it is the only one that might have a claim to authenticity. However, the story it tells in its carving doesn’t seem to support recent archaeological evidence that the Roanoke colonists decamped to Hatteras Island (formerly Croatoan) and lived out their lives there.
The show opens with cinematic recreation of early efforts to find the lost colonists of Roanoke, some two decades after their disappearance. The staging is generally competent, and they clearly spent money on costumes, but the anachronisms speak to the lack of care involved in slapping together the show. For example, the voiceover by an actor portraying Captain John Smith of Jamestown is in a modern American accent, even though the Roanoke colonists and those who searched for them were British. Because the dramatic reenactments punctuate the show, the American accent on Smith, whom the show identifies specifically (and correctly) as British, becomes quite distracting. And just in case you were keeping score at home, the voiceover, so far as I can tell, does not use the actual words of John Smith. None of the voiceover segments seemed to match anything from Smith’s published journals, insofar as I was able to search them, and there was no indication that the show used unpublished material. It is deceptive to supply Smith with words he never said, particularly when they imply a much deeper involvement of Smith in the Roanoke saga than he had. In the end, despite the reenactments, his material contributed exactly nothing to the show, which instead relied on the secondhand account of William Strachey, who was briefly the secretary of the Jamestown colony.
Much of the first act involves recapping the 2015 special and explaining that almost all of the Dare Stones are hoaxes. At this point, only one Dare Stone – the first found – is said to have the potential to be authentic. As I have remarked in the past, it might be, but there is not much evidence either way, so the lack of confirming evidence in the vicinity where it is said to have been found argues against it.
This show is premised on John Smith’s search for the Roanoke colony, and the Vieira brothers conflate this with the question of whether the first Dare Stone is real. “We’re getting another bite of the apple,” Bill Vieira says of the Dare Stones, but he might better be talking of their desire to get back on TV after the failure of their series Search for the Lost Giants and the failure of the first Dare Stones special to launch a weekly series. The Vieira brothers praise one another endlessly in the first segment, boasting of their accomplishments—even though they have collectively offered nothing unknown to historians. Jim Vieira seems to confirm that he no longer cares as much for Nephilim-giants since he became a full-time Roanoke “addict” in 2015, calling the first Dare Stone “the Da Vinci Code mixed with Indiana Jones” and praising it as the most exciting mystery in history. A university official—I didn’t catch whether it was the president or a professor, and the long parade of gray-haired white men blended together for me—calls efforts to research the stone the most exciting archaeological work in a century, which must make King Tut feel rather ashamed.
Historian David La Vere briefs Jim Vieira on the history of Jamestown, and Vieira—who, I will note, now dresses in professorial garb with new glasses and a clean-shaven face, rather than the t-shirts, jeans, and stubble from last year—says that La Vere will do the work of researching Jamestown and “hand off” a summary to him. This leads the brothers to revisit places that were featured in the 2015 show, with flashbacks to that documentary.
At some point in the second half hour, something finally happened. After much handwringing, the team decides to slice off a chip from the first Dare Stone to test its geochemical composition. The president of the university dramatically worries that the stone might shatter in cutting a piece off, but he agrees to “lay it all on the line” to find the “truth.” It’s all very melodramatic, with pulsing music underscoring the stroking of chins as … absolutely nothing happened except nearly ten minutes of screen time were used up. At the 45-minute mark, there have been perhaps 3 minutes of content in the show.
The results of the analysis determined that the Eleanor Dare Stone is made of white quartz with a brown patina. They speculate that should the stone be a hoax, the carvings on it should have been pure white in 1937 because it would have been a fresh cut. By contrast, if the stone were from the 1500s, the carvings might well have been darker. Early photographs do indeed show the carving to be much lighter in color than the surrounding rock, and they remain much lighter today. Granted, I don’t know whether the markings were chalked or painted to make them easier to read, but no one else seems to be interested in checking such things, either. They simply let the idea drop, probably because the answer would not support their thesis. Instead, the team speculates that the Dare Stone came from a ship’s ballast and they go searching for other ballast stones for comparison, as though the random allotment of stones a ship carried would be of the same type or even from the same location. The entire exercise was a waste of time and provided no useful information.
A historian notes that a Jamestown colonist reported a rumor that seven Roanoke colonists were held in a Native copper mine. This is a reference to a rumor that William Strachey reported in 1612: “the Weroance Eyanoco preserved seven of the English alive — fower men, two boyes, and one yonge mayde (who escaped and fled up the river of Chanoke), to beat his copper, of which he hath certaine mynes at the said Ritanoe.” Jim Vieira sees this as confirming the authenticity of the Dare Stone, which mentions seven survivors, but since the text was known in the 1930s, it could just as well be the inspiration for a hoax. Once again, the “evidence” proves nothing.
So ends the first hour, which could profitably be skipped, missing nothing of importance.
As the second hour begins, Bill Vieira, dives into the water to pick up old ballast stones. The men then smash up the ballast stones to see if the trace elements on the stones match those of the Dare Stone, thus showing they originated in the same location. This is only useful if we assume that the ballast all originated at the same place and that, for example, some wasn’t picked up later along the way. Similarly, the ballast picked up in the water is unlikely to have been a Roanoke colony ship’s ballast stone, and therefore the trace elements would be irrelevant in linking the Dare Stone to the Roanoke ships’ ballast, and not terribly useful in proving that the Dare Stone came from the water near to where it was found in 1937.
The Shakespeare scholar from 2015 who declared that a hoaxer would never have known that in the 1500s “the” was written with a thorn (an obsolete Old English symbol for th) and a superscript e, suggesting astonishing levels of ability to look things up in books, now says that the text of the stone contains only material accessible in 1937 from published accounts, suggesting a hoax is possible. However, Dr. Kevin Quarmby says that because library cards are too difficult to get (!), it would be too hard to gather the information; therefore, Eleanor Dare is the only person likely to have had the knowledge to produce the stone. He is full of shit. The Library of Congress, for example, contains all of the books referenced in this show, and it is not exactly Fort Knox. I am sure other libraries contained sufficient copies of the relevant texts. Just to be clear: The first Dare Stone does not contain any particularly special material that would require a deep knowledge of Roanoke history. To pretend otherwise—to the extent of imagining it difficult to gain access to libraries!—is just silly. Indeed, the first Dare Stone is only plausible because it matches well-known texts and maps. To be particularly blunt, the Dare Stone echoes quite closely the account given by William Strachey in 1612, an account republished in 1849 by the Hakluyt Society and available in any good library of the Depression era. No access to special manuscripts is required.
Following this, the Vieira brothers follow up on the rumor from Strachey that the Roanoke colonists were held as copper-mining slaves by going in search of a Native American copper mine where they might have labored. No Native American copper mine, the narrator says, has ever been found in the area. Eagle-eyed readers will recall that the rumor Strachey reported did not actually say that the colonists worked the mines, only that they worked the copper ore, which might have occurred anywhere. They expend an entire act discussing how to search for a Native American copper mine, but while the existence of copper ore would offer corroboration of the fact that Native people could have used Roanoke colonists as copper slaves, it really offers nothing by way of proof that they actually did, only that that the person who spread the story to Strachey knew that Native people had a copper mine. The Vieira bothers find a place where they believe Native Americans mined copper, but no European artifacts were found.
The show’s dramatic revelation at the end is that the Dare Stone contains similar trace elements to the stones at the copper mine, but even the show concedes that there is no proof that the stone came from this specific copper mine. (Indeed, America Unearthed found matching quartzite in a completely different location and declared it a match, too!) Nor were the Vieira Brothers able to explain how the Dare Stone got from the inland copper mines down to Edenton, or why Eleanor Dare, should she be the “fair maid” who escaped the copper mines, carried a large, heavy rock with her while she fled in terror for her life. Personally, I wouldn’t consider it a top priority on my way out the door.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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