David S. Phelps, 79, the archaeologist who unearthed a 16th century gold signet ring while exploring ties between native people and the doomed English colonists who first tried to settle the Outer Banks of North Carolina, died Feb. 21 at Fort Pierce, Fla. The Virginian-Pilot of Norfolk, Va., reported his death this week but did not give the cause.
Phelps was professor emeritus of anthropology at East Carolina University in Greenville, N.C.
The ring proved to have no apparent link to the 1587 English colony that vanished from Roanoke Island. But it was the first evidence that Sir Walter Raleigh's explorers had contacts with the Indians.
Phelps found the ring and other artifacts in 1998 near Croatan, now known as Buxton. He had retired from the university's Coastal Archaeology Office in 1996 but remained affiliated with the school. When he moved to Florida in 2000, he took the ring with him but returned it to the university in 2006.