Book Review: The Curse of Oak Island: The Story of the World’s Longest-Treasure Hunt.

From time to time I get sent books to review. The last one I did was the Lost History of Ancient America, and wow. So when the publishers of Randall Sullivan’s new book, The Curse of Oak Island: The Story of the World’s Longest-Treasure Hunt, reached out to me I warned them. Sure, I’d love to review it, but I’m a debunker, and I know a bit about the whacky-ness that is Oak Island. I might not be the best person to review a book on the topic.

The publisher assured me that I would find the book non-fringy, and asked if I would consider it. So I said yes. I did warn them after all. Now I love getting books in the mail. Really love it, like a kid at Christmas love it. So when the shiny new hardcover arrived I was giddy.

I did have to wrap of a demanding semester in grad school, so I took a brief moment to look inside. I wanted to give the book my full attention and wondered if it might be a good addition to my collection of pseudoarchaeology books by non-archaeologists that looked at pseudoarchaeology topics critically. I liked what I saw in the first few pages.

Sullivan describes the original article he wrote for Rolling Stone on the Oak Island mystery.

He then described his unease at the article after publication.

“It was the nagging thought that I’d accepted the semiofficial legend of Oak Island without sufficient examination, though, that truly bothered me.”

(Sullivan 2018)

That certainly caught my attention.

Sullivan then briefly describes an on-air encounter he had with Joe Nickell from Skeptical Inquirer:


“…when we spoke briefly about this off camera, I was acutely aware that i wasn’t confident enough in what I knew about the historical records to refute some of what he was saying. That troubled me.


It also troubled me that I might have given some preposterous theories about what had taken place on Oak Island more than their fair due,…”


(Sullivan 2018)


I was honestly put at ease with the book based on the self-reflective nature of these statements. We’ve talked about on the blog and the show, that a key feature of a lot of pseudoarchaeology is that it repels self-reflection and rejects criticism. To see Sullivan doubting his own conclusions and admitting he was caught flat-footed by Nickell was refreshing.

Then I had to put the book down to finish my paper. When I picked it up again, I was ready to see how Sullivan had addressed his doubts and what he’d found in the process.

A few things here before we dive into the book.

I am a skeptic of Oak Island. I firmly believe that there is nothing on the island beyond the mundane, and even that has been swiss-cheesed to the point of meaninglessness by the 200-ish years of people drilling random holes into it looking for treasure. I think it’s the most abhorrent abuse of what could have been a fantastic archaeological site and due to the lack of any kind of methods or standards used by anyone who ever dug there, anything that is found on that island is immediately suspect and probably contamination from the people that dug there before whoever is digging there now. Oak Island is a shining example of why archaeology isn’t done this way and should be a warning bell to archaeologists of what can happen if we don’t communicate our methods and standards more clearly to the general public. Who knows what has been lost on that island due to the destruction of treasure hunters.

That out of the way, Sullivan’s book is not a giant 410 page novel on why Oak Islands is clearly the home of Celtic, Pirate, Freemason gold and the lost works of Sir. Francis Bacon. Well, not entirely, it is a detailed history of the phenomena that is the Oak Island treasure hunt.

Sullivan backs up all the way up to when the three men credited to starting this whole crap ball rolling, and then write about how he went a step further to locate the three men in time. It’s impressive, and Sullivan shows his work, talking about census records, and land deeds, and even the elusive Daniel McGinnis. Sullivan talks about his search of the historical evidence of the man, and then made a strong case as to who McGinnis was and why he’s so hard to track. His conclusions are perfectly acceptable and logical.

Basically, what I’m saying here is, unlike many books on pseudoarcheology topics, Sullivan is providing fresh material and doing actual labor to find new threads for the theories presented in the book.

That said, Sullivan does spend time looking at a good number of the various theories that plague Oak Island. These I find interesting because Sullivan spends time talking about the possible origins of the theory and then talks about how the theory affected the show.

Sullivan’s insights into the behind-the-scenes of the Curse of Oak Island show are also interesting. Sullivan talks about his interactions with various guests, the producers, and the interactions with the show’s various on-air personalities. It’s honestly very humanizing and if you’d never watched the show you would think these are very calm, level-headed, reasonable men.

Sullivan is kind in his treatment of the show, and it’s clear he’s friendly with the cast. There’s nothing wrong with this per se, but it must be kept in mind that Sullivan is sorta paid by the show to do his research for the show. I wouldn’t expect him to go on a huge “Down with the History Channel!” rant. I did feel a few times that Sullivan was maybe turning a blind eye to things, or not looking as closely as he could at things.

The incident with the Spanish maravedi (piece of 8) a coin dated to the 1600s but the shows on-hand experts is a good example. Sullivan describes one of the final moments of season 2 of the show. There is a stunning moment where a Spanish maravedi coin is found, saving the show and allowing the Lagina brothers to be funded for another season of digging on the Island. It’s…a little too convenient of a find. So convenient that, according to Sullivan, even the Lagina brothers were suspicious of it.

Sullivan kind of glosses over the incident, hand waving a bit that the
Lagina brothers both thought the coin had been planted. They confronted the producers and asked Sullivan about it. Everyone told them no, they hadn’t planted it. Still. Someone could have, given the way it was discovered and the chaos around the discovery, the desperate need for it, and the timing of it. I’ve been doing this debunking thing too long to accept that this was all coincidence.

Another moment in the book that sticks out is the aforementioned on-air interview with Joe Nickell. Not the interview itself, which Sullivan doesn’t go into much, or really at all. But you can clearly tell from the writing style and words he uses that Sullivan isn’t happy about how the interview went. He basically attacks Nickell and in a very fringy ‘all skeptics are mean and wrong’ kind of way. It’s a red flag for me.

As much as the book doesn’t really focus too much on one theory over another as to the ‘why’ or ‘what’ of Oak Islands’s supposed treasure, it is interesting to see which theories that Sullivan appears to like most. One about how the island was a Pirate Island like Tortuga (Haiti) and so had fortifications and smuggling tunnels built into it was interesting, but Sullivan didn’t build that out enough for it to really stick.

The other one he seemed to really like is extremely convoluted and hard to follow conspiracy that Shakespeare wasn’t really the author of his plays, Sir Francis Bacon was, and that Bacon then hid all the evidence for this on Oak Island of all places. Sullivan seems to waffle on his support of this but is clearly enamored by it.

The rest of the theories he brings up he treats respectfully, giving them time and research when possible. He talks about the people who possibly began a few of the lingering rumors about the supposed treasure on the island and always links back to an interview or moment on the show. He connects the dots quite well and if nothing else, brings the “why do people believe this?” into the light.

I found the book interesting. It cleared up a few things and pointed some things out I didn’t know about the island and the show. Did Sullivan’s book change my opinion on the destruction of Oak Island, or justify the frankly pot-hunting behavior of the show? No. But in all honesty, I don’t think it was meant to.

Sullivan’s book is just what it claims to be, despite the sensational creepy/cool cover and the huge title tie-in to the show. It is the story of the world’s longest running treasure hunt, the history of it, the men who dug, the theories they use, and the myths and legends around this island. It gives an interesting view into the other side of the camera for the TV show and gives us little glimpses into the thinking of the men currently grinding their way through the island.

In conclusion:

The Curse of Oak Island: The Story of the World’s Longest-Treasure Hunt, was well written, informative, and yes, ever so biased. I really would have liked to see an index and a bibliography, but the timeline was nice. Sullivan doesn’t really shove any particular theory down the reader’s throat, but he clearly has his favorites. Sullivan doesn’t seem to be trying to change anyone’s minds about the show or the topic beyond simply informing them.

He does at times state things as facts that I am more than dubious about. Findings that are questionable at best he just accpets and then presents. But often just as quickly as he’s presented an artifact as fact, he jumps to the next theory and doesn’t really come back to it. It’s an unintentional way of showing just how messed up and unconnected all the random theories about Oak Island are.

Do I think the book is a little one-sided? Yes. Do I think it only reinforced the need for professional archaeologists and standardized methodology? Yes. Do I think Oak Island is permanently damaged as a site? Yes. Am I even a little convinced about any of the theories presented by the book? No, but I also don’t accept Nickell’s theory of Freemasons’ either…so there’s that.

I won’t not recommend the book. It had information in it, especially about the TV show. Just read it with your thinking hat on, and if something seems fishy or glossed over, there’s probably a reason for it.

I don’t endorse the book though.

Sullivan did a good job on research and it’s clear he cares about the topic. But it’s still a pro-Oak Island book, it’s still pseudoarchaeology, and it still endorses the damage being done to the island in the name of obsession and treasure. I could rant for days about the problems with the whole concept of Oak Island, and Sullivan doesn’t even touch on these issues other than to lament the lives, and fortunes lost to looking for something that is clearly not there.

Sullivan could have been somewhat critical of his topic and failed to be. Yes, he was less convinced by some theories than others, but in the end, Sullivan is still hyping the romantic idea of treasure on Oak Island. He’s still adding fuel to a smoldering fire.

I suppose though when you’re being paid by History Channel, funded, hyped, supported and marketed by them, are you even able to be critical? Was it even an option for Sullivan? Or was the course of this book set from the beginning, much like the finale of season 2 of the show.


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The Origins of the Oak Island Saga Pt2: Smith’s Cove and Boobie Traps.

Smith's Cove
Oak island showing Smith’s Cove via Google Earth 2016

Despite the lack of treasure found on Oak Island, there appears to be something strange about the whole thing, and that’s enough for some adventurers. The Money Pit is far from the most intriguing thing on, or around rather, the island. Many think this possibly man-made feature is the reason for flooding in the Money Pit. Since the discovery of the Money Pit, six more companies have tried, and failed, to recover treasure from the island and many blame this watery obstacle for it.

What is this most dastardly foil of an obstacle?

Smith’s Cove appears to have come into the Oak Island Saga some time in 1965. Robert Dunfield agreed that the Money Pit was flooding due to some kind of boobie trap, and he thought the source was probably the beach (Oak 2015). He drew several diagrams, outlining what he thought had occurred to create a funnel system, starting at Smith’s Cove and ending at the Money Pit (Oak 2015). This idea caught on quickly with other treasure hunters and became part of the cannon of the Oak Island Saga.

When the Triton Company took over excavations in 1971 they made note of what they thought were man made structures:

“Historians and archaeologists who have worked closely with Triton throughout the operations believe that this structure is probably the remains of the original builders’ coffer dam[sic] erected during excavation of the flood tunnel and its underwater collector drains. Other discoveries made by Triton at Smiths Cove include: matted organic material identified by the National Research Council as coconut fibre[sic] (which is consistent with 1850 reports of masses of coconut fiber underlying the beach where it seems to have been used as a filter to keep the collector drains from clogging); the remains of a ruler or framing square; an unusual antique wooden box; and a wrought iron caulking tool.” (Oak 2015)

Now, a cofferdam is often constructed as a way to enclose an area in order to pump it dry so that it can be used as a staging ground of other work or other land use. It’s also a practice that’s been around for along time. So it’s not unusual to see something like this in action dating back to the earlier centuries, especially on an island that has a historical connection to shipping and fishing.

Much has been made of the artifacts found around Smith’s Cove, but as these were discovered as part of a treasure hunt and not an actual archaeological dig, thereby implying the context of these artifacts is completely gone, the reliability of these artifacts is questionable. Take for example Triton Co.’s interpretation of the wooden box found being used for rock removal during tunnel digging (Oak 2015). There is absolutely no reason to assume this based on what has been presented to us. The only evidence offered up by the sympathetic website, Oak Island Treasure, is that the movie ‘The Great Escape’ used what they assume is a similar process in a digging scene (Oak 2015). Not exactly convincing.

There are other issues with the idea of a flood system boobie trap.

An independent study was done by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI) for Triton Co. and their results were not exactly supportive of this idea. Despite being very limited in their ability to collect data, WHOI, was able to do some testing.

The major issue WHOI encountered was Triton’s control over what they were allow to even look at. The chief researcher involved in the investigation stated that the researchers were led to the spot and handed material supposedly retrieved from under the sand (Joltes 2002b). No archaeological excavation was conducted and the WHOI researchers were not allowed to collect their own samples for comparison (Joltes 2002b).

Despite this, WHOI did a variety tests and looked at a few key points of evidence offered by Triton Co. The first of which was getting a C14 date for the coconut husks allegedly found on the island and inside the Money Pit. The dates obtained by the C14 tests indeed show a date of 1130, +/-70 years. The major issue here is that these samples were handed to WHOI and they were not allowed to collect comparative samples to make sure that these samples were legitimate and from the area in question. As we know from historical documents, Oak Island was used for shipping and fishing (O’Connor 2004, Bartram 2005), and many guess that it was used for pirate smuggling (Nickell 2000, O’Connor 2004, Oak 2008). These coconut husks could easily have gotten there as part of packing marital used in cargo shipping (Joltes 2002b). Or the dates could be compromised by mishandling or other contaminates. As WHOI couldn’t collect comparison samples, there’s no way to know or trust this date.

WHOI also poured a sensitive dye into Borehole 10-X, who’s water levels vary at the same rate as the Money Pit, and then monitored the coastline around the island to check for evidence of the dye (Joltes 2002b). No dye was detected emerging anywhere around the island (Joltes 2002b). They also conducted side-scan sonar studies of the area looking for any kind of channels between the Money Pit and the shoreline, finding nothing (Joltes 2002b). Thus concluding that:

‘no direct connection to the surrounding ocean was found during the study (Gallo, 2002).’ (Joltes 2002b)

So where is the water coming from if not the sea?

Well for starts the water in the hole and the Money Pit is not actually seawater. It’s ‘brackish’ indicating  a freshwater lens on the island (Joltes 2002b, Bartram 2005 ). Geologically this is possible as Graham Harris explains:

Geologically the island is a drumlin. Composed almost entirely of dense glacial till, it is a remnant of the last Ice Age. This till overlies anhydrite bedrock, with which is associated some minor limestone. Anhydrite possesses the dubious property of being exceedingly soluble, more so in salt water than in fresh. Paradoxically Oak Island is the only island in the region to be underlain by anhydrite. On the adjacent mainland, and on other islands in the region, sounder limestones and slates can be found at shallow depth.

…digging the first shaft through dense till into the underlying anhydrite is a simple operation fraught with little peril. But once the excavation fills up with water, drawn into it through systemic seepage paths within the anhydrite, these seepage paths will enlarge progressively. The greater the pumping activity the greater the rate of solution of the anhydrite and, of course, the greater the rate of inflow. Once started it is a vicious circle, and one likely to prove catastrophic as the solution passages enlarge.

Treasure-seekers centuries later would repeatedly attempt to dewater the workings by pumping – an exercise as fruitless as trying to pump the Atlantic Ocean dry! In recent years, massive sinkholes have developed offshore showing that the seepage paths radiating outwards from the base of the Money Pit have grown great indeed.

– Recovering the Oak Island Treasure, Graham Harris, C&G Association Journal, Spring 2002. (Bartram 2005).

If Smith Cove isn’t connected to the Money Pit via a drainage system, why are there man made structures there?

Aside from possible shipping use, there is another interesting and plausible suggestion for man-made structures in Smith’s Cove. The production of salt from sea water.
Salt was important back before the invention of refrigerated shipping for preservation of perishable cargo, especially fish  (King 2010). The first recorded owners of Oak Island were Gifford and Smith, two New York fishing agents in 1753 (King 2010). As salt was both an expensive and important part of the fishing industry, its perfectly acceptable that Gifford and Smith were also manufacturing their own salt. More support of this is in the shape and location of the five finger troughs that are found in Smith Cove (King 2010). There is also evidence of boiling pits used in the manufacture of salt and this whole process easily explains the presence of the artificial beach created by the cofferdam (King 2010).
Last and probably least, when Triton Co. brought in WHOI to examine their evidence, they showed the WHOI researchers a video. This enhanced CBC video, taken from the bottom of Borhole 10-X, supposedly shows a wooden casket and an severed hand. WHOI researchers were unable to see anything in the film. The water was so murky and the video so badly lit, that it was impossible to distinguish objects clearly (Joltes 2002b).

There is one last factor to consider here, Oak Island is irrecoverable compromised as a site.

Since the late 1700’s Oak Island has been a treasure hunters’ paradise, peaking in the 1960’s with as many as 40 active treasure pits (Bartram 2005). As such there are more holes on that island than in Swiss cheese. What little archaeological evidence recovered shows this to true. Not to mention all the stories about Oak Island’s Treasure are just that, Stories.

There are no known hard records for the discovery of the Money Pit or excavations of the Onslow or Truro companies from the 1800’s (Bartram 2005). There is, however, a strong oral tradition passed from McInnis, Smith and Vaughan that spawned several newspaper articles during the time (Bartram 2005). From these, the folklore of the island was born properly and has since been handed down as fact and evidence even when devoid of both.

The truly sad part of all this is that any actual archaeology that may have been on that island is now probably distorted beyond recovery. All in the name of some rumored treasure that no one is really clear what it might be. It really give new meaning to the terms ‘Fool’s Gold’ and ‘Wild Goose Chase’.

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Want more on this topic? Go to: The Oak Island Saga.
Comment below or send an email to ArchyFantasies@gmail.com


 

Resources :

Bartram, John A.
2005     Appendix: On the claim for a flood tunnel. History, Hoax, and Hype: The Oak Island Legend.  CriticalEnquiry.org. Sun 19 of June. http://www.criticalenquiry.org/oakisland/floodtunnel.shtml  Retrieved 1/19/2016

Crystalinks
Nd    Oak Island Mystery. Crystalinks.com. http://www.crystalinks.com/oakislandmystery.html Retrieved 1/19/2016.
McCully, J.B.
1862    Correspondence in the Liverpool Transcript. October 1862. Liverpool, Nova Scotia. https://web.archive.org/web/20080517112423/http://www.oakislandtreasure.co.uk/content/view/74/97/ Retrieved 1/19/2016.

Forks, J.P.
1857    Correspondence in the Liverpool Transcript.  20 August 1857 Vol. 4 No. 32. S.J.M. Allen Editor. Liverpool, Nova Scotia.  http://web.archive.org/web/20150106084107/http://novascotia.ca/archives/virtual/newspapers/archives.asp?ID=2941 Retrieved 1/19/2016.

Joltes, Richard
2002a    Oak Island Research. CriticalEnquiry.org. p. 1. August 2002. >http://criticalenquiry.org/wp/oak-island-information/ Retrieved 1/19/2016

2002b    The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute Report. History, Hoax, and Hype: The Oak Island Legend.  CriticalEnquiry.org.  http://www.criticalenquiry.org/oakisland/whoi.shtml.
Retrieved 1/19/2016.

King, Dennis
2010    A Solution To The Mystery Of The Oak Island Five Finger Drains. CriticalEnquiry.org. February 2010.http://www.criticalenquiry.org/oakisland/Dennis_King_Mar_2010.shtml. Retrieved 1/19/2016.

Nickell, Joe
2000    The Secrets of Oak Island. Skepitcal Inquirer. Vol 24.2, March/April 2000. http://www.csicop.org/si/show/secrets_of_oak_island Accessed 1/19/2016

Oak Island Treasure
2008    History. Oak Island Treasure.  https://web.archive.org/web/20080509165300/http://www.oakislandtreasure.co.uk/content/section/5/35/ Retrieved 1/19/2016.

2015    Smith’s Cove – a closer look at Oak Island’s artificial beach. Oak Island Treasure.co.uk. October 15, 2015.  http://www.oakislandtreasure.co.uk/smiths-cove-a-closer-look-at-oak-islands-artificial-beach/. Retrieved 1/19/2016.

O’Connor, D’Arcy
2004    The Secret Treasure of Oak Island: The Amazing True Story of a Centuries-Old Treasure Hunt. The Lyons Press. Guilford, CT. https://books.google.com/books?id=QLoZMFzjWtQC&pg=PA269&dq=O%27Connor,+D%27Arcy.+1988.+The+Big+Dig.+New+York:+Ballantine.&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwin2-WT877KAhWFpR4KHYyKCrwQ6AEIJjAA#v=onepage&q&f=false Retrieved 1/19/2016.

Woods Hole 10x dye test. Forum Discussion on the Oak Island Treasure forum. http://forum.oakislandtreasure.co.uk/viewtopic.php?f=12&t=3355&start=40 Retrieved 1/19/2016

Andy White, Podcasts, and Debunking Roman Swords.

Here on the blog we’ve just started to dip our toe into the waters of Oak Island. However, there is one recent detail that has popped up that we just can’t wait to discuss. That topic is the Roman Sword that was supposedly found off the coast of Oak Island in a shipwreck.

According to the Daily Mail;

” Researchers, led by Jovan Hutton Pulitzer, claim they have evidence that Roman ships visited North America ‘during the first century or earlier.’ (Zolfagharifard 2015)”

Sounds cool! So what’s the evidence?

Pulitzer claims that he’s found a Roman sword that is “100 per cent confirmed (Gadd 2015, Zolfagharifard 2015)” and that is “the smoking gun to his theory (Gadd 2015, Zolfagharifard 2015)”.  He says that the sword was discovered in a shipwreck just off the coast of Oak Island, and apparently made this announcement on the History Channel’s show Curse of Oak Island (Gadd 2015, Zolfagharifard 2015).

It doesn’t take long for this claim to start unraveling though, and unraveling in such a spectacular way at that.

First, the discovery of the sword is not exactly well documented. In Pulitzer’s own words in his interview with the Boston Standard last year:

“Pulitzer explained: “Some years ago, a man and his son were scalloping off Oak Island, which sees them hang rake-like object off the back of their boat. When they brought this up, the sword came up with it.

“The father kept it for decades, and when he died it went to his wife, then his daughter. Then when she died many years later it went to her husband. It was he who came forward to the island and said ‘I think you should know about this and where it was found.” (Gadd 2015)”

This is not the way to find reliable artifacts. We’ve gone over this many times on this blog and on the podcast. Context is King, Queen, and God. In order for an artifact to be valid it must be documented. Pictures, diagrams, documents, etc. This doesn’t exist with this sword. Even if it was a true artifact, the value of it beyond being cool looking is lost and it is by no means viable as evidence of anything by this point. So, this is the first problem, and frankly, for me, it’s a death knell. But there’s more…

Andy White, friend of the show and blog, has been doing tireless research into the supposed Roman sword. He’s created a wonderful Hashtag #SwordGate and is publishing his research, investigation, and results of said work on his personal blog and on The Argumentative Archaeologist.

Andy also sat down with Ken Feder and I on the Archaeological Fantasies Podcast. He talked with us about his work and the blow back he’s received from Pulitzer as a result of Andy’s critical work on the authenticity of the sword.

One of my favorite things that Andy has done is gotten his hands on several other copies (he’s up to 10 now) of the exact same sword that Pulitzer has tried to put forward as 100% real. So far Andy has created a database of the copies, and made point by point comparisons showing that the swords are all related to each other. He’s created a time-line of sorts using the differences on the sword hilts. He’s made his research and findings accessible to the public at large, so you can go look at the work he’s doing to debunk this now famous Not-Roman artifact. Andy’s pretty much stuck a fork in the topic.

Pulitzer for his part has tried to offer up more “evidence” for Romans in Canada. The Boston Standard lists a few of these, so lets have a look shall we?

Pulitzer claims that the originating shipwreck is still off the coast of Nova Scotia and that it is undisturbed, which is clearly not true since he supposedly has an artifact from it. He says that his team have “scanned it” whatever that means (Gadd 2015) and that it is definitely Roman (Gadd 2015). He’s not released these scans to anyone to see, so we have to take his word for it. In the exact same paragraph though, he makes mention that the wreck hasn’t been seen first hand yet, because the Nova Scotia government is hesitant to send an actual archaeological team down there (Gadd 2015). I can only assume they are even more hesitant let treasure hunters down there.

Pulitzer also tries to used DNA evidence to prove his point, saying that;

” “The Mi’kmaq carry the rarest DNA marker in the world which comes from the ancient Levant (the eastern Mediterranean). You can’t screw with DNA.” (Gadd 2015)”

No, but you can grossly misrepresent it and not actually understand what’s being shown. Jason Colavito covers this pretty succinct on his blog;

” He [Pulitzer] also alleges that the Mi’kmaq have Levantine DNA, which is a claim based on the fringe history DNA Consultants’allegation that the Mi’kmaq’s Haplogroup X links them to the ancient Near East, something that DNA experts dispute. (Colavito 2015)”

The Mi'kmaq petroglyph showing what some believe to be Roman legionnaires marching Bostand standard 2015
Mi’kmaq petroglyph via The Boston Standard 2015.

Pulitzer also claims that there Mi’kmaq petroglyphs in the surrounding area showing Roman legionnaires (Gadd 2015). Just looking at the offered image it’s clear either those are the longest swords ever made, or their something more like spears. Which I’m sure the Mi’kmaq peoples were and are familiar with. See, we don’t need a legion of Europeans to explain Native petroglyphs, Native people are capable of explaining themselves. I wonder if anyone has bothered to asked them about their petroglyphs?

Just for good measure Pulitzer tries to tie in linguistics, which is almost never accurate when used by the fringe as Colavito points out:

” He [Pulitzer] further argues that the Mi’kmaq preserve 50 Roman sailing terms, though he identifies none. Since the Mi’kmaq have a long history of interaction with French sailors, and French is a Romance language, if there are Latinate borrowings, he would need to prove these were not mediated through French. (Colavito 2015)”

He’s also offered a variety of Roman items that are not found on Oak Island, but around Nova Scotia as a whole. None of which are particularly impressive and all of which are without context. They are neat to collect, but not actual evidence of anything.

Lastly, Pulitzer tries to argue that the Romans brought an invasive species of plant with them on their voyages to help them fight scurvy (Gadd 2015). Said plant is now found all over the area. But plant he points to is called barberry (Berberis vulgaris) and was brought by the Europeans during the colonial period (Colavito 2015). Which would make sense since all the shipwrecks in the area are dated between 18th and 19th centuries (Gadd 2015).

still waiting

Pulitzer has been proclaiming quite loudly that he’s going to produce a White Paper. No one has seen it, except maybe the Boston Standard. Much like no one has seen the shipwreck scan, or like how no one gets to see the “original” Roman sword for actual research purposes.

All and all, in my opinion, this issue is a modern fraud. I for one am glad to see how quickly archaeologists like Andy and his supporting community have risen to the clarion to debunk it.


If you’d like to support this blog, consider donating on Patreon.
Want more on this topic? Go to: The Oak Island Saga.
Comment below or send an email to ArchyFantasies@gmail.com

 

Resources:

Andy White’s Personal Blog
http://www.andywhiteanthropology.com/blog/

Andy the Argumentative Archaeologisthttp://www.andytheargumentativearchaeologist.com/

Archaeology Fantasies Podcast featuring Andy White.A LEGION OF ROMAN SWORDS – EPISODE 28

Colavito, Jason
2015    J. Hutton Pulitzer Alleges a Roman Sword Was Found Off Oak Island Several Decades Ago. Jason Colavito.com. http://www.jasoncolavito.com/ 12/17/2015 http://www.jasoncolavito.com/blog/j-hutton-pulitzer-alleges-a-roman-sword-was-found-off-oak-island-several-decades-ago Accessed 1/24/16

Gadd, Gemma
2015    Startling new report on Oak Island could ‘rewrite history’ of the Americas. Boston Standard. http://www.bostonstandard.co.uk/. Wednesday 16 December 2015. http://www.bostonstandard.co.uk/news/local/startling-new-report-on-oak-island-could-rewrite-history-of-the-americas-1-7118097 Accessed 1/24/16

Zolfagharifard, Ellie
2015    Did the ROMANS discover America? Radical theory claims sword found on Oak Island suggests ancient mariners set foot on the New World before Columbus. Daily Mail.com. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/. 17 December 2015. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-3364818/Did-ROMANS-discover-America-Sword-Oak-Island-suggests-ancient-mariners-set-foot-New-World-Columbus-according-radical-theory.html Accessed 1/24/16

The Origins of the Oak Island Saga and the Old Money Pit – Oak Island Saga pt 1.

Oak island Google Earth 2016
Oak Island showing approximate location of the Money Pit via Google Earth 2016.

 

The ongoing saga that is Oak Island is back in the news again. Mainly due to the current claims of finding an ancient Roman sword in a ship wreck off the coast of said island. Which isn’t entirely true, as we’ll discuss later in another post. Until we’re able to get to those posts I highly recommend that you go read Andy White’s excellent work on the Roman Sword and #SwordGate.

It’s also come to my late attention that there’s a TV show completely dedicated to the saga of Oak Island. Said show has managed to have 3 television seasons on the History Channel (not surprising). I’ve decided to start looking into these shows myself, but that’s another blog post as well. I will not be using the show as a reference here in this series of posts.

Here, I want to look over the actual history of Oak Island, as is documented, and examine some of the claims made about this highly disturbed piece of land. It’s a lot more interesting than it first looks, and covers a lot of ground, as you’ll see.

The Origins of Oak Island as We Know Them.

For those who don’t know, Oak Island is a privately owned island off the south coast of Nova Scotia, Canada. It’s only about 140 acres big, and is at max 36 feet (11-ish meters) above above sea level. It’s been the source of endless speculation for over two centuries, and one could say an endless money sucking and sometimes deadly disappointment for those who pursue it’s supposed treasures. Most recently, History Channel has thrown their hat into the ring of Oak Island spectators with their three year old show “Curse of Oak Island”, though I’m pretty sure it’s not as huge a money suck for them as it’s been for those in the past.

But what are these “mysteries” and “curses” that surround such a small piece of land? They really span quite a distance, being associated with everything from Captain Kidd to the Knights Templar to the Ark of the Covenant to pre-Columbus European visitors. Even Shakespeare gets thrown in just for fun!

The main focus of so many investigations on the island is the center around what is known as the Money Pit. One of the earliest accounts is mention in what is basically a letter to the editor from the August 20, 1857 issue of the Liverpool Transcript. After setting a somewhat defensive air, J.P. Forks (1857) gives a somewhat vague description of the excavation site on Oak Island and some detail is given about the excavations shafts themselves. There is a mention of the goal of this was to find a buried treasure of Captain Kidd, but unsurprisingly, this was unsuccessful (Forks 1857). Forks (1857) then goes on to talk about a different, haunted island that he’s going to visit in order to get evidence of real live ghosts. I guess he was over looking for the treasure for the time being. I know logically there must be an earlier account or story written in the Liverpool Transcript outlining the events that Forks is replying too, but I haven’t been able to secure it yet.

In a similar style as Fork’s letter, in 1862, J.B. McCully writes to the Liverpool Transcript, again with an air of justification, to explain why he and his company are on Oak Island digging. He gives a brief review of the the first setters in Chester who already had a tail of an old crew member of Captain Kidd’s crew saying that he helped bury a treasure of about 2 million pounds on some island (McCully 1862). What island this was is not clarified in McCully’s letter, but he then goes on to tell a now familiar story of of a Mr. McGinnis and his adventures. Probably most satisfyingly, he’s also the first person to use the term “Old Money Pit” in reference to the excavations done by his company (McCully 1862). It doesn’t seem to be flattering.

Many sources now retell McCully’s story and it’s really changed very little despite the game of telephone it’s gone though since first being mentioned in print in the Liverpool Transcript (Nickell 2000, O’Connor 2004, Oak 2008). New information has been added and fleshed out, we hope by facts. Though McCully gives no dates for McGinnis’ original discovery and subsequent digs, according to a website called Oak Island Treasure and others (Nickell 2000, O’Connor 2004), the real story starts all the way back in 1795 (Oak 2008). In this version Daniel McGinnis was out fishing one day and soon found himself inland under a old oak tree “bearing the marks of unnatural scarring (Oak 2008)”. He deduced that these were rope scars and it was somehow used as part of a rope and tackle system (think pulleys) used to move items up and down a shaft (Oak 2008) . Sure enough, there happened to be a roughly 5 meter diameter depression under said tree, and this was all McGinnis needed to realize that there was pirate gold buried under this tree (Oak 2008). Long story short, he went home, got some friends to come help him, and they began what would end up being a 10 ish year excavation to find bupkiss.

What we do know, thanks to land deeds, is that John Smith purchased the area where the Money Pit stood on June 26, 1975 from Casper Wollenhaupt and he held it for the next 62 years (O’Connor 2004). Daniel McGinnis either was a tenet farmer for Smith, or also purchased land adjacent to Smith’s and the two men worked at how to continue digging for the treasure as they farmed their land (O’Connor 2004).

This is Just the Beginning for the Oak Island Saga.

In 1803 the Onslow Company was founded, it included the original three excavators, McGinnis, Smith and Anthony Vaughan, plus the addition of Simeon Lynds (McCully 1862, O’Connor 2004). Lynds, fascinated by the prospect of a mysterious treasure, was able to raise moneys from some 30 businessmen from Onslow, Canada to fund further excavations (McCully 1862, O’Connor 2004). With this new infusion of money the new company set to digging.

Interestingly there was something to the shaft that the Onslow Co. was investigating. The ground had been disturbed at some prior point as it was much softer to dig than the surrounding dirt, and apparently pick ax markings could be seen in the walls as the workers dug down (McCully 1862, O’Connor 2004). Most interestingly were the wooden platforms found at roughly every ten feet to a depth of about 90 feet (McCully 1862, O’Connor 2004). This detail seems to become important later on, but for now, this is obviously evidence of the pit being intentionally created and not a natural phenomena. Even the descriptions given of the dirt, the clay, the stratification and the eventual water gain all sound completely realistic (McCully 1862, O’Connor 2004). All accounts of the excavations are fairly believable up to this point, until we get to one particular detail.

Forty Feet Below.

At some point apparently a stone was found that had a mysterious cipher written on it (McCully 1862, O’Connor 2004). O’Connor tells us that this stone is recorded in the Onslow Co.’s accounts and that it was supposedly seen by hundreds of people before it vanished in 1919 (O’Connor 2004). McCully also mentions the stone and that it bore an inscription:

“… and one at 80 feet was a stone cut square, two feet long and about a foot thick, with several characters on it. (McCully 1862)”

But he doesn’t mention if the inscription was translated nor does he provide a sketch with his article. It’s also possible that he never even saw the stone himself, just based the wording in his article. He’s apparently just relaying what he’d been told about it.

The stone’s adventures between the time it was discovered and the time it vanished are almost comical. First it was placed in Smith’s Fireplace as a curio piece (think detailed mantel piece), then it was taken by one A.O. Creighton, who brought the stone to Halifax while he was treasurer for a different Oak Island searching company as a way to raise funds (O’Connor 2004). Then the stone was apparently used to beat leather for book binding before vanishing in 1919 when the A.O. Creighton’s bookbinding business closed (O’Connor 2004).

As far as the inscription goes, it was never written down formally. It’s even dubious that the inscription existed. Harry Marshall, the son of Creighton’s bookbinding partner recalled the stone in an affidavit, but never remembered any inscription on it (O’Connor 2004). The only possible copy of said inscription existed as part of a supposed 1909 letter from a schoolteacher who apparently drew it in the letter she was sending (O’Connor 2004). O’Connor admits that the glyphs from said letter do translate to say “Forty feet below two million pounds are buried.”, but the code used for the cipher is so incredibly simple that it’s easy to doubt it’s authenticity (O’Connor 2004). O’Connor is very frank about the dubious nature of the inscription, and suggests that it was probably investor bait, if it existed at all (O’Connor 2004).

The apparent origins of the wording of the original inscription seems to have come from “True Tales of Buried Treasure”, a book by Edward Rowe Snow published in 1951 according to the Crystalinks website (Nd). Snow claims he was given the set of symbols by Reverend A.T. Kempton of Cambridge, Massachusetts (Crystalinks Nd). Kempton apparently appears for this one encounter, and has no further involvement with the story (Crystalinks Nd). Thus is the known history of the inscription bearing stone.

There is a good deal more to the mysteries of Oak Island, and we’re going to look at these in another post. For now let’s just process what has been presented here, and look forward to more about this kind of interesting place.


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Want more on this topic? Go to: The Oak Island Saga.
Comment below or send an email to ArchyFantasies@gmail.com

Resources :

Forks, J.P.

1857    Correspondence in the Liverpool Transcript.  20 August 1857 Vol. 4 No. 32. S.J.M. Allen Editor. Liverpool, Nova Scotia.  http://web.archive.org/web/20150106084107/http://novascotia.ca/archives/virtual/newspapers/archives.asp?ID=2941 Accessed 1/19/16

Crystalinks

Nd    Oak Island Mystery. Crystalinks.com. http://www.crystalinks.com/oakislandmystery.html Accessed 1/19/16

McCully, J.B.

1862    Correspondence in the Liverpool Transcript. October 1862. Liverpool, Nova Scotia. https://web.archive.org/web/20080517112423/http://www.oakislandtreasure.co.uk/content/view/74/97/ Accessed 1/19/16

O’Connor, D’Arcy

2004    The Secret Treasure of Oak Island: The Amazing True Story of a Centuries-Old Treasure Hunt. The Lyons Press. Guilford, CT. https://books.google.com/books?id=QLoZMFzjWtQC&pg=PA269&dq=O%27Connor,+D%27Arcy.+1988.+The+Big+Dig.+New+York:+Ballantine.&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwin2-WT877KAhWFpR4KHYyKCrwQ6AEIJjAA#v=onepage&q&f=false Accessed 1/19/2016

Oak Island Treasure

2008    Hisotry. Oak Island Treasure.  https://web.archive.org/web/20080509165300/http://www.oakislandtreasure.co.uk/content/section/5/35/ Accessed 1/19/2016

Nickell, Joe

2000    The Secrets of Oak Island. Skepitcal Inquirer. Vol 24.2, March/April 2000. http://www.csicop.org/si/show/secrets_of_oak_island Accessed 1/19/2016

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