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The Curse of Oak Island- Season 5, Episode 7: The Lot Thickens

The Curse of Oak Island- Season 5, Episode 7: The Lot Thickens


The following is a Plot Summary and Analysis of Season 5, Episode 7 of the History Channel’s TV series The Curse of Oak Island.





Plot Summary

Rick Lagina, Marty Lagina, and Dave Blankenship meet at Drillhole H8 with Christian Carr of Conquest Engineering Ltd. and Andrew Folkins and Scott Jardine of Irving Equipment Ltd. Their ensuing conversation reveals that Oak Island Tours Inc. has tasked Irving Equipment Ltd. with sinking a shaft around H8 using rotating caissons and a hammergrab,  similar to the excavation operations carried out in Season 4.

Later, Rick Lagina, Dave Blankenship, Charles Barkhouse, and Jack Begley meet in the War Room with local researcher Paul Speed. There, Speed presents his theory that Oak Island’s underground workings were constructed by 16th Century Cornish miners on the orders of English privateer Sir Francis Drake. Cornish miners, he argues, were some of Europe’s most competent excavators in the 15′, 16′, and 1700’s, and were uniquely equipped to construct deep subterranean tunnels like the Smith’s Cove flood tunnel due to their experience in building undersea coal mines. Speed posits that Sir Francis Drake, who hailed from the city of Plymouth near the eastern border of Cornwall, hired Cornish miners to inter  New World Spanish plunder on Oak Island sometime in the 1500’s. Specifically, Speed believes that the treasure Drake decided to bury on Oak Island was silver he captured outside the town of Nombre de Dios, Panama, a major port utilized by the Spanish treasure fleet. When Rick asks Speed if there are any historic documents which indicate that Drake sailed to the North Atlantic, the researcher states that many of Drake’s records disappeared during his lifetime, having been confiscated by the English Crown. “There was something very serious going on here at that time for the English,” Speed says, “and if they wanted to keep the secret of Oak Island going for a while, they absolutely could.”

Upon being prompted by Rick, Speed suggests that Drake buried his treasure on Oak Island with the intention to return and recover it in the future. The narrator follows up on that suggestion by relating an old theory which holds that “Oak Island was used as a secret repository for treasure dating as far back as the days of the Knights Templar.”

Paul Speed concludes his presentation by suggesting that the Money Pit contains Francis Drake’s body in addition to some of his treasure; the privateer’s body, allegedly sealed in a lead coffin and cast into the sea somewhere in the Caribbean following the raiding expedition which claimed his life, has never been found. Speed further suggests that some of the metal objects encountered during Oak Island Tours Inc.’s various drilling operations in the Money Pit area might constitute Drake’s coffin.

Later, Charles Barkhouse, Jack Begley, Gary Drayton, and Laird Niven prepare for a metal detecting excursion on Oak Island’s Lot 26. Before they head to their destination, Barkhouse reminds the treasure hunters that Lot 26 was once owned by 18th privateer-turned-pirate Captain James Anderson, who sold it to slave-turned-landowner Samuel Ball in 1788.

After searching the inland end of Lot 26 for some time without much success, Drayton decides that he and the team ought to head towards the beach. On the way, the treasure hunters come across an old wall-like structure made of rocks, which Jack Begley and Charles Barkhouse suggest might be the remains a ramp which once led down to the water. Further on, they find a square depression in the soil, which Begley speculates might be the site at which Captain James Anderson buried some of the loot that he acquired during the American War of Independence. When he suggests that they dig into the depression in order to see what lies beneath, Niven informs him that such an excavation would require a special digging permit.

While Barkhouse, Begley, Drayton, and Niven continue to metal detect on Lot 26, Rick and Marty Lagina and Craig Tester meet with Dr. Christa Brosseau and Dr. Xiang Yang at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax. There, the treasure hunters watch as the scientists examine an object found in the spoils of Drillhole H8 the previous episode, which Jack Begley believed to be a piece of parchment. While Brosseau and Yang examine the object with an electron microscope, the narrator explains how milled paper gradually superseded parchment as Europe’s primary writing material in the late 15th Century, its rise coinciding with that of the printing press.

After noting that the object contains animal fibres, as sheepskin parchment ought to, Brosseau and Yang turn their attention towards an unidentified item found in the same section of H8 spoils as the suspected parchment, namely a fragment of what Dan Henskee believed to be shoe leather. After studying it under a microscope, the scientists confirm that the item is indeed composed of leather, and observe a parchment-like material which seems to be woven through it. Brosseau suggests that the object might be a product of book-binding, prompting Craig Tester to remark upon the congruence of this possibility with the theory (pushed most recently by Norwegian researcher Petter Amundsen) that Shakespeare’s original manuscripts, actually handwritten by English nobleman Sir Francis Bacon, are buried in the Money Pit. In a later interview, Marty Lagina states that Brosseau and Yang’s analysis of the items brought up from H8 only serve to strengthen his conviction that H8 intersected the original Money Pit.

Three days later, Jack Begley, Gary Drayton, and Laird Niven show Marty and Alex Lagina the square depression in the soil of Oak Island’s Lot 26. Since Niven has secured the necessary digging permit, the treasure hunters decide to excavate the depression with a backhoe. Unfortunately, they recover nothing of interest.

Two days later, Rick Lagina, Dave Blankenship, and Laird Niven, along with Marty Lagina, who is present via video conference, meet in the War Room. There, they call up Dr. Timothy Frasier, an Associate Professor of Biology at St. Mary’s University, in order to learn the results of DNA sequencing performed on the two fragments of human bone found in the H8 spoils. Frasier informs the treasure hunters that one of the bones belongs to something called ‘Group H’, “the most common group found among Europeans,” and that the other belongs to Group T, “a group that has ancestry in the Middle East.” Marty expresses his astonishment at the fact that the bones of a person of Middle Eastern descent lie within the Money Pit and suggests that the Group T bone fragment gives credence to the theory that the Knights Templar (who were headquartered in the Middle East during the Crusades) were behind the Oak Island mystery.

Later, Rick Lagina and Dave Blankenship meet with Mike Jardine and Andrew Folkins of Irving Equipment Ltd. at the Money Pit area, which has been cleared and leveled for an excavation at H8. The contractors inform the treasure hunters that the work site is sufficiently prepped, and that excavation will commence once all the necessary equipment has been shipped to the island. The men look on as some of this equipment makes its way across the OA Island causeway.


Cornish Sub-Thalassic Tunnels

During this episode, researcher Paul Speed suggests that Oak Island’s underground workings were most likely constructed by 16th Century Cornish miners on account of the fact that these miners were experienced in the construction of tunnels beneath the seabed (also known as sub-thalassic mines)- structures somewhat evocative of the Smith’s Cove flood tunnel.

Perhaps the best examples of early sub-thalassic mines are the undersea coal mines designed by Scottish engineer Sir George Bruce of Carnock in the 16th and early 17th Centuries. The first of these is the Castlehill shaft, which exploited a coal seam than ran beneath the River Forth in the Scottish Midlands. In order to ventilate the underwater mine, Bruce built an artificial island in the middle of the river and sank a shaft through it. Bruce’s underwater mine garnered much attention, and in 1617, King James VI of Scotland (James I of England) asked for a tour of it. When the King emerged from the shaft on the artificial island, surrounded by water, he accused Bruce of treason and attempted regicide. Only after Bruce pointed out a nearby rowing boat were the king’s fears allayed.

Sir Francis Drake

In this episode, researcher Paul Speed argues that the Oak Island treasure consists of New World Spanish treasure and the corpse of the man who plundered it- 16th Century English privateer Sir Francis Drake.

Francis Drake was born in the early 1540’s in the market town of Tavistock, West Devon, England to a humble Protestant farmer. In the 1560’s, the young farm hand secured a position in a small merchant fleet belonging to his cousin, John Hawkins, a sea captain and pioneer of the British slave trade. In the ensuing years, Drake, Hawkins, and the crew embarked upon a series of expeditions to the coast of West Africa, where they plundered Portuguese slave ships, loaded their own vessels with African slaves, and shipped their human cargo to the Caribbean. There, the English adventurers sold the slaves they captured to Spanish colonists in defiance of Spanish law (at that time, King Philip II of Spain forbade his subjects from trading with English merchants). These voyages constituted Drake’s initiation into a lifetime of seafaring.

In 1568, during another slave-trading expedition, Drake and Hawkins, the former now a captain of his own ship, were beset by a hurricane off the coast of Cuba. The Englishmen and their crew survived the storm, but were forced to repair their damaged ships and take on fresh water at San Juan de Ulua, an island in the Gulf of Mexico adjacent to the port town of Veracruz. Although Spanish colonists who manned the fortress at Veracruz initially allowed the Englishmen to repair their ships in peace, Drake and Hawkins and their crews soon found themselves surrounded by Spanish warships, one of them carrying Don Martin Enriquez de Almanza, the Viceroy of New Spain. In spite of the fact that England and Spain were not officially at war at the time, the Spanish launched a surprise attack on the Englishmen as punishment for their illicit activities. During the eight hour battle that ensued, the English lost five ships and 500 men, while the Spanish lost only two ships and 20 men. Drake and Hawkins barely escaped with their lives.

The incident at San Juan de Ulua imbued Drake with a fierce hatred of the Spanish, and in 1572, he sailed across the Atlantic to Panama, determined to seize Spanish treasure.

At that time, the Spanish shipped silver from their Peruvian mines up the Pacific Coast to Panama City, where they loaded it onto mule carts and packed it overland, through the Panamanian jungle, to the port town of Nombre de Dios, on the Atlantic Coast. There, the Spanish loaded their silver onto galleons and shipped them across the ocean to Spain by way of Havana.

Drake and his crew arrived at Nombre de Dios in July and attempted to raid the warehouses where the silver was stored. During an ensuing skirmish with the town’s defenders, Drake suffered a gunshot wound to the leg and was forced by his crew to retreat empty-handed.

Since England and Spain were not officially at war at the time, Drake knew that he and his crew would have to acquire treasure before they made the journey home; Queen Elizabeth I, the implacable “Virgin Queen” of England, would almost certainly punish them for their politically-compromising raids unless they compensated her handsomely. Accordingly, he and his crew hid out in the Panamanian jungle for nearly a year, during which time they allied themselves with jungle-dwelling Cimarrons– African slaves who had escaped their Spanish masters- and a crew of French privateers. On one occasion, a Cimarron bushman urged Drake to climb a tall tree in the middle of the rainforest. From its canopy, the pirate could see not only the Atlantic but also the legendary Pacific Ocean, which no Englishman had ever set eyes on before.

In the spring of 1563, Drake and his crew, along with their French and Cimarron allies, ambushed the annual Spanish silver train in the jungle about one mile from Nombre de Dios. The Spanish guards and their slaves were completely unprepared for the assault and fled into the jungle, abandoning the treasure they were tasked with transporting. The pirates, upon appraising their plunder, were ecstatic to learn that they had captured a whopping 30 tons of silver and gold. Unable to carry all of their plunder with them, Drake and his crew are said to have buried much of their booty on the beach before setting sail for England with around 150,000 pesos-worth of treasure. Upon his return, Drake was praised in England as a daring privateer, and condemned in Spain as an unscrupulous pirate.

In 1576, Queen Elizabeth I of England called upon the privateer, who had spent the past decade enjoying his hard-earned wealth, and tasked him with a top secret mission. The queen commanded Drake to lead an expedition against Spain’s New World colony on the Pacific Coast of the Americas, swearing him to keep his orders secret on pain of death. In December 1577, Drake embarked upon this expedition with five ships and 164 men, initially telling his crew that they were headed for the city of Alexandria, Egypt on a trading voyage. At the Straits of Gibraltar, Drake suddenly ordered his oblivious crew to head southwest down the west coast of Africa, and finally across the Atlantic to the east coast of South America.

Drake lost much of his crew to disease while crossing the Atlantic and was forced to abandon two of his ships along the way. By the time he reached San Julian, a natural port on the southeastern coast of what would one day become Argentina, many of his crew members, including a handful of aristocratic officers, were beginning to question his leadership.

On the beaches of San Julian, Drake and his crew came upon a number of sun-bleached human skeletons impaled on spikes- the grisly remains of mutineers who were hanged, drawn, and quartered 58 years prior on the orders of Ferdinand Magellan (the Portuguese explorer who, along with his successor, Juan Sebastian Elcano, led the first successful circumnavigation of the globe (Magellan himself was killed by Filipino warriors during the Battle of Mactan before the voyage was completed)). Perhaps following Magellan’s lead, Drake decided to make an example of his friend Thomas Doughty, who was foremost among the gentleman who were beginning to question his authority. In the summer of 1578, Drake accused Doughty of witchcraft, mutiny, and treason. In a kangaroo court over which Drake presided as prosecutor and judge, Doughty was convicted of mutiny alone and sentenced to death.

Following the verdict, Drake and Doughty took Holy Communion and dined together in the captain’s cabin. Francis Fletcher, the clergyman who administered the Communion, described this strange event in a later reminiscence:

“And after this holy repast, they dined also at the same table together, as cheerfully, in sobriety, as ever in their lives they had done aforetime, each cheering up the other, and taking their leave, by drinking each to other, as if some journey only had been in hand.”

On July 2, 1578, Thomas Doughty was beheaded, his last words being an exhortation to the executioner to swing his axe without reservation. Shortly thereafter, Drake changed the name of his flagship from the Pelican to the Golden Hind, perhaps in an effort to smooth over the incident.

That fall, Drake and his crew set sail for the Straits of Magellan, a narrow waterway separating the southern tip of mainland South America from the island of Tierra del Fuego. They successfully navigated the passage, engaging in a minor skirmish with native warriors en route. Upon entering the Pacific Ocean, they were beset by violent storms which pushed them southwards. Drake lost two of his three remaining ships to these tempests; one sank, taking its captain and crew with it to the bottom of the sea, while the other was forced to return to England.

When the sea finally settled, Drake and the crew of the Golden Hind sailed alone up the coast of Chile and Peru, raiding a number of Spanish ships and towns along the way and accumulating a wealth of treasure in the process. Their greatest prize was an enormous Spanish galleon called Nuestra Senora de la Concepcion, more commonly known by its less reverent nickname, the Cacafuego. From this vessel, they appropriated 28 tons of silver ingots, 80 lbs (36 kg) of gold, 13 chests of plate (plate being an antiquated term for silver coins), a golden crucifix encrusted with emeralds, and a quantity of jewels, valued 360,000 pesos in total. Drake and his crew were wildly successful in their raids, often capturing ships and towns with little bloodshed on account of Drake’s wily tactics and the fact that the Spanish were not expecting to encounter English pirates in the Pacific.

Every time Drake and his crew raided a Spanish ship or port, colonial authorities reported the incident to King Philip II of Spain, and every time the Spanish king complained of Drake and his band of marauders to Queen Elizabeth I of England, the Queen officially condemned the pirate’s actions, although she reveled in them in secret.

Drake and his sailors continued northwards, hoping to intercept a Spanish treasure galleon inbound from Manila. When the galleon failed to appear, they sailed further north in search of the fabled Northwest Passage- a legendary sea route through North America which was said to connect the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Some believe that Drake and his crew traveled as far north as Vancouver Island before turning around. When they had reached a point off the coast of what is now northern California (or perhaps southern Oregon), they disembarked on the mainland, mingled with friendly natives, and claimed the land, which they named Nova Albion (archaic Latin for “New Britain”), for the Queen of England.

The crew of the Golden Hind left Nova Albion and voyaged across the Pacific to the Maluku Islands (also known as the Spice Islands due to their global monopoly on the production of nutmeg and cloves) in the Indonesian archipelago. There, Drake befriended the local sultan (the Malaku Islands had been governed by minor sultanates since the arrival of Arab merchants in the 14th Century and the subsequent conversion of the locals to Islam), who had just had a falling out with Portuguese traders, and secured for England a monopoly on trade in the area, thereby paving the way for the British East India Company. That accomplished, the crew sailed through the waters of Southeast Asia and across the Indian Ocean to the Cape of Good Hope, on the southern tip of Africa. From there, they traveled northwest, stopping briefly in Sierra Leone before finally returning to England in 1580, successfully completing the second-ever circumnavigation of the globe. Queen Elizabeth, in accordance with her and Drake’s arrangement, received half of the treasure held in the hold of the Golden Hind, while Drake, his crew, and the voyage’s investors shared the rest. Much to their delight, the Queen and the other financiers learned that they had received a 4700% return on their initial investments.

Curiously, upon Drake’s return, Queen Elizabeth declared that all written accounts of his voyage were to be secrets of the Crown, and had the nautical charts that Drake and his cartographers had produced during their circumnavigation, as well as the logbook of the Golden Hind, locked away in the Tower of London. She also forbade Drake and his sailors from publishing any memoirs relating details of the voyage on pain of death. Today, the whereabouts of most contemporary documents related to Drake’s circumnavigation of the globe remain a mystery.

The following year, Queen Elizabeth dubbed Drake a knight aboard the Golden Hind. With his new wealth and status, Sir Francis Drake spent the first half of the 1580’s dabbling in English politics and public service.

In 1585, Spain finally declared war on England in response to Queen Elizabeth’s alliance with Protestant Dutch rebels. At that time, the area comprising what is now Holland, Belgium, and Luxembourg constituted seventeen provinces of the Spanish Empire, known collectively as the Spanish Netherlands. Since 1568, Dutch nobles of Lutheran, Calvinist, and Anabaptist persuasion, resentful of Spanish taxes and the Roman Catholic status quo, had led a revolt against Spanish rule in what is known today as the Eighty Years’ War, or the Dutch War of Independence. In the summer of 1585, Queen Elizabeth I of England agreed to dispatch 6,400 foot soldiers and 1,000 cavalrymen to the city of Antwerp (in modern-day Belgium) to help Dutch defenders lift a Spanish siege. For this reason, King Philip II declared war on England.

As soon as this Anglo-Spanish War was declared, Queen Elizabeth commanded Sir Francis Drake to preemptively strike the Spanish in their New World colonies. In September 1585, Drake led a 21-ship, 1,800-soldier expedition to the Caribbean, attacking several Old World Spanish and Portuguese towns along the way. When he finally reached the Spanish West Indies (as the Caribbean was know at the time), he captured the town of Santo Domingo on the island of Hispaniola, the capital of the Spanish New World, and ransomed it back to the governor. He repeated a similar performance at Cartagena de Indias, a Spanish colonial town located on the northern coast of what is now Colombia.

Following this second success, Drake and his men sailed to the Spanish colony of Florida, where they sacked the town of San Augustin (present-day Saint Augustine). That accomplished, they sailed to Virginia, where English gentleman Sir Walter Raleigh had established an experimental English colony. There, Drake and his men picked up a number of disgruntled colonists and sailed back to England, their ships laden with Spanish treasure. (Although it is not necessarily relevant to Drake’s biography, it is interesting to note that, sometime during the ensuing Anglo-Spanish War, the inhabitants of the Ranoake Colony mysteriously disappeared, earning Ranoake the nickname the “Lost Colony”)

Drake’s devastating raids earned him a ferocious reputation among the Spanish. Colonists throughout New Spain began to refer to him as El Draque- the Dragon. In the aftermath of Drake’s 1585/86 expedition, and in response to the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots (the Catholic monarch of Scotland who was brutally beheaded on the orders of the Protestant Queen Elizabeth, her cousin), King Philip I of Spain planned a full-scale invasion of England.

Upon learning of the planned invasion, the English queen ordered Drake to carry out another preemptive strike on Spain, specifically on the port city of Cadiz on Spain’s southwestern coast, where the great Spanish Armada was anchored. The Spanish Armada was an enormous fleet consisting of 130 warships, 8,000 sailors, 18,000 soldiers, 1,500 brass cannons, and 1,000 iron cannons, and constituted the mightiest navy in Europe at the time. Drake’s subsequent raid on Cadiz, which resulted in the destruction of much of the Spanish fleet, was derisively named ‘Singeing the King of Spain’s Beard’. In the aftermath of the raid, Drake captured the Sao Filipe, a Portuguese-Spanish treasure galleon fresh from the Caribbean, laden with a years’ worth of gold, silver, and spices.

Following the raid on Cadiz, Sir Francis Drake was promoted to Vice Admiral of the English fleet. Legend has it that in 1588, when the Spanish Armada finally set sail for England, Drake was playing a game of bowls. When he received the news that the Spanish were approaching, he was unperturbed, remarking that there was plenty of time to both finish the game and still beat the Spaniards. In any case, Drake led his ships, which were smaller and more maneuverable (although far less numerous) than their magnificent Spanish counterparts, around the Spanish fleet. There, situated at a point off the coast of Calais, France, he sent a number of fire ships (abandoned ships filled with explosives and set on fire) after the Spanish and chased them down the English Channel. After engaging the English in a long-distance cannon battle in the waters off Gravelines, a port city in the Spanish Netherlands (Drake was careful to stay out of range of Spanish grappling hooks, as the Spanish had an advantage over the English in close-quarters combat), the panicked Spanish retreated for home, their great Armada in tatters. Drake’s victory over the Spanish Armada effectively ended Spain’s naval supremacy in Europe.

The following year, Drake and celebrated English soldier Sir John Norreys were tasked with destroying the remainder of the Spanish fleet and aiding Spanish-averse rebels in taking Lisbon, Portugal. They failed to complete either objective. Six years later, Drake led an expedition to South America, where he suffered a number of defeats at the hands of the Spanish. Several weeks after the Battle of San Juan, his final defeat, Sir Francis Drake succumbed to dysentery and was buried at sea in a lead casket. To date, his coffin has never been rediscovered.

The Rise and Fall of Parchment

In this episode, Dr. Christa Brosseau and Dr. Xiang Yang affirm that one of the items discovered in Drillhole H8 appears to be a fragment of animal skin parchment.

Parchment is a writing material consisting of scraped and dried sheep, calf, or goat skin. Although parchment has been used for many millennia in the Old World, it only began to supplant papyrus- the writing material favoured in classical antiquity- in the 4th Century A.D., when Christianity was decreed the official faith of the Roman Empire. Early Christian missionaries preferred to transcribe the Gospel on parchment rather than papyrus due to its durability and the fact that parchment sheets could be bound as codices, which were more easily referenced than papyrus scrolls. When Christianity became mainstream in the Roman Empire, this preference for parchment spread throughout Europe and the Mediterranean.

Parchment retained it’s popularity after the Fall of the Roman Empire, throughout the Dark Ages, and into the Middle Ages, during which time it was used primarily as a medium by which to proliferate the Gospel. Christian monks, working in monasteries by candlelight, copied holy scripture from parchment to parchment, producing spectacular illuminated manuscripts filled with calligraphy and brilliant images.

By the Late Medieval Period, milled paper- a Chinese invention which’s recipe made its way to the Middle East, and further still to Europe, via the Silk Road- began to grow in popularity as increased literacy among laymen created a demand for a cheaper alternative to parchment. Following German blacksmith Johannes Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press in the mid-15th Century, paper gradually replaced parchment as Europe’s primary writing material. By the 17th Century, animal skin parchment was reserved for Church and state documents of the highest importance.

Group H and Group T Bones

In this episode, Dr. Timothy Frasier of St. Mary’s University informs the Oak Island team that the two human bones recovered from Drillhole H8 belong to things called ‘Group H’ and ‘Group T’, respectively. Group H, Frasier claimed, is “the most common group found among Europeans,” while Group T is “a group that has ancestry in the Middle East.”

The two groups to which Dr. Frasier referred are what are known as human mitochondrial DNA haplogroups. In order to understand these groups, we must first come to a general understanding of DNA.

DNA (an acronym for deoxyribonucleic acid) is a molecule which acts as a sort of blueprint for living organisms. The information it contains comes in the form of a code made up of four different chemicals called nucleobases (namely: adenine, guanine, cytosine, and thymine) arranged in pairs, called ‘base pairs’, which are, in turn, sandwiched between two spirals made of sugars and phosphates. The order in which these base pairs are arranged determines the information the DNA contains.

A long string of base pairs makes up a gene.

A long string of genes make up a chromatid. Two chromatids join together to form a chromosome.

A tangle of chromosomes are contained in a membranous sack called a nucleus. Nearly every cell in the human body- aside from mature red blood cells, old skin cells, old hair cells, and old finger/toenail cells, which do not hold DNA- contains one nucleus. And every nucleus in a human body contains the exact same arrangement of chromosomes.

Normally, humans have 46 chromosomes- half of them inherited from the mother, and the other half from the father. These 46 chromosomes form 23 chromosome pairs, each chromosome encoding for the same category of instructions as its partner. The 23rd chromosome pair, the sex-determining chromosomes, determine the sexual characteristics of a person. There are only two types of these particular chromosomes: X and Y. Females have two ‘X’ chromosomes, while males have one ‘X’ and one ‘Y’.

Another cellular structure which contains DNA is called a mitochondrion. Unlike nuclei, the number of mitochondria a cell contains depends on the type of cell. For example, liver cells have between 1000-2000 mitochondria, while heart muscle cells have around 5,000. The DNA that mitochondria contain, called ‘mitochondrial DNA’ or ‘mtDNA’, is different from the DNA found in nuclei. In humans, mtDNA only contains 37 genes (nuclei contain 20,000-25,000 genes), all of which are inherited from the mother.

During the course of the Human Genome Project, a 15-year-long international scientific research project with the goal of determining the entire sequence of base pairs that make up human DNA (this project was completed in 2005), scientists discovered that groups of people who share an ancient common ancestor often share sections of identical genes called haplogroups. There are two broad categories of haplogroups: 1) Y-haplogroups; and 2) Mt-Haplogroups, or mitochondrial haplogroups. Y-haplogroups are found on Y chromosomes, and as such are only inherited from father to son. Mitochondrial haplogroups, on the other hand, are only found in mitochondria, and as such are only bequeathed by women. Both males and females can have mitochondrial haplogroups, while only males can have Y-haplogroups.

As of today, scientists have discovered 26 different mitochondrial haplogroups- one for each letter of the alphabet. In this episode of The Curse of Oak Island, it was revealed that one of the bone fragments brought up from H8 belongs to mitochondrial haplogroup H, one of the most prevalent haplogroups in Europe, and that the other belongs to mitochondrial haplogroup T, a group with origins in Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq, Kuwait, eastern Syria, and southeastern Turkey). Since there was no mention of the bones’ belonging to Y-haplogroups, there is a possibility that they might be female.


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The Curse of Oak Island- Season 5, Episode 6: Remains of the Day

The Curse of Oak Island- Season 5, Episode 6: Remains of the Day

Wow, what a show! I’ve decided to forego the ‘Analysis’ for this one on a hunch that all of the questions raised in this episode will be answered next week. Read on for a plot summary of this week’s episode of the History Channel’s TV series The Curse of Oak Island.






Plot Summary

The episode begins with Jack Begley and Dan Henskee sifting through Drillhole H8’s spoils near the Money Pit area. After searching for some time, Begley discovers a small shard of pottery with a blue square spiral painted beneath the glaze. Shortly thereafter, they find a small, strange-looking piece of wood with a grain pattern that almost appears to be artificial. Both items are bagged and labelled.

The two treasure hunters are soon joined by Rick Lagina and Charles Barkhouse, to whom they present their new findings in the Oak Island Interpretive Centre. Rick maintains that the pottery piece, with its distinctive pattern, is unlike an other piece of ceramic ever found on the island, while Charles speculates that the strange piece of wood is some sort of tree bark.

The following day, Rick and Marty Lagina and Craig Tester pay a visit to Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. There, they meet with Associate Professor of Chemistry Dr. Christa Brosseau, to whom they submit the bark-like fragment and the piece of what archaeologist Laird Niven identified as bone, which the team found in H8 the previous episode. Brosseau leads the treasure hunters to a lab, where she and research instrument technician Dr. Xiang Yang examine the artifacts with an electron microscope. The scientists determine that the second object is indeed bone, but claim that they will need to analyse its DNA before they can determine whether it is animal or human. After examining the bark-like object, they conclude that it, too, is a piece of bone, and that it contains traces of soft tissue and hair.

Later, Jack Begley and Dan Henskee continue searching through H8’s spoils for additional artifacts, where they quickly unearth what Henskee suggests is a piece of shoe leather. Shortly thereafter Begley finds another artifact which he believes to be a piece of parchment, but which Henskee suggests is plastic.

Four days later, Marty Lagina, Craig Tester, Charles Barkhouse, and Terry Matheson meet with geophysicist Mike West at the Money Pit area where, the narrator informs us, Brewster Drilling has drilled 35 of the 44 drillholes prescribed by the GeoTech Grid. West, an employee of Gemtech Ltd., has been tasked with conducting a conductivity test in the Money Pit area in order to determine the presence of any electrically conductive objects (such as gold or silver) below ground. He begins his task by lowering a number of dual induction devices into the drillholes.

While West goes about his work, Marty phones up Rick, whose absence is conspicuous, and learns that his usually-indomitable older brother failed to make the trip to the island that day on account of a mysterious bite that he received on his back. Rick claims that the bite mark is swollen and blistered, and is accompanied by aches, chills, fever, and a pounding headache which has lasted four days so far. Marty urges his elder brother to check himself in to a hospital emergency room before leaving the island to pay him a visit.

Marty meets with Rick at his house on the mainland, examines the bite mark on his back, and opines that it might have been caused by a tick. He eventually convinces his reluctant elder brother to accompany him to the emergency room, where Rick is diagnosed with Lyme disease and prescribed a regimen of antibiotics. Upon leaving the clinic, Marty drops his brother off at home and encourages him to get some rest. In a later interview, Marty describes Rick as the “spiritual leader” of the Oak Island team and laments his temporary absence necessitated by his illness.

Later, at the Money Pit area, Marty Lagina, Craig Tester, Dave Blankenship, and Jack Begley stand by as Mike West carries out a conductivity test in Drillhole H8. West’s dual induction device registers an anomaly at a depth of 155 feet- the approximate depth of the alleged Chappell Vault.

Marty decides to deliver the good news to Rick, who is still recovering from his symptoms, in person. At his elder brother’s house, Marty declares, “I think we found the Money Pit,” much to Rick’s delight.

Several days later, Rick Lagina, who has sufficiently recovered from his illness, meets with Charles Barkhouse, Dan Henskee, and Dave Blankenship in the War Room. Marty Lagina joins the conference via video chat. There, Rick reads a letter he received from Timothy R. Frasier, coordinator of the Forensic Sciences Program at Saint Mary’s University, regarding the bone fragments that SMU scientists were tasked with analyzing:

“We now have results from the two bones. Both sequenced successfully, and both came back as human. They appear to be different. I will do some more work trying to see what we can learn about these sequences (i.e. if it is possible to infer something about region of origin). It should just take a few days for that.”


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The Curse of Oak Island- Season 5, Episode 5: Bone Dry

The Curse of Oak Island- Season 5, Episode 5: Bone Dry

The following is a Plot Summary and Analysis of Season 5, Episode 5 of the History Channel’s TV series The Curse of Oak Island.






Plot Summary

At the Money Pit area, Rick and Marty Lagina, Craig Tester, and Dave Blankenship meet with geophysical engineer and Oak Island researcher John Wonnacott who, the narrator explains, helped develop the GeoTech Grid that Oak Island Tours Inc. is drilling along with his partner, Les MacPhie. Wonnocott and the Oak Island crew discuss the undergoing drilling operation and the fact that the sixteen holes drilled thus far have yielded little of interest.

On Nova Scotia’s Cape Breton Island, in the town of Sydney, Alex Lagina, Charles Barkhouse, Peter Fornetti, and Oak Island researcher Doug Crowell sift through archival material in the Beaton Institute. Barkhouse quickly unearths “an affidavit by William Chappell in connection with the drilling done in 1897.” Barkhouse and the narrator remind us of the piece of parchment discovered at depth in the Money Pit during this operation.

Following that discovery, Alex quotes a line from the document that he himself is handling, namely a sworn statement by Frederick Blair: “Mr. Putnam was too conservative and cautious to state publicly the important fact that when the drill came to the surface, it showed unmistakable evidence of having gone through or into gold. He did, however, make such a statement in confidence to me and to a few close friends.” Crowell then claims that he had heard rumours that fragments of gold were found on the drill bit, but, until then, did not know their source. When the four men phone up Marty Lagina to tell him of their find, the treasure hunters discuss Frederick Blair’s well-known reputation for honesty, and the high esteem in which Blair evidently held T. Perley Putnam, the ‘Mr. Putnam’ referenced in his affidavit- facts supporting the notion that there was, indeed, gold buried somewhere in the Money Pit area.

Later, the Oak Island crew meets in the War Room, where Crowell informs them of a critical discovery he made while examining the ‘dig notes’ recorded during the construction of the Chappell Shaft in the 1930’s. According to the notes, the bottom of the Chappell Shaft was situated 10-12 feet north of the Shaft’s top. As the GeoTech grid had been planned with the assumption that the Chappell Shaft was in perfect vertical alignment, this new information may necessitate an adjustment to some of the prescribed holes, or perhaps the drilling of additional holes.

The following day, Rick Lagina, Dave Blankenship, and Charles Barkhouse meet with geologist Terry Matheson at the Money Pit area where, the narrator informs us, eight additional drill holes have been prescribed in light of Crowell’s discovery. There, the Brewster Drill Team proceeds to sink the first of these holes, dubbed ‘H8’.

While the drilling operation commences, Marty Lagina, Dave Blankenship, and Gary Drayton go on a metal detecting excursion at the Boulderless Beach, a roughly 100-foot-long stretch of beach on Oak Island’s northeast shore curiously bereft of large rocks. On this particular excursion, Drayton employs a Minelab GPX-5000 metal detector, a high performance pulse induction rig which specializes in the discovery of deep artifacts.

After combing the beach without any luck, Drayton suddenly gets a strong hit of iron. Marty, equipped with a spade, reveals the object to be an old, warped, wrought iron spike (strongly reminiscent of the rosehead nail discovered in the Season 5 premiere) which Drayton suspects is a early 18th Century ‘ship spike.’ The treasure hunters decide to show the artifact to Laird Niven.

While Marty, Dave, and Gary wait for Laird to arrive at the Boulderless Beach, Rick Lagina sifts through the spoils of H8 at the Money Pit area. He remarks to driller Ivan Gough that some of the spoils smell like creosote, whereupon the narrator briefs us on creosote’s history as a wood preservation agent, and suggests that its presence in the H8 spoils is evidence of a 19th Century searcher tunnel.

When H8 reaches a depth of around 145 feet, it enters a void in which it apparently clips the side of some hard, mysterious object. In a later interview, Rick remarks that this discovery is consistent with the Chappell Vault, and suggests the H8 drill bit might have brushed up against this elusive subterranean structure. Rick orders the drill team to continue drilling in order to see what else the H8 drill bit encounters.

Back at the Boulderless Beach, Marty Lagina, Dave Blankenship, and Gary Drayton are joined by Laird Niven. When they show the archaeologist the spike they have unearthed, Niven echoes Drayton’s analysis, speculating that it is a wharf nail crafted sometime in the 18th Century.

Following Niven’s analysis, the four men join Rick Lagina, Charles Barkhouse, and Terry Matheson at the Money Pit area. While panning H8 spoils in a sieve, Matheson discovers several small shards of pottery recovered from a depth of 192 feet, a depth deeper than that of any other man-made object ever recovered on Oak Island. Shortly thereafter, the team uncovers a fragment of some hard, dense object in the core sample taken from the 160-165-foot depth. Rick Lagina suggests that this item appears, at first glance, to be composed of some variety of extremely dense wood. Charles Barkhouse suggests it might be a piece of lignum vitae (a.k.a. palo santo), an extraordinarily strong, tough, and dense hardwood endemic to the northern coast of South America and the Caribbean, while geologist Terry Matheson affirms that it is not rock. The three treasure hunters, along with Marty, whom Rick phones immediately, all agree that the pottery fragments and the mysterious item ought to be submitted for analysis.

Later that night, Rick and Marty Lagina, Dave Blankenship, Charles Barkhouse, Jack Begley, and Craig Tester, the latter via video conference, meet in the War Room with Laird Niven. There, they present the archaeologist with their recent discoveries. Upon analyzing the items, Niven concludes that the pottery fragments constitutes hand-painted pearlware from Staffordshire, England, painted blue in imitation of Chinese pottery, and dates them from 1780-1800. The hard, dense mystery object, on the other hand, he identifies as bone. The treasure hunters, all pleasantly surprised by Niven’s deduction, agree to submit the bone fragment for further analysis.


A Precursor to the GeoTech Grid

In light of the findings made in this episode, namely the discoveries of pottery and other artifacts at depth in the Money Pit area, it is interesting to note that another Oak Island pattern drilling operation very similar to the GeoTech Grid yielded similar results nearly half a century ago.

In the late 1960’s, Triton Alliance (the treasure hunting syndicate of which Dan Blankenship was a partner) immediately initiated a massive exploration drilling operation with the goal of finding evidence of original work at depth. A contract drilling company called Becker Drilling punched around 60 holes in the Money Pit area. These drill holes revealed pieces of china, oak wood (carbon dated from 1490- 1660), cement, charcoal, metal, brick, and even open chambers and wood-shored tunnels at 160-212-foot depths. They also rediscovered the Greene-Dunfield cavity north of the Chappell Shaft, along with a 160-190-foot chamber beneath the Hedden Shaft filled with blue clay in which were suspended equidistant layers of pebbles. At the bottom of this second chamber was some sort of brass object which the drill chewed into.

Gold in the Money Pit

In this episode, Alex Lagina, Charles Barkhouse, Peter Fornetti, and Doug Crowell discovered a sworn statement from Frederick Blair. Blair claimed that he heard from treasure hunter T. Perley Putnam that the exploration drilling operation carried out in 1897 by the Oak Island Treasure Company yielded “unmistakable evidence” that gold was buried in the Money Pit. Interestingly, Putnam and Blair’s allegations that gold lay at the bottom of the Money Pit were not the first of their kind. In the summer of 1850, Jotham B. McCully and members of the Truro Company conducted an exploration drilling operation in the Money Pit and allegedly recovered three tiny links of gold chain from a depth of 98 feet.


In this episode, Rick Lagina declares that some of the spoils from Drillhole H8 smell like creosote. The narrator then suggests that this creosote might be a remnant of an old searcher tunnel.

Creosote is a pungent, oily liquid obtained from the distillation of wood or coal tar. Although raw wood tar has been used as a wood preservation agent since the 18th Century, most commonly in the preservation of seagoing vessels creosote only gained widespread industrial usage as a wood preservation agent in the 19th Century, when it was used to coat railway ties.

The Boulderless Beach

The Boulderless Beach, mentioned briefly in this episode, is a roughly 100-foot-long stretch of beach on Oak Island’s northeast shore curiously bereft of large rocks. This strange area features in a number of Oak Island theories, including the notion that the Smith’s Cove flood tunnel was composed of the area’s missing rocks, as well as researcher J. Hutton Pulitzer’s theory that the area’s boulders were used to construct some sort of Roman rubble ramp.

Pottery Shards

In this episode, a number of pottery shards were brought up from Drillhole H8’s 160-165-foot depth. This is not the first time pottery had been discovered on Oak Island. Other instances include:

  • 1937, when treasure hunter Gilbert Hedden discovered the remains of what he described as a “pottery dump” on Oak Island’s ‘Joudrey’s Cove,’ along with an old coin and what was believed to be a 16th Century British naval officer’s whistle. It is believed that many of these pottery shards contained traces of mercury.
  • July, 1964, when treasure hunters Robert and Bobby Restall dug up pieces of pottery from a trench in Smith’s Cove which, when analyzed, appeared to be of early 18th Century British design.
  • 1965, when treasure hunter Robert Dunfield dug up pottery in the Money Pit area.
  • Season 1, Episode 1 of The Curse of Oak Island, in which an exploratory drilling operation in the Money Pit area yielded pieces of china of unidentified origin at the 165-foot depth.
  • Season 4, Episode 3 of The Curse of Oak Island, in which heavy equipment operators of Byron Construction unearthed pottery shards in the topsoil of the Money Pit area. These pottery pieces were believed to be relics of some previous treasure hunting syndicate.

In light of this most recent discovery of pottery, it is interesting to note that a number of Oak Island theories maintain that precious porcelain was one of the treasures interred in the Money Pit by its original builders, or that pottery plays an important role in the Oak Island mystery. These theories include:

  • The theory that Oak Island’s underground workings were constructed by the crew of a wrecked Spanish treasure galleon, and that the Money Pit’s treasure consists of its precious cargo. If true, it is possible that this treasure might have included precious Chinese porcelain, shipped from the Philippines to Acapulco, Mexico, via Spain’s Manila Fleet, carted overland to Veracruz on the Atlantic Coast, and shipped along the Gulf Stream towards Spain. A more specific variation of this theory is:
    • Graham Harris and Les MacPhie’s theory, outlined in their book Oak Island and Its Lost Treasure, that the Oak Island treasure consists of the relocated cargo of the Concepcion, a 17th Century Spanish treasure galleon which sank north of the island of Hispaniola in 1641 along with a wealth of silver, pearls, emeralds, lapis lazuli, and precious Ming-era Chinese porcelain.
  • Oak Island researcher Doug Crowell’s theory that the word “grayware,” a term for pottery, is one of the words hidden within the cryptic Oak Island-related document known as La Formule (a.k.a. the McGinnis Code).

Staffordshire Pearlware

In this episode, archaelogist Laird Niven identifies the pottery shards brought up from Drillhole H8’s 192-foot depth as hand-painted pearlware from Staffordshire, England.

Starting in 1720, the county of Staffordshire in the West Midlands of England became a centre of ceramic production. Local red clay, salt, lead (for glazing), and coal provided all the raw ingredients necessary for pottery production, and local potter John Astbury’s 1720 discovery that ground flint added to local red clay made for beautiful creamware ensured that Staffordshire had a monopoly on this attractive new style of ceramic.

Decades after Astbury’s discovery, a Staffordshire potter named Josiah Wedgwood developed a unique and superior style of Staffordshire pottery. These pieces consisted of an attractive creamware body composed of Staffordshire clay and small amounts of kaolin, or ‘china clay,’ coated with a blueish glaze containing china stone (kaolinised granite) and cobalt. Wedgwood named his almost-translucent-looking creation ‘Pearl White,’ and began marketing it as such in 1779. Over the years, ‘Pearl White’ has been contorted into ‘pearlware’.

Like much European pottery produced throughout the 18th Century, Staffordshire pearlware was often ornamented with designs hand-painted with blue tin or cobalt oxide in imitation of Chinese porcelain.

Bone Fragment

In this episode, the Oak Island team unearths a bone fragment from Drillhole H8’s 160-165-foot depth. Although cat bones, likely belonging to treasure hunter Dan Henskee’s lost kittens, have been discovered in Borehole 10-X, this fragment is the first piece of bone known to have been discovered in the Money Pit area. This discovery raises the question of whether the bone fragment is human.

If the fragment does, indeed, prove to be human, there are a number of possibilities regarding the identity of its former owner. Some potential candidates include:

  • Maynard Kaiser, who fell to his death in a pump shaft situated beside the Money Pit on March 26, 1897, when the rope from which his bucket was suspended slipped off the hoist above. According to nonagenarian Lynn Walsh, Kaiser’s granddaughter, who visited Oak Island in Season 3, Episode 12 of The Curse of Oak Island, family tradition had it that Kaiser’s body was never recovered, and was presumed to have washed into one of the Money Pit’s flood tunnels.
  • An unfortunate prisoner whom some suspect was buried along with the Oak Island treasure. This notion stems from the folk legend that pirates often buried sailors along with their treasure in the hope that their spirits would guard the plunder until their return.
  • The mysterious Spanish priest whose spirit, some believe, guards the Money Pit area. Although there is no historical, archaeological, or even anecdotal evidence suggesting that a Spanish priest’s body lies at the bottom of the Money Pit, a variety of alleged supernatural experiences have led some to believe that one does. Over the years, this Spanish priest has been variously, speculatively identified as a Hieronymite monk, a Spanish priest called Menzies belonging to the crew of conquistador Francisco Pizarro, and a Franciscan friar named Juan Perez, who accompanied Christopher Columbus to the New World in 1493.


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The Curse of Oak Island- Season 5, Episode 4: Close Call

The Curse of Oak Island- Season 5, Episode 4: Close Call

The following is a Plot Summary and Analysis of Season 5, Episode 4 of the History Channel’s TV series The Curse of Oak Island.






Plot Summary

At the Money Pit area, Rick Lagina, Dave Blankenship, and Charles Barkhouse meet with geologist Terry Matheson, who informs them that the Brewster Drill Team is currently drilling a hole in the spot at which the Chappell Shaft is believed to be located. The narrator then explains that the current drillhole is number 16 of the 38 holes which will make up the Geotech Grid.

Driller Mike Gudelewicz walks over to the four men and informs them that the drill, now at a depth of 168 feet, has struck bedrock. On Matheson’s advice, the treasure hunters decide to abandon the hole they are in and start a new one. While Rick calls up Craig Tester in order to see if he is in agreement with the decision, Gudelewicz approaches Matheson with the news, relayed to him by driller Ivan Gough, that the drill actually encountered a three-foot void beginning at 166 feet. In light of this new development, the treasure hunters decide to keep drilling, and shortly thereafter, they encounter a much larger cavity at 179 feet which appears to be at least 30-feet high. Rick asks Charles what he makes of this new discovery, to which the historian replies “Could it be that spiral tunnel that Restall believed was there?”

The narrator then briefly describes the Restall family’s Oak Island treasure hunt while rare, old footage of Robert, Mildred, Bobby, and Richard Restall plays in the background. He goes on to describe how Robert Restall, upon drilling through a series of mysterious voids in 1963, theorized that a spiral tunnel lay deep beneath the Money Pit area.

Back at drillhole #16, several fragments of what appear to be axe-cut wood are airlifted to the surface from a depth of nearly 200 feet.

Almost immediate after this discovery, a piece of hosing explodes, blasting the hardhat off driller Max Williamson. The treasure hunters and the drilling crew run to the injured man’s assistance and quickly ascertain that the badly shaken Williams, his head and coveralls spattered with debris, has suffered a broken wrist and a contusion on his leg but is otherwise unharmed. “Almost the seventh man,” Williams quips morbidly, grinning as he calms his nerves with a cigarette. Williams’ joke is a reference to the legend after which the TV show is named, which has it that a seventh man must lose his life in pursuit of the Oak Island treasure before the island will reveal her secrets.

After some time, an ambulance arrives on the island, and a pair of paramedics assess William’s injuries. Although the emergency medical technicians agree that the driller’s wounds are not life threatening, they decide to transport him to the local hospital for treatment.

Once the ambulance leaves, Rick phones up Marty and informs him of the accident. Upon hearing the news, the younger Lagina brother says, “Rick, [that’s] exactly how a guy got killed on a rig I was on.” He proceeds to tell a story of how a roughneck working on an oil and gas well at which he was present attempted to turn off a high powered pump and had his head crushed when its hose burst. “When high pressure lines let go,” Marty concludes, “it’s bad news.” The Lagina brothers agree that they and their crew ought to make an effort to avoid unnecessarily populating the work site when drilling is underway. “The seriousness of it and what it might have been has certainly made us much more aware of the safety issues involving this process,” says Rick in a later interview. “It’s sobered us up, if you will.”

The following day, while the Oak Island crew works to improve the safety of the work site and get the drilling operation back underway, Jack Begley, Peter Fornetti, Gary Drayton go on a metal detecting excursion at Isaac’s Point, on the eastern end of the island. They quickly unearth the broken end of a barrel of a toy gun. After a little more searching, they find the rest of the toy- a vintage Hubley Sure-Shot cowboy-style mock-revolver cap gun.

Later that day, Rick Lagina and Charles Barkhouse meet in the War Room. While discussing the progress of the pattern drilling operation, they are joined by Jack Begley, who informs them of the discovery of the toy gun. Rick voices his suspicion that the toy belonged to Ricky Restall, who was a young boy on Oak Island at the time of his father and brother’s treasure hunt. While on the subject of the Restall family, Rick reveals that Lee Lamb, Bobby and Mildred Restall’s only daughter, has expressed an interest in visiting the island to see the completed visitor’s centre. “It would be nice to see her again,” says Charles.

Two days later, Rick and Marty Lagina and Craig Tester meet with Kyle Fetterly and Ivan Gough of the Brewster Drilling Team at the Money Pit area. Marty first inquires as to the condition of Max Williamson, whereupon Fetterly informs them that the injured driller has been discharged from the hospital and is expected to make a full recovery. Marty then asks the drillers what they plan to do differently in order to prevent an accident similar to the one that injured Williamson from recurring in the future. The drillers explain that they will exchange their Whipcheck cable restraints- safety devices designed to secure hoses to their respective couplings- with a Whipsock sleeve, a more reliable hose safety device, and that they expect to resume the drilling operation within a week.

Later, Rick and Marty Lagina, Craig Tester, Dave Blankenship, Charles Barkhouse, and Jack Begley welcome Lee Lamb and Rick Restall to the Oak Island Interpretive Centre. In an interview, Rick Restall explains that he has come to the island in order to come to terms with the emotions that resulted from his witnessing his father and brother’s tragic deaths on August 17, 1965. The Lagina brothers, in an interview of their own, opine that no other Oak Island treasure hunters have suffered and sacrificed more than the Restall family, and that they are honoured to welcome Lee and Rick back to the island.

In the Interpretive Centre, Lee Lamb and Rick Restall examine artifacts, photos, and documents related to their family’s treasure hunt. We are reminded that Rick Restall played a key role in the discovery of the ‘1704 stone,’ one of the Restall’s most significant finds.

After showing the Restall siblings the ‘Restall Corner’ of the museum, the Oak Island crew presents Rick Restall with the toy gun found on Isaac’s Point. After looking the gun over for some time, Rick exclaims, “By gosh, this must be my gun… I remember arriving on the island with all the stuff that a city kid would have, like a cowboy outfit- the hat, the holster, the gun- and, by the end of that summer, I think most of that stuff was somewhere else on the island.”

In a later interview, Rick Restall describes the emotions seeing his old toy gun evoked:

“Actually seeing a gun from that era was a reminder of what a carefree childhood would be. And it was a reminder [that] my time- my first summer on the island, in other words- was fun, and [filled with] childhood game and mostly imagination. It was like a paradise in those days.”

Lee Lamb, in a later interview, explained that her trip to the island with Rick Restall was significant because it drew her brother “into his rightful place.”

“This was Ricky’s moment,” Lee concludes.

A week after the Restall siblings’ visit, Oak Island Tours Inc. and the Brewster Drilling Team meet at the Money Pit area and resume the pattern drilling operation. Among the drilling crew is Max Williamson, who has recovered from the worst of his injuries.


The Spiral Tunnel

In 1963, Robert and Bobby Restall conducted a number of exploration drilling operations in Money Pit area. Their findings led them to develop a unique theory regarding the area’s underground workings.

Using their exploration drilling data as evidence, the Restalls believed that the two ‘chests’ drilled through by the Truro Company in 1850 were decoy treasures designed to entice treasure hunters into believing they had unearthed the Oak Island treasure, when in fact the real treasure was located deep below in the ‘cement vault’ drilled through by Frederick Blair and the Oak Island Treasure Company in 1897. They also believed that a hidden spiral-shaped walk-in tunnel led from the 100-foot level at which the decoy treasure lay to the treasure vault below. They also believed that the vault was not located directly below the Money Pit but rather somewhere off to the side, and was discovered by chance in 1897 when the Oak Island Treasure Company drill deflected off the iron object at a depth of 126 feet and continued down at an angle.


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The Curse of Oak Island- Season 5, Episode 3: Obstruction

The Curse of Oak Island- Season 5, Episode 3: Obstruction


The following is a Plot Summary and Analysis of Season 5, Episode 3 of the History Channel’s TV series The Curse of Oak Island.







Plot Summary

At the Money Pit area, Craig Tester and Jack Begley meet with geologist Terry Matheson and driller Mike Gudelwicz in order see how the pattern drilling operation is progressing. The treasure hunters learn that Brewster Drilling, the contractors they hired for the job, have finished drilling ten exploratory holes in the Money Pit area, none of which have yielded items of especial interest.

Meanwhile, Rick and Marty Lagina accompany metal detection expert Gary Drayton to Oak Island’s Lot 16, where they hope to uncover evidence of pre-1795 activity. In an interview, Rick explains that this lot is the site at which former Oak Island treasure hunter Robert Dunfield, while digging an enormous crater in the Money Pit area in the mid-late 1960’s, dumped much of the spoils.

The three treasure hunters are joined by Dave Blankenship, who instructs them to “find something shiny and gold.” Instead, Drayton unearths “a bloody modern nail.”

“Quit finding that sh**, Gary, and find something good,” admonishes Blankenship, to which Drayton replies, “I say we move away from this dastardly area.”

Drayton starts metal detecting in another area of Lot 16 and quickly unearths what appear to be two 17th Century British coins, the head of one of which Drayton confidently identifies as likeness of King Charles II of England. Drayton becomes even more confident in his assertion when he sees the word “CAROLVS” clearly inscribed on the coin’s edge. The narrator then gives us a brief history lesson on the 1660 Restoration, in which Charles II reclaimed the thrones of England, Ireland, and Scotland from Puritanical dictator Richard Cromwell, Lord Protector of a short-lived British republic called the English Commonwealth. He also informs us that British coins struck under Charles II’s rule bore the Latinized version of his Christian name: “CAROLVUS” (pronounced “Carolus”).

As Drayton studies one of the coins, he remarks that they are the only 17th Century British coins that the men of Oak Island Tours Inc. have recovered on Oak Island. “Marty, maybe I am good luck,” says Dave Blankenship, in response to a quip made earlier in the episode. “You’re goddang right you’re good luck!” replies the younger Lagina brother.

Rick takes a closer look at one of the coins and suggests that the date inscribed on it is ‘1673.’ Marty, who is examining the other coin, suggests that the date on his is ‘1694.’ The four treasure hunters proceed to discuss the significance of the find. All agree that the presence of 17th Century British coins in Oak Island is very unusual, especially when considered in conjunction with the 17th Century Spanish coin unearthed in the Oak Island swamp; the British Crown and Spanish Empire were great rivals in the 1600’s. Drayton remarks that the presence of contemporaneous British and Spanish coins on the island is congruent with the theory that the Money Pit was constructed by pirates, perhaps by the crew of pirate captain William Kidd. The narrator then reminds us of the infamous Wilkins map- a treasure map vaguely resembling Oak Island, which journalist Harold T. Wilkins included in his 1935 historical fiction Captain Kidd and his Skeleton Island. Wilkins claimed to have based this map on his memory of two treasure maps allegedly drawn by Captain Kidd.

The Lagina brothers, Dave Blankenship, and Gary Drayton head over to the home of Dan Blankenship to show the elderly treasure hunter their find. Upon looking the coins over, Dan says that they  give credence to the foundational theory, upon which all other Oak Island theories are based, that something significant happened on Oak Island prior to 1795- a theory which he hoped to authenticate when he first set foot on the island in 1965. “Hopefully this is just the beginning,” says Drayton.

Later, Rick and Marty Lagina, Craig Tester, and Jack Begley congregate at the Money Pit area, where the pattern drilling operation is underway. At a depth of 162 feet, the drill encounters a hard object which, when brought to the surface, is revealed to be a thick chunk of steel. The narrator suggests that this piece of metal might be a fragment of the impenetrable iron object encountered by driller William Chappell in 1897. Immediately afterwards, the drill grinds to a halt, having encountered another such object. The team decides to bring the drill up and case the hole with PVC pipe. “I’m not dismayed at all,” says Rick of the development in a later interview. “That’s the reason for the grid, you know? We may find it in the first hole, we may find it in the thirty seventh hole. We’ll find it.”

The next morning, Marty Lagina and Craig Tester drive to Dave Blankenship’s home in response to an ominous summons by Rick. On the way, Craig explains that Rick received a letter from Nova Scotia’s Department of Communities, Culture, and Heritage (CCH; a department of Nova Scotia’s provincial government) and that he likely wants to talk about it.

At Dave’s house, Dave and Rick hand Marty and Craig copies of the letter, the author of which expresses concern that “metal detecting on the island has the potential to impact existing archaeological sites and resources,” and stipulates that Oak Island Tours Inc. may continue to carry out such operations only under the supervision of an archaeologist. The letter goes on to inform the treasure hunters that they are henceforth precluded from further “excavation or removal of objects,” and may only continue such work under a Heritage Research Permit. In unison, the Lagina brothers agree that the stipulations outlined in this letter constitute the first step “in shutting own the whole island.”

The Lagina brothers discuss the implications of this letter in a later interview. “The metal detection has provided lots of clues to what might have happened here,” says Marty, “and it’s continuing to. So we’re very upset, very upset about this. The clue that we need could be out there to be metal detected, and we’ll never find it under this protocol.” Rick follows up on his brother’s statement, saying, “It’s not just the concerns they’ve expressed; they’ve given us parameters under which we can no longer proceed, in our opinion.” “It’s very chilling to the exploration efforts out here,” concludes Mary. “We just don’t get it.”

Back in Dave Blankenship’s home, the treasure hunters express their frustration with this latest development, and agree that a face-to-face meeting with a representative of CCH is in order.

The following day, the Oak Island team congregates at Old Mader’s Wharf Emporium, a restaurant in Mahone Bay, where Rick and Marty fill them in on a meeting they just had with Nova Scotia’s Minister of Culture and Heritage. Although they were unsuccessful in lifting the newly-imposed restrictions, they learned that the CCH was likely acting in response to pressure put on them by the archaeological community. They also proposed a compromise in which they would hire an archaeologist, who would get a blanket Heritage Research Permit which would allow them to excavate and extract artifacts from the island as they please (as opposed to applying for a Heritage Research Permit every time they wanted to excavate or unearth an artifact). The CCH apparently accepted this proposal. The team decides to hire Laird Niven, an archaeologist with whom they worked in the past.

The next day, Rick and Marty Lagina and Craig Tester meet with Laird Niven at the Oak Island Visitors’ Centre. There, the treasure hunters show the archaeologist some of the artifacts they have unearthed on Oak Island and ask him if he is interested in working with them. Niven accepts the job, saying that he will apply for a Heritage Research Permit immediately.

The following day, Rick and Marty Lagina, Gary Drayton, and Laird Niven head to Oak Island’s Lot 24, the former residence of Samuel Ball. There, the decide to uproot a number of trees with a backhoe in the hope that items of interest might lie beneath. Beneath the first tree they uproot, Drayton discovers the bowl of a spoon which Niven believes is an 18th Century artifact. They proceed to dig up several more trees, under one of which they unearth a large chunk of iron, which Niven suggests might be the rusted remains of a door hinge.

When Marty, in the backhoe, uproots yet another tree, Niven calls a stop to the excavation out of concern that the large stones exposed beneath it might be of cultural significance. The archaeologist jumps into the cavity to examine the stones, and decrees that the team cannot continue digging there. Gary Drayton, with Niven’s permission, examines the roots of the extracted tree with a metal detector and discovers a piece of pewter, which Niven claims is part of a spoon bowl.

When Marty asks Niven what procedure they should follow, the archaeologists says that they ought to “clean up the loose soil” in the cavity in order to determine if the rocks indeed constitute the remains of some sort of artificial structure.



The Wilkins Map

In this episode, the narrator briefly mentions the ‘Wilkins Map’ in connection with the theory that pirate Captain Kidd was the man responsible for Oak Island’s underground workings. The following is a description of this strange document, around which revolves one of the most bizarre chapters in the history of the Oak Island treasure hunt.

In 1935, a British journalist named Harold T. Wilkins had his fourth book published. Wilkins’ work, Captain Kidd and his Skeleton Island, is a historical fiction book about pirates, buried treasure, and “the discovery of a strange secret hid for 226 years.” In the book is the picture of an authentic-looking, hand-drawn treasure map depicting an island vaguely suggestive of Oak Island.

In the summer of 1937, R. V. Harris, a lawyer from Halifax, Nova Scotia, who worked for both Fredrick Blair (Oak Island’s contemporary landowner) and Gilbert Hedden (the man who owned Oak Island Treasure Trove Licence at the time), discovered the map in Wilkins’ book and showed it to Hedden. The New Jersey treasure hunter was astonished; to him, Wilkins’ map bore an uncanny resemblance to Oak Island. Hedden studied the map more thoroughly and picked out enough similarities between it and Oak Island- including coves roughly congruent with Joudrey’s Cove, Smith’s Cove, and the South Shore Cove, along with a lagoon eerily similar to Oak Island’s swamp- to become convinced that it might, in fact, be a real Oak Island treasure map drawn up by the original Money Pit builders. Even more fascinating was the fact that the map contained directions leading to the location at which the treasure lay buried. Intrigued, Hedden sent a letter to Harold Wilkins, hoping to learn where and how he had come across such an artifact.

Wilkins sent a letter back to Hedden assuring him that the treasure map in his book was not a map of Oak Island, but rather a depiction of an island in some “eastern sea” far from the Atlantic. Aside from that admission, however, he remained curiously tight-lipped about the treasure map’s origins and how he had discovered it.

Hedden was unconvinced, believing that the similarities between Wilkins’ map and Oak Island were too great to be coincidence. Accordingly, he turned his attention towards the directions at the bottom of the map, which read:

“18 W. and by 7 E. on Rock
30 SW. 14 N Tree
7 By 8 By 4”

The first line of directions seemed to suggest that that first step in the treasure hunt was to locate some sort of prominent ‘Rock’, probably situated on the beach somewhere near the spot at which treasure hunters would be most likely to disembark. In the case of Oak Island, that beach was probably Smith’s Cove, the section of Oak Island
beach most exposed to the ocean. Interestingly, Frederick Blair, during a conversation with Hedden on
this subject, vaguely recalled hearing about two mysterious drilled rocks discovered by earlier Oak Island treasure hunters, one of which lay on the shores of Smith’s Cove. Hedden had his crew search for these stones, and sure enough, a rock with a 2-inch-deep, 1- inch-diameter, obviously-man-made hole in it was discovered at Smith’s Cove. We’ll call this rock Stone A. Another rock with a similar drill hole was found about fifty feet north of the Money Pit. We’ll call this one Stone B.

Upon discovering the stones, Hedden, who had a bit of an engineering background, believed that the first line of directions indicated a point on the line between Stone A and Stone B, as seen on a topographical map. We’ll call this Point Z. Point Z would be 18 units east of Stone B and 7 units west of Stone A. This would make the distance between Stone A and Stone B 25 units in total (18+7). Since the distance between the two drilled rocks was 415 feet, each unit would roughly equal 16.5 feet (415/25). Interestingly, 16.5 feet is equal to 1 rod, an old English unit of measurement.

After making this tantalizing discovery, Hedden focused his attention on the second line of directions. He theorized that the first part of this line, “30 SW,” indicated a point 30 rods (495 feet) southwest of Point Z. We’ll call this Point Y. The second part of the line, “14 N Tree,” possibly referred to a point 14 rods (231 feet) north of Point Y, at which stood a tree. Perhaps this was the oak tree discovered by Daniel McGinnis, John Smith, and Anthony Vaughan in 1795, from which’s branch was suspended a block and tackle directly over the Money Pit. We’ll call this Point X; X marks the spot.

After making some calculations, Hedden had his crew search for Point Z, which was 297 feet (18 x 16.5) east of Stone B and 115.5 feet (7 x 16.5) west of Stone A. Although nothing of interest was discovered at that particular point, the Cave-In Pit was located a short distance away.

Next, Hedden had one of his employees, Amos Nauss, search the underbrush on the southeastern end of Oak Island, in the general vicinity of Point Y. In Nauss’ words:

“Hedden gave me some idea that there was something down there at the beach that he wanted to find. So I explored around there with a hoe. I was clawing around and suddenly I hit one rock, then another and another, all in line with each other. So I decided there was something there, and I started clearing it and called Hedden over.”

Nauss had rediscovered the stone triangle, first discovered by Captain John Welling of Frederick Blair’s Oak Island Treasure Company in 1897, and later rediscovered by Mel Chappell a few years earlier in the spring of 1931. The base of the 10-foot equilateral triangle was 10 feet north of Point Y. Interestingly, the base was also exactly 30 rods (495 feet) southwest of the centre of the Cave-In Pit.

Although the Oak Island landmarks did not exactly match the Wilkins’ map directions, Hedden was certain that he was onto something. The treasure hunter asked Charles Roper, a surveyor from Halifax, to investigate his finds. Roper provided Hedden with the precise measurements between the various Oak Island landmarks, and informed the treasure hunter that the stone triangle appeared to point due north, directly towards the Money Pit area. However, upon measuring, Roper and Hedden learned that the Money Pit area was only roughly 10 rods (165 feet) north of the stone triangle, not 14 rods as the Wilkins’ map apparently suggested.

Hedden was never able to reconcile the last line of Wilkins’ treasure map instruction with any group of Oak Island landmarks.

While searching for more landmarks which might correspond with Wilkins’ map, Hedden discovered “an old dump… in which are [were] the remains of thousands of broken pottery flasks” on Joudrey’s Cove. Nearby these pottery shards was “an old coin and an ivory boatswain’s whistle…”

In the aftermath of Roper’s survey, Hedden was convinced more than ever that the map in Wilkins’ book was a real treasure map depicting Oak Island. He decided to travel to England and meet with Harold Wilkins in person. When Hedden informed Wilkins of his intentions, the journalist wrote back that he was willing to meet with the treasure hunter, but that such a journey would be a waste of time for Hedden, as the map in his book was definitely not an Oak Island treasure map. He also hinted in his letter that the map in his book was actually not an authentic treasure map at all, but rather an “approximate copy” of four genuine 17th Century pirate treasure maps. Nevertheless, Hedden made the trip to England and met with Wilkins in December, 1937. His experience was both strange and discouraging.

Almost immediately after meeting Hedden, the British journalist confessed that the map in his book was, in fact, a diagram of his own devising. While doing research for his book, Wilkins had come across an English antiques dealer named Hubert Palmer who had in his possession four 17th Century charts which he claimed were treasure maps drawn up by the notorious Captain William Kidd, a Scottish privateer who was hanged for piracy on London, England’s Execution Dock in 1701, and who was rumoured to have buried a treasure of enormous value on an unknown island sometime before his demise. Palmer did not allow Wilkins to take photographs of his charts, which all depicted what appeared to be the same island located somewhere in the South China Sea, and so Wilkins settled with committing them to memory as best he could. Using his memory of the charts, the journalist drew his own
treasure map. When his publishers demanded that his map contain instructions on how to locate the treasure for added spice, Wilkins fabricated the three lines of instructions using nothing more than his imagination.

Baffled by the remarkable connection between Wilkins’ ad-libbed treasure hunting instructions and the landmarks on Oak Island, Hedden told the journalist all about the mysterious drilled stones, the stone triangle, the Cave-In Pit, the oak tree believed to have once stood beside of the Money Pit, and the fact that the distance separating these landmarks roughly corresponded with Wilkins’ map’s instructions if measured in old English rods. As Hedden explained the extraordinary coincidence, Wilkins became increasingly convinced that he was the reincarnation of
a 17th Century pirate, perhaps even Captain Kidd himself, and that his subconscious had conjured up some long-forgotten memory of the map leading to Kidd’s lost treasure, which he was now certain lay buried deep beneath Oak Island. After Wilkins enthusiastically revealed his conviction to Hedden, the latter began to suspect that the journalist was “every bit as crazy as his book would seem to make him,” or perhaps a fraud.

Hedden concluded his business in England, deciding that Wilkins’ map was no longer worth investigating. Instead of returning to Oak Island, he travelled straight to New Jersey, his hometown. There, he sent a letter to his lawyer R.V. Harris explaining that, although he had initially planned to renew his contract with Blair the following spring, he had since run into serious financial difficulties and needed to focus on expanding his company instead of on the Oak Island treasure hunt. When Blair learned of this new development, he was outraged, feeling that Hedden, a fellow Freemason, had betrayed him. The 71-year-old treasure hunter waited for another treasure hunter to take Hedden’s place, and found one in the form of Erwin H. Hamilton.

The Impenetrable Iron Object

In this episode, Oak Island Tours Inc., while drilling in the Money Pit area, encountered an impenetrable steel object at a depth of 162 feet. Before Robert Dunfield’s heavy-duty excavation in the Money Pit area, which lowered the surface of the Money Pit area about 10 feet, this object would have been located about 172 feet below the surface. This steel object discovered this episode sharply evokes the impenetrable iron object encountered by driller William Chappell of the Oak Island Treasure Company in the Money Pit in 1897. Chappell encountered this object at a depth of 171 feet.

In the summer of 1897, the Oak Island Treasure Company decided to conduct an exploration drilling operation in the Money Pit. Using steam-powered pumps to keep the flooding in check, the they set up a drilling platform in the Money Pit at the 90-foot level. From there, they prospected the Money Pit to depths never before reached by previous Oak Island treasure hunters. Their findings were some of the most astounding discoveries made on the island to date.

Core samples from the drilling operation revealed a layer of wood at 122 feet and an impenetrable iron object at 126 feet. Below that was a thick layer of blue clay from 130-151 feet. Then, at 154 feet, the drill encountered a 7-inch layer of cement followed by 5 inches of oak. Below that were about 2.5 feet of soft, loose metal, which reappeared again at the 158-foot level. Similar to the Truro Company before them, who, in 1850, located soft, loose metal in the Money Pit at around the 100-foot level, the Oak Island Treasure Company was unable to procure any samples of this substance. At the 160-foot level, the drill encountered another thick layer of blue clay which ended at 171 feet. At the 171-foot level, the drill encountered what appeared to be an impenetrable iron plate. After collecting some shavings of this material by running a magnet over the end of the drill bit, the Oak Island Treasure Company confirmed that the hard substance at the 171-foot level was indeed iron.

The Restoration of King Charles II of England

In this episode, the team unearths two British coins on Oak Island’s Lot 16, dated 1673 and 1694, respectively. This discovery is perhaps most consistent with the theory that Oak Island’s treasure was interred by pirates, possibly the crew of Captain Kidd.

Another theory which the coins sharply evoke is Canadian mining engineers Graham Harris and Les MacPhie’s fascinating argument, outlined in their book Oak Island and its Lost Treasure: The Untold Story of the British Military’s Role in the Island Flood Tunnel (2013), which proposes that the Money Pit was first excavated by the crew of New English treasure hunter Sir William Phips, and that the Smith’s Cove Flood Tunnel was later constructed by a government-sanctioned company composed of British engineers and Cornish miners.

Unfortunately, Harris and MacPhie’s theory, along with its historical context, it is far too elaborate to detail in this article. Somewhat less comprehensive, however, is a description of the prequel to the historical stage on which their theory is set- a turbulent period of English history, outlined briefly in this episode, known as the Restoration.

The Restoration has its roots in the Protestant Reformation, a series of schisms in the Roman Catholic Church which occurred throughout the 16th Century, initiated by Protestant Reformers such as Martin Luther, who founded Lutheranism; John Calvin, who founded Calvinism; and King Henry VIII of England, who founded Anglicanism (a.k.a. The Church of England). These schisms resulted in a series of bloody religious wars fought throughout the 17th Century.

By the 1600’s, nearly all of England was Protestant. The nation, in general, feared and despised Catholicism, and was characterized by a paranoia that subversive Catholic agents were constantly conniving to reinstitute the old religion. At the same time, England’s Protestants were divided into Anglicans and Puritans, Puritanism being an offshoot of the Church of England which held that the ceremonial use of religious objects- a Catholic-like practice employed by Anglicans- was tantamount to idolatry. In spite of their ideological incompatibilities, adherents to these two disparate doctrines coexisted relatively peacefully for a number of decades.

France was not immune to the religious turmoil of the 17th Century. Although most of the country remained staunchly Catholic, a branch of French Calvinists called Huguenots revolted against royal authority in a series of conflicts known as the Huguenot Rebellions. The last of these rebellions, fought from 1626-1629, culminated in the Siege of La Rochelle, a Huguenot stronghold on the west coast of France (this battle is the historical event around which Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers revolves).

During the Siege of La Rochelle, King Charles I of England, on the advice of his most trusted advisor, George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, decided to assist his fellow Protestants and join the fight against the French. In order to do this, he would need to secure some serious capital, and in 17th Century England, the only way for the Crown to collect significant tax revenue was through the use of an institution called the Parliament.

Unfortunately, Charles I and the Parliament did not see eye to eye. The king’s wife, a French princess named Henrietta Maria, was a devout Catholic, while the king himself was an Anglican. The English Parliament, on the other hand, was composed predominantly of staunch Puritans. The Parliamentarians loathed the king for his faith and especially that of his wife, and accordingly refused to provide him with the capital he needed to finance his military expedition to La Rochelle.

The king found the capital he needed through other means and tasked the Duke of Buckingham with leading a force to the French port city. Buckingham did as commanded and set sail for France with a complement of 6,000 soldiers. On the French battlefield, the Duke’s forces suffered a series of crippling defeats, and Buckingham returned to England, humiliated.

On August 23, 1628, the Duke of Buckingham was stabbed to death by John Felton, a disgruntled officer under his command. Although evidence indicated that Felton had likely acted on his own, King Charles I strongly believed that Parliament was behind his advisor’s assassination. Accordingly, he dissolved the unhelpful institution, determined to never reinstate it again.

For the next eleven years, Charles I ruled England without recourse to Parliament. The king’s detractors labelled this period the “Eleven Years’ Tyranny.” Since Parliament was the only means by which the monarch could acquire significant capital, King Charles I soon found himself in a financial predicament- a situation exacerbated by the expense incurred by his participation in the 30 Years’ War (a bloody European religious war fought from 1618-1645).

In 1639, King Charles I entered into a religious war with a force of Scottish Presbyterians called Covenanters (Presbyterianism being an offshoot of Calvinism). In order to raise money to finance this war, known as Bishops’ War, the king reluctantly reinstated Parliament. When Parliament predictably refused to comply with his wishes, he promptly dissolved it before reinstating it again a short time later, desperate for capital.

The Parliament took this opportunity to erode the king’s authority bit by bit, raising capital for the king in exchange for heavy concessions. Eventually, Charlies I decided to put an end to the Parliament’s subversion and attempted to arrest five of its Members for high treason. This act sparked a physical conflict between Parliamentarian Puritans (and their Presbyterian Covenanter allies, with whom they shared a common enemy) and Loyalist Anglicans which devolved into an all-out civil war, known today as the English Civil War.

This conflict pitted Puritan “Roundheads,” so called for the shaven pates many of their lowborn ranks affected (which contrasted starkly with the long ringlets worn by members of the aristocracy), against Loyalist “Cavaliers,” so named for their commanders’ resemblance to Spanish Caballeros (mounted knights) in their haughty demeanor and gaudy clothing. Initially, Loyalist forces won a series of victories under the command of Prince Rupert of the Rhine (the namesake of Prince Rupert, BC, and Rupert’s Land, the vast territory once controlled by the Hudson’s Bay Company), a dashing young cavalry commander and nephew of the king. However, Prince Rupert met his match at the Battle of Marston Moor, fought on July 2, 1644. There, his army clashed with a much larger Parliamentarian and Covenanter force, which included a dogged, highly disciplined cavalry troop commanded by Oliver Cromwell, a zealous Puritan farmer-turned-military commander. Cromwell’s troops routed the Loyalist cavalry, which turned the tide of battle in Parliamentarian favour and ultimately led to a decisive Roundhead victory.

Oliver Cromwell quickly climbed the ranks to become second in command of the Parliamentarian army. He led his troops to victory a the decisive Battle of Naseby, which ultimately resulted in the capture of King Charles I.

The Parliament agreed to release the king on the condition that he relinquish some of his power to them. The stubborn monarch, however, believing that he had a divine right to rule, refused to give the Puritans any ground. After failing to convince the king to accede to their demands, Oliver Cromwell and the Parliament decided to put Charles I on trial for treason. The English king was ultimately convicted and sentenced to death. On Tuesday, January 20, 1649, King Charles I was beheaded by a single stroke of executioner’s axe at London’s Palace of Whitehall, thereby becoming the only English king to lose his head.

In the wake of the king’s execution, Oliver Cromwell established the Commonwealth of England, Britains first and only republican government. At the behest of his advisors, Cromwell became the Lord Protector of this new regime.

The following year, the Presbyterian Scottish Covenanters turned against their old allies, Oliver Cromwell’s Puritans, on account of religious differences. On September 3, 1650, they faced Cromwell’s republican army, called the New Model Army, at the Battle Dunbar and were soundly defeated. Later that year, in order to legitimize their cause, the Covenanters crowned Charles I’s eldest son, twenty-year-old Charles, who had spent the last half of the English Civil War in exile in France and Holland, King of Scotland. At the instance of the Covenanters, Prince Charles publicly denouncing Catholicism- a religion he inwardly adhered to on account of his mother’s influence- and outwardly converted to Presbyterianism.

In 1651, Charles, determined to retake his father’s crown, launched an invasion into England. This invasion ended in defeat at the Battle of Worcester, fought on September 3, 1651- the anniversary of Cromwell’s victory at Dunbar- and Charles subsequently fled to continental Europe.

On September 3, 1658, 59-year-old Oliver Cromwell succumbed to malaria and kidney disease. He was succeeded as Lord Protector of the Commonwealth by his son, Richard Cromwell. Unlike his zealous father, Richard lacked the full support of the New Model Army and the Parliament, and soon the Commonwealth descended into anarchy.

Charles took advantage of the opportunity and returned to England. On May 25, 1660, he landed at the town of Dover, on the southeast coast of England, accompanied by a Loyalist entourage. The prince made his way to London, greeted along the way by Englishman who were overjoyed by the return of the long-lost heir to the throne. The triumphant Charles- now King Charles II of England, Scotland, and Ireland- rode into the capital on his 30th birthday and reclaimed his crown.

Following his ascension to the throne, Charles II returned many of his father’s old Royalist supporters, including Prince Rupert of the Rhine, to their former offices and rewarded them for their loyalty. Nine of the Parliamentarians who had a role in his father’s regicide, on the other hand, were condemned as traitors and hanged, drawn, and quartered (i.e. submitted to a horrific execution, reserved for traitors, in which they were hanged (almost to the point of death), disemboweled alive, beheaded, and chopped into four pieces). The corpse of Oliver Cromwell was exhumed and posthumously executed; the Puritan’s skeleton was hanged and beheaded, his skull afterwards mounted on a wooden spike and erected above Westminster Hall.

This event, in which monarchy returned to England, is known today as the English Restoration.


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The Curse of Oak Island- Season 5, Episode 2: Dead Man’s Chest

The Curse of Oak Island- Season 5, Episode 2: Dead Man’s Chest

The following is a Plot Summary and Analysis of Season 5, Episode 2 of the History Channel’s TV series The Curse of Oak Island.






Plot Summary

Rick and Marty Lagina, Craig Tester, and Charles Barkhouse lead a portable drilling rig across the Oak Island causeway to the Money Pit area. In an interview, the Lagina brothers evince their enthusiasm for the upcoming 40-hole drilling operation, which, it is revealed, will be “the singular focus” of the season. Rick is confident that, if conducted without mishap, the operation will yield something significant within 20 days. Referring to the two-century-long Oak Island treasure hunt, Marty says, “I always felt like the Money Pit was where it began and the Money Pit is probably where it will end.”

At the Money Pit area, the treasure hunters meet with Kyle Fetterly and his Brewster Drill Team, the men who will be conducting the drilling operation.

The next day, while the drillers set about their task, Rick and Marty Lagina and Craig Tester drive to Saint Mary’s University in nearby Halifax, Nova Scotia. There, they meet with Dr. Christa Brosseau, an Associate Professor of Chemistry who, in the narrator’s words, is considered to be “one of Canada’s leading experts in the study of metals and their chemical compositions.” The treasure hunters present Brosseau with the rose head nail they discovered in the GAL1 spoils the previous episode. Brosseau, in turn, takes the nail to a lab, where research instrument technician Dr. Xiang Yang places a sample of it under an electron microscope. Before the two scientists examine the metal, Brosseau explains that the presence of nickle and molybdenum in an iron object is indicative of that object’s being crafted sometime after 1860, while a concentration of manganese between 0.2% and 1% suggests that the object was crafted sometime after 1840. Brosseau and Yang then examine the metal of the rose head nail and conclude that it is composed of 90% iron and 10% carbon; that it bears no significant trace of nickle, molybdenum, or manganese; and that does not display any characteristic of a modern iron object. Upon being prompted by Craig Tester, Brosseau confirms that absence of sulfur in the piece suggests that it was smelted with charcoal, an ancient reducing agent. All things considered, the results of the metallurgical examination indicate that the rose head nail is at least several hundred years old.

Later, Rick, Marty, and Charles meet with geologist Terry Matheson at the Money Pit area while the Brewster Drill Team goes about its work. In an interview, Marty explains that Matheson will collect, examine, and analyse core samples brought up the Money Pit drill holes at 5-foot intervals. The narrator reveals that other samples will be separated and spread out on a prospecting device called a shaker table. From one such sample, taken from a depth of 195 feet, driller Kyle Fetterly retrieves a fragment of what appears to be charcoal.

While the crew examines the charcoal piece, a deluge of water mysteriously bursts from the C1 Shaft. Apparently, the latest drill hole intersected the same vein of water which feeds C1- a vein which the narrator suggests might be the Smith’s Cove flood tunnel. Rick tastes the water and declares that it is “real salty,” bolstering the narrator’s suggestion. The narrator then explains that this latest development will prevent diver Mike Huntley from making a third dive to the cavern at the bottom of C1 (as discussed in the previous episode), as the silt kicked up in C1 will have rendered the shaft’s water completely opaque.

Later that day, Rick and Marty Lagina, Craig Tester, Dave Blankenship, Jack Begley, Charles Barkhouse, and Gary Drayton meet with local historian Doug Crowell. Crowell explains that Drayton’s Season 4, Episode 8 discoveries on the Island- particularly artifacts belonging to former Oak Island landowner Samuel Ball- prompted him to do some archival research in the hope of shedding some light on the identity of early Oak Island landowners. Crowell learned that Oak Island’s Lot 26 was once owned by Captain James Anderson, a privateer who fought for the Thirteen Colonies during the American Revolutionary War before turning his coat and fighting for the British. After the war, Anderson settled in Nova Scotia, purchasing Oak Island’s Lot 26 and living there until 1788. He died in 1796, a year after the discovery of the Money Pit, somewhere in the West Indies (i.e. Caribbean), where Crowell suspects he was engaged in privateering.

After briefing the crew on Anderson’s history, Crowell reveals that Steve Atkinson, one of privateer’s descendants, lives in Nova Scotia, and suggests that he arrange for the crew to meet him. The crew takes the historian up on his offer, tasking Alex Lagina, Peter Fornetti, and Charles Barkhouse with this undertaking. The next day, the three treasure hunters accompany Crowell to Atkinson’s home in Wolfville, Nova Scotia. Atkinson invites the four men inside before sharing his theory that Captain Anderson, from whom Samuel Ball bought Oak Island’s Lot 26, fought with Ball during the Revolutionary War. The narrator reminds us that Samuel Ball, prior to his Oak Island landownership, was a black plantation slave-turned Loyalist militiaman who earned his freedom fighting for the British. Atkinson then reveals that Captain Anderson was a spy as well as a pirate, captained a ship called the Betsy, and is known to have sailed as early as 1768.

After imparting his knowledge, Atkinson shows the men Captain Anderson’s old sea chest- a black wooden box which appears to be in incredible condition considering its age. Alex Lagina unlocks the chest with an old fashioned key and opens it, revealing several smaller chests and a stack of ancient, yellowed documents. The first document Alex examines is a hand-written certificate confirming Anderson as a Master Mason, a high-ranking member of a Freemasonic fraternity. The second document is a receipt for Captain Anderson’s schooner, the Betsy.

Once the treasure hunters conclude their examination of the contents of Captain Anderson’s sea chest, Atkinson voices his theory that the three small keys which share a ring with the larger key to Anderson’s chest might unlock other chests, perhaps treasure chests, which remain to be discovered on Oak Island. The narrator reminds us of an old legend which holds that the three co-discoverers of the Money Pit- Daniel McGinnis, John Smith, and Anthony Vaughan- discovered three treasure chests in the Money Pit sometime after 1795.

Later, Jack Begley and Peter Fornetti accompany Gary Drayton to Isaac’s Point, the easternmost end of Oak Island. There, the three men search for artifacts with a metal detector, hoping that soil freshly-exposed by wind storms might have brought certain items of interest closer to the surface. Sure enough, they quickly unearth a musket ball. Shortly thereafter, they discover a neatly-cut quarter of a copper coin, which Drayton suggests might be a “cut maravedis” reminiscent of the 17th Century New World Spanish coin discovered in the Oak Island swamp back in Season 1. The narrator then explains how it was once common practice to cut coins into halves or quarters in order to “make change.”

Drayton decides that the discovery of the quarter coin warrants a call to Rick and Marty. After the call, he, Begley and Fornetti are joined by the Lagina brothers, to whom they present their find. The brothers commend the men on their discovery and agree that they ought to have the coin fragment cleaned up and professionally examined.



Geotech Grid

In this episode, we learn more about the upcoming pattern drilling operation in the Money Pit area, the purpose of which is to pinpoint the precise location of the original shaft and/or recover artifacts placed by the original Money Pit builders. This operation will involve the drilling of 38 six-inch-wide, 200-foot-deep boreholes, each of them placed at a strategic location. Each hole will be cased with plastic piping to prevent it from collapsing, and to allow for future down-hole metal detection operations.



In this episode of The Curse of Oak Island, a core sample from a drilling operation in the Money Pit area brought up an item from a depth of 195 feet which resembled charcoal. Charcoal is one of the materials said to have been discovered in the original Money Pit when it was first excavated by the Onslow Company in the early 1800’s. Specifically, a layer of charcoal was said to cover the fourth 10-foot oak platform (the original Money Pit was punctuated by nine oak platforms set at 10-foot intervals). Likely produced from the combustion of local red oak wood, this charcoal, some Oak Island researchers believe, might have been the product of a furnace used by the original Money Pit constructors to draw fresh air down to the diggers labouring in the shaft (a practice which, according to civil engineer and Oak Island historian Graham Harris, was not common in the mining industry until 1665).

Captain James Anderson and his Chest

In this episode, Nova Scotian historian Doug Crowell of introduces us to Captain James Anderson, another historic character in the Oak Island story. Captain Anderson owned Oak Island’s Lot 26 in the mid-late 18th Century before selling his land to Samuel Ball, a plantation slave-turned English militiaman who settled in Nova Scotia after the American Revolutionary War.

Crowell and the men of Oak Island Tours Inc. are not the only historians to take an interest in this 18th Century mariner. Oak Island researcher Scott Clarke- a man with blood ties to both the Onslow and Truro Companies (19th Century Oak Island treasure hunting syndicates)- investigated Anderson’s Oak Island connection several years ago, showcasing some of his discoveries in a recent article for Researcher Diane Boumenot, Anderson’s great great great great great granddaughter, similarly studied Anderson’s history for genealogical purposes, displaying her findings on her website OneRhodeIslandFamily. Together, these researchers and historians paint a picture of a fascinating and complicated man whose characteristics correspond with the turbulent period of history of which he was a part.

As early as 1768, James Anderson worked as a sailor. During the American Revolution, Anderson, then a resident of Baltimore, Maryland, pledged allegiance to the revolutionary government of Maryland and fought for the New English rebels. Anderson initially served as a lieutenant aboard a Continental galley before being given command of his own ship, the Baltimore. For some reason, he changed his allegiance sometime during the war and sailed his ship to New York, where he delivered it to the British. Anderson was given another ship and began privateering for the Crown. He was eventually captured by a group of Patriots and imprisoned in Richmond, Virginia. During Anderson’s captivity, the State of Maryland wrote to Virginia Governor (and future President) Thomas Jefferson, charging Anderson with high treason and asking that he be delivered to them for execution. By some twist of fate, Anderson evaded the hangman’s noose and settled in Nova Scotia after the war (likely sometime around 1783).

Although it is not certain when exactly Anderson first acquired Oak Island’s Lot 26, a historical record examined in the show indicates that he sold it to Samuel Ball- a fellow Loyalist and veteran of the Revolutionary War- in 1788. The middle aged sea captain died in July 1796 in the West Indies, a year after the discovery of the Money Pit and two months before the birth of his daughter, Ann.

In this episode, Alex Lagina, Peter Fornetti, and Charles Barkhouse accompany Doug Crowell to the home of Steve Atkinson, one of Anderson’s descendants. There, Atkinson shows the men Anderson’s old sea chest, along with several documents interred inside. One of these documents reveals Anderson as a Master Mason, or a high-ranking member of a Freemasonic Lodge.


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The Curse of Oak Island- Season 5 Premiere: Forever Family

The Curse of Oak Island- Season 5 Premiere: Forever Family

With a Word on the Season 5 Special: The Journey so Far


Our favourite treasure hunters are back! On Tuesday night, the History Channel aired the first episode of The Curse of Oak Island’s fifth season… in the States, that is; we Canucks will have to wait until November 12, when the episode is scheduled to air at 10:00 Eastern/Pacific Time. For those of you Yanks interested in a recap of and supplement to the episode you just watched, and for those of you Canadians who can’t wait until Sunday, here’s a plot summary and analysis of Season 5, Episode 1 of The Curse of Oak Island.






Season 5 Special: The Journey So Far

An hour before airing the Season 5 premiere, the History Channel presented a special recap of The Curse of Oak Island’s Season 1-4, entitled The Journey So Far.

This episode opens with a monologue delivered by Matty Blake, the host of The Curse of Oak Island’s appendant series Drilling Down. Blake briefly summarizes the history of Borehole 10-X, the water-filled, 235-foot-deep shaft which veteran treasure hunter Dan Blankenship hand-sank in the early 1970’s with his son Dave and New Yorker Dan Henskee. He reminds us how Oak Island Tours Inc., the current owners of the island and the stars of the show, lowered an underwater camera into the shaft in Season 1, Episode 1 and captured visual evidence of what appeared to be a tunnel running off into the distance in the cavern at the shaft’s bottom. Subsequent airlift operations brought up pieces of old wood from the cavern, prompting the team to conduct sonar scans of the space. These scans indicated the presence of several items of interest, including the tunnel captured by the underwater camera and a rectangular object evocative of a treasure chest. A subsequent diving operation conducted by professional diver John Chatterton revealed that this rectangular object was likely a rock, and that the ‘tunnel’ was likely a natural fissure. The film then cuts to an interview with Michigan brothers Rick and Marty Lagina of Oak Island Tours Inc. The science-minded Marty expresses his own inclination to abandon 10-X due to the discouraging results of Chatterton’s dive, while the optimistic Rick claims that he will not give up on the shaft until he has physically examined its cavern himself.

Blake then proceeds to Oak Island’s swamp, in which, he reminds us, former Oak Island treasure hunter Bobby Restall once searched for a ‘mystery box,’ allegedly discovered by Oak Island caretaker Jack Adams in the 1930’s. Blake recounts the Season 1 visit of Bobby’s sister Lee Lamb, during which Lamb related her brother’s search for this mysterious item. In an effort to rediscover the ‘mystery box’ and anything else of interest, Oak Island Tours Inc. pumped the swamp dry, expending an incredible amount of time, money, and sweat in the process. Some of the items the swamp eventually yielded included a 17th Century Spanish 8 maravedis, an old wooden plank, and a Spanish barrotte nail- items supporting a theory, held by the late Fred Nolan (Dan Blankenship’s long-time Oak Island treasure hunting rival) that a wrecked Spanish treasure galleon was interred in the swamp by its crew sometime in the 17th Century.

Next, Blake visits Smith’s Cove, where an artificial filter, a series of box drains, and a flood tunnel were discovered by treasure hunters in the mid-1800’s. We are reminded of Dan Henskee, Jack Begley, Alex Lagina, and Peter Fornetti’s discovery of ancient coconut fibre on Smith’s Cove in Season 1, Episode 2, and of the die test conducted in Season 2, Episode 6, which failed to establish a link between Borehole 10-X and the Smith’s Cove flood tunnel. Blake also reminds us of the team’s rediscovery of the Smith’s Cove flood tunnel, evocative of a French drain, in Season 4. The sub-segment ends with an interview in which both Rick and Marty Lagina affirm their desire to continue the search at Smith’s Cove.

Next, Blake takes us to the infamous Money Pit area. After summarizing the popular discovery legend, he recounts how Oak Island Tours Inc. drilled a number of exploratory shafts in the area in an effort to locate the original pit. One of these drilling operations- labelled ‘Valley 3’- yielded wood and a cement-like material from a depth consistent with the supposed location of the Chappell Vault- a hypothetical depository which some believe contains the Money Pit’s treasure. A second drill hole- Borehole C1- encountered a large cavity at depth, in the wall of which was embedded a shiny, gold-coloured object. In Season 4, Oak Island Tours Inc. augmented these drill holes into 40-inch-wide cylindrical shafts using oscillating caissons and a hammergrab. Unfortunately, neither shaft produced much of interest. The crew decided to sink a third and final shaft named GAL1 which, to their delight, yielded a number of strange, old metal objects at depth.

The episode ends with an interview of Rick and Marty Lagina, in which the two brothers describe the highlights of their Oak Island quest and their hopes for the future.


Season 5, Episode 1: Forever Family

Plot Summary

It is raining and overcast as Rick Lagina and historian Charles Barkhouse drive across the causeway to Oak Island. The two men and the narrator inform us that the series of violent windstorms that ravaged the Atlantic Coast throughout the winter of 2016/17 have taken their toll on the island, uprooting trees and wiping out roadways. As the two men prepare to inspect the damage, Rick declares “I don’t care what Mother Nature has done. The island can throw whatever it wants at us. We’re not giving up.”

On the island, Rick Lagina and Dave Blankenship meet with heavy equipment operator Billy Gerhardt to assess the condition of the South Shore road- a gravel byway skirting the Oak Island swamp which appears to be all but obliterated. The three men agree that the road’s reconstruction is a top priority, and regret the inevitable loss of time and resources which the project will require.

Next, Rick, Dave, and Charles meet in the War Room with Dan Blankenship and Peter Fornetti. There, the five men connect with Marty Lagina via video chat and inform him of the condition of the South Shore road and the need to repair it before the scheduled arrival of heavy excavation equipment. The narrator then discloses that the team plans to drill forty 6-inch-wide, 200-foot-deep boreholes in the Money Pit area in the hopes of pinpointing the precise location of the original Money Pit; apparently, the metal recovered from GAL1 the previous season proved to be relics of a previous treasure hunt. Back in the War Room, the six treasure hunters agree that they ought to take advantage of the storm-wrought devastation by having metal detection expert Gary Drayton scour the freshly-disturbed soil for historic artifacts. They also decide that a re-examination of Borehole C1 is in order, as the black silt which once obscured its waters has now settled to the bottom.

After Rick inquires as to the condition of Craig Tester and Jack Begley, treasure hunters whose absences are conspicuous, the narrator informs us that 16-year-old Drake Tester, Craig’s son and Jack’s step-brother who has appeared on the show in the past, tragically and unexpectedly passed away in Grand Rapids, Michigan, on March 16, 2017, due to complications resulting from an epileptic seizure. On the subject of Craig Tester, Marty says, “Would I like to see him out [there]? Yes. He’s instrumental on this team, and we would not only miss Drake terribly; we’d miss Craig, we’d miss Jack. I hope he comes, but you know what? Whatever’s best for him. Period.” After agreeing to “get to the bottom” of the Oak Island mystery in honour of Drake and his family, the treasure hunters wrap up the meeting.

While the reconstruction of the South Shore road is underway, Peter Fornetti accompanies Gary Drayton on a metal detection excursion at Isaac’s Point, the easternmost part of the island.

At the same time, Rick Lagina, Dave Blankenship, and Charles Barkhouse meet with remote camera specialist Jeff Christopherson of Inuktun Services Ltd. at the C1 shaft. The treasure hunters hope Christopherson and his Spectrum 120 camera might be able to shed some light on the mysterious gold-coloured object believed to be located in the cavern at the shaft’s bottom. Christopherson slowly lowers his camera down C1, while Rick, Dave, and Charles observe the visuals the camera is capturing in real-time on a screen at the surface. Due to the quality of the camera and the lack of sediment in the water, the visuals are crystal clear. The camera reaches the cavern without incident and scans its walls, but the mysterious object is nowhere to be seen. The treasure hunters speculate that the object might have fallen to the cavern’s floor during the shaft’s excavation, where it might have been covered by a layer of sediment, and Christopherson directs the camera to pan the floor accordingly. The camera immediately picks up an obscure, odd-looking formation which Rick opines is man-made. Christopherson agrees, suggesting that the anomaly “looks like a piece of metal with another piece of metal going through it.” After examining more of the cavern floor, the team finds another interesting item which Christopherson and Barkhouse both agree resembles an iron hook, as well as a tangle of similar material nearby. Barkhouse suggests that the items constitute part of the debris field which formed as a result of the Money Pit’s 19th Century collapses. Following the discovery, Rick calls up Marty and shares the exciting news with him, suggesting they arrange for diver Mike Huntly to manually explore the cavern a second time.

Back at Isaac’s Point, Drayton and Fornetti continue their metal detecting operation. The two men quickly unearth the rusted head of an old woodcutter’s axe before stumbling upon what appears to be an 18th century copper coin. Drayton speculates that the coin is either French or English, and later submits it for analysis.

Two days later, Rick Lagina, Dave Blankenship, and Charles Barkhouse stand by while Peter Fornetti and Gary Drayton sift through rubble unearthed during the construction of the GAL1 shaft with a metal detector. The party is soon joined by Marty and Alex Lagina, as well as by Craig Tester and Jack Begley, the latter two plainly grieving over the loss of their son and brother, respectively. The newcomers are briefed on the discoveries made in their absence, and all agree that they ought to commission diver Mike Huntley to manually investigate the objects of interest at the bottom of C1.

Later, the whole team meets in the War Room with Mike Huntley, Jeff Christopherson, and a man named Frank Schiefelbein. Schiefelbein, the CEO of Barnett & Associates, hopes to clarify the already-excellent images captured by Christopherson’s camera with his company’s video enhancement technology, Prohawk. Schiefelbein applies Prohawk to the footage of the mysterious items at the bottom of C1, and to the old footage of the shiny, gold-coloured object captured back in Season 4. After viewing this enhanced footage, the treasure hunters are more convinced than ever that both the gold-coloured object and the newly-discovered anomalies are indeed man-made items.

Once the South Shore road is reconstructed, Mike Huntley- with the Oak Island team, paramedics Reed Barron and Kerry Seamone, decompression chamber technician Dave Roode, and dive supervisor Dave Pilot in attendance- prepares for a dive in C1. Preparations complete, Huntley descends into the shaft in a bosun’s chair. The diver reaches the cavern without incident. Unfortunately, the mere act of his descension stirred up sediment, and visibility in the chamber deteriorates rapidly. Hoping to accomplish what he can before the cavern is obscured entirely, Huntley detaches himself from the bosun’s chair and begins to examine the chamber’s perimeter. Using a hand-held metal detector, he soon finds something metallic embedded in the cavern’s wall. After struggling in vain to detach this object with a hammer and chisel, Huntley stuffs a bag full of sediment from the cavern floor and prepares to climb back into the bosun’s chair. The bag proves too heavy to move, and Huntley struggles with it for some time. In doing so, Huntley exceeds his allotted dive time, thereby putting himself at risk of decompression sickness and hypothermia. Eventually, he secures the bag to the bosun’s chair and makes his ascent. Upon reaching the surface, Huntley is rushed to the decompression chamber on site, where he undergoes a successful recompression.

When Huntley is sufficiently recovered, the Oak Island team commends him for going “above and beyond” the call of duty and presents him with the bag of sediment he brought up from C1. The diver pours the contents onto a plastic tarp, and Jack Begley examines them with a metal detector. Unfortunately, it appears that the sediment contains no trace of the mysterious metal objects indicated by the visual probe. “We didn’t get what we wanted,” says Marty in a later interview. “We got a bag full of muck, basically… But, you know what? If this was easy, it would have been done 210 years ago, right? It’s not easy.”

The next day, Alex Lagina, Jack Begley, Peter Fornetti, and Gary Drayton continue to sift through the refuse from the C1 shaft. Drayton quickly uncovers an ancient-looking iron spike which he claims is an 17th or 18th Century hand-forged rose head nail.

Meanwhile, Rick and Marty, Craig Tester, Dave Blankenship, and Charles Barkhouse pay a visit to Dan Blankenship. They inform the veteran treasure hunter of their plan to drill a series of exploratory holes in the Money Pit area. Dan encourages the crew to drill to bedrock. While they discuss the upcoming operation, the men are visited by Alex Lagina, Jack Begley, Peter Fornetti, and Gary Drayton, who present their recent discovery. Dan concurs with Drayton’s assessment that the spike is a rose head nail which almost certainly predates the discovery of the Money Pit.

Later, the Oak Island crewmembers meet in the War Room. They agree that the discovery of the rose head nail, along with the strange metal items brought up by the hammergrab at the end of Season 4, warrant a more thorough investigation of GAL 1. They also agree to send Mike Huntley back into C1 with the task of finding and retrieving metal objects.

That accomplished, the crew addresses Craig Tester and Jack Begley’s suffering in the wake of Drake’s passing and commend them on their continued participation in the treasure hunt. “It will be tough without him,” replies Tester, his voice thick with emotion, “but I know he wants us here. That’s the big point.” A tearful Jack nods his assent, saying “I know he wouldn’t want us to stop looking.” The Lagina brothers agree that they will carry on the search for and “with” their fallen comrade. Rick Lagina concludes the meeting by reminding the crew of the words which Drake inscribed on the GAL1 caisson the previous year: “Forever Family”.

The episode ends with touching tribute Drake Tester, complete with interviews of Craig and Jack and photos and footage of Drake taking part in the treasure hunt.



The Isaac’s Point Coin

In this episode, Gary Drayton and Craig Tester discovered what appears to be an 18th Century copper coin, which Drayton suspects is either French or English. The treasure hunters discovered this artifact at Isaac’s Point- the easternmost peninsula of Oak Island possibly named after Isaac Butler, a servant of former Oak Island landowner Samuel Ball who inherited all of his master’s land after his death in 1846 (on the condition that he change his surname to Ball).

The C1 Anomalies

In this episode, a remote camera operation revealed the presence of three different items in the cavern at the bottom of the C1 shaft, all of which appear to be composed of metal chain or wire. These items include:

  • A chain-like anomaly on the cavern floor
  • A tangle of material akin to a woven mesh
  • A hook, a section of which protrudes from the cavern wall

A subsequent diving operation conducted by Mike Huntley confirmed that the objects in question are indeed metallic. Unfortunately, Huntley was unable to retrieve any of the material for analysis due to their strong adherence to the cavern wall.

The Rose Head Nail

This episode, Gary Drayton, with the assistance of Alex Lagina, Jack Begley, and Peter Fornetti, discovered an old, square-shanked, hand-forged rose head nail in the C1 dump pile, which Drayton estimated to be 17th or 18th Century. As Drayton explained in this episode, the first step in crafting a hand-forged nail was to form the shank, or spike. Atop the shank, the smith would affix a head. One type of head was a rose head, so named for the petal-like pattern the head would exhibit upon being hammered.


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Legends of the Nahanni Valley

Legends of the Nahanni Valley- Northern Canada’s Greatest Mystery

Now Available in the Mysteries of Canada Bookstore

We’re very excited to announce that Mysteries of Canada’s second-ever non-fiction book, entitled “Legends of the Nahanni Valley,” is finally available on Amazon and Kindle. This book is the first of its kind, focusing exclusively on the various stories and legends surrounding the watershed of the mysterious South Nahanni River, located in the southwest corner of the Northwest Territories.

If you’d like to purchase a copy of the book on Amazon, please click the links below:

For Americans

For Canadians

The following is a summary of the legends into which our book delves.

The Legends

“The Legend of the Headless Valley. It is… one of the few pieces of bona fide folklore that we have in Canada. I think you will agree that it is a pretty good legend, too, for it has something of almost everything in it.” – Pierre Berton, circa 1947.

Deep in the heart of the Canadian North, in the southernmost reaches of th­e Mackenzie Mountains, lies the valley of the South Nahanni River, a mysterious area shrouded in legend. Long before the first white explorers paddled their canoes into the country in search of fur, local Dene Indians gave the place a wide berth. These natives believed that the valley was an evil area pervaded by bad medicine- a malevolent, supernatural presence which hung over the place perpetually like its ever-present fog.

The Evil Spirit, Nakani, the Mongol Caves, and White Queen

Over the years, a number native hunters, spurred by bravery, foolishness, or desperation, wandered into the valley in search of game. The few who returned regaled their fellows with all manner of hair-raising tales. At night, while their compatriots crouched around the campfire, these survivors told of encounters with an evil spirit who haunted the valley, whose unearthly shrieks echoed throughout the canyons on windy nights. Others described a race of fearsome, hairy giants who dwelled in caves carved from the canyon walls. Led by a beautiful, pale-skinned chieftess, these primitive mountain men killed and ate anyone who trespassed on their territory.

The Naha Tribe

According to Dene tradition, in ancient times, the Nahanni Valley was inhabited by a nomadic, warlike tribe known as the Naha. The Naha were ferocious warriors who frequently descended from their mountain homes to raid Dene settlements in the lowlands surrounding the Liard and Mackenzie Rivers. After suffering a number of devastating incursions, a party of Dene braves took to the warpath, travelling into Nahanni country with the intention of pillaging a Naha camp. In time, the warriors came upon a scattering of teepees and prepared to attack. Upon rushing into the camp with their weapons at hand, however, the Dene discovered that their enemies were nowhere to be found. It was as if they had vanished into thin air. With all the campfire tales of evil spirits and giant cannibals swiftly recalled to mind, the Dene warriors fled the country, beating a fearful retreat back to the lowlands. They never saw the Naha again.

The Tropical Valley

In the early 1800’s, fur traders of the North West Company established Fort Liard and Fort of the Forks (the latter later renamed Fort Simpson), two trading posts situated on the Liard River upriver and downriver of the mouth of the South Nahanni, respectively. In the trading room and on the trail, these tough frontiersmen learned of the horrors of the Nahanni from their Dene clients. In 1823, two years after the North West Company amalgamated into the Hudson’s Bay Company, a valiant voyageur named John McLeod attempted to explore the remote valley, but did not make it far upriver on account of the rapids. He embarked upon a similar expedition the following year and met with similar results.

In the summer of 1897, word spread of a fabulous gold strike in the Klondike. In no time, men and women from all over the world were on their way to the northern diggings. These so-called ‘Stampeders’ approached the Yukon by a number of different trails. One of them was a gruelling ‘all-Canadian’ overland route which began in Edmonton, Alberta. Of the 766 Stampeders who attempted this treacherous trail, a handful opted to take an even more hazardous shortcut by way of the South Nahanni River. Although at least two of these men successfully reached their destination, many more disappeared in the misty valley long shunned by the natives.

In the aftermath of the Klondike Gold Rush, sourdoughs (as veterans of the Northland are sometimes referred to) who failed to strike it rich in the Yukon began to look elsewhere for gold. A number of these restless prospectors wandered into the Nahanni country and began to pan the myriad creeks which fed the South Nahanni and the Flat Rivers (the Flat being the South Nahanni’s primary tributary). Some who returned from these diggings filled northern trading posts and saloons with strange tales of a paradisiacal valley hidden away somewhere in the mountains of the Mackenzie. This valley, they maintained, was snow-free all year round, its tropical climate attributable to the hundreds of bubbling hot springs which ran through it. Cloaked by heavy fog, the valley’s soil was black and fertile, supporting a spectacular variety of lush and exotic greenery. This subarctic Eden was purportedly a hunter’s paradise; due to the excellent grazing conditions, it teemed with wild game. One prospector said that the moose, caribou, and mountain sheep that lived in this lost world were so well-fed as to appear “almost square from fat.”

Prehistoric Monsters

Hand in hand with tales of a tropical valley were stories of mammoths, mastodons, and other prehistoric monsters said to still roam the most desolate recesses of the Nahanni. Indian trappers and white prospectors alike claimed to have observed fresh tracks of these Pleistocene relicts in the snow or the soft clay of creek beds, and many frontiersmen returned from the wilderness bearing priceless ivory tusks with hair and flesh still adhered to the bone. Rumour had it that some hunters had even encountered the antediluvian beasts deep within Mackenzie country and lived to tell the tale.

The Lost McLeod Mine

In spite of all the dreadful stories of bad medicine, evil spirits, hairy giants, and prehistoric monsters, a handful of enterprising prospectors continued to try their luck in the Nahanni Valley in the hopes of discovering gold. Two such men were Willie and Frank McLeod, Metis brothers whose father Murdoch once served as Chief Factor at Fort Liard. Sometime in 1904 or 1905, the McLeod brothers, equipped with mining gear, disappeared up the South Nahanni and, according to some, further up the Flat River. They were never seen alive again.

Three years after the McLeod brothers’ departure, Willie and Frank’s younger brother Charlie, fearing the worst, mounted a search party. The ragtag band of trappers, aboriginals, and ex-Mounties he recruited headed up the South Nahanni, warily scanning the wooded shore for anything out of the ordinary. After several days of tracking, paddling, and poling their canoes upriver, Charlie and his crew made a grisly discovery. On a flat stretch of riverbank, known thereafter as Deadmen Valley, sprawled the decapitated remains of Willy and Frank McLeod. Their heads were nowhere to be found.

Word of the macabre find spread like wildfire throughout the Canadian North. Over steaming mugs of sweetened tea- a staple of the northern frontier- trappers and traders speculated as to the nature of the McLeod brothers’ gruesome fate. Had they been killed by one of the hairy, cave-dwelling giants of native lore? Had they been murdered by the Nahanni Indians- an elusive, mysterious tribe said to be fiercely protective of their hunting grounds? Perhaps they had been beheaded by a rival prospector or a trapper gone mad, his mind shattered by years of isolation in the bush.

Growing in conjunction with these conjectures were rumours that the Nahanni country was rich in gold, and that the McLeod brothers had made a massive strike on one of its creeks sometime prior to their untimely deaths. In no time, whispers of the Lost McLeod Mine- a subarctic El Dorado where gold nuggets the size of goose eggs littered the creek beds- rippled up and down the Mackenzie. One by one, veterans of the Fortymile, Klondike, Nome, and Fairbanks goldfields trickled into the Nahanni Valley, pans, picks, and whipsaws strapped to their dog sleds and canoes.

One of these prospectors lured by tales of lost gold was Martin Jorgenson, a Norwegian woodsman who entered Nahanni country in 1910. Five years later, his headless corpse was discovered about a mile above the mouth of the Flat River. Nearby stood the charred remains of his log cabin, which had mysteriously burned to the ground. Like the McLeod brothers, Jorgenson’s head was never found.

The Curse of the Nahanni Valley

In the wake of Jorgenson’s death, dozens of prospectors similarly met with bizarre ends in various reaches of the Nahanni Valley.  In the winter of 1922, for example, the body of a WWI veteran named John O’Brien was discovered on a mountainside not far from Deadmen Valley, hunched over a pile of tinder with a matchbook in his hand as if he had frozen to death while trying to light a fire. Legend has it that another man, an Ontario prospector named Ernest Savard, was found dead in his sleeping bag in 1945, his head severed from his shoulders. Other men who entered the country, like trappers Bill Epler and Joe Mulholland, simply vanished without a trace. Some sourdoughs saw these bizarre deaths and disappearances as affirmations of what they had long believed- that the Nahanni Valley is cursed, and that those who dare to search for its gold, or come close to finding it, invariably suffer some sort of ghastly fate.

The Waheela

As the year drew on, the remote wilds of the Nahanni began to appeal to geologists, naturalists, and other representatives of the scientific community. With the northern frontier ever shrinking under the onslaught of industrial exploration, these academics jumped at the opportunity to study this vast tract of virgin wilderness virtually unspoiled by man. Throughout the 1960’s, some of the scholarly professionals who entered the Nahanni returned from their expeditions with experiences they could not explain. The accounts of these academics, coupled with local anecdotes, gave rise to a new Nahanni legend.

According to these witnesses, the Nahanni Valley is home to an enormous, solitary, wolf-like creature eerily reminiscent of a monster of Inuit myth. Dubbed the “waheela,” this mysterious caniform is believed by some to be a relict Amphicyon– an ancient, carnivorous, bone-crushing mammal colloquially referred to as a “bear dog,” supposed to have gone extinct about eight million years ago. Others maintain the waheela’s physical description corresponds more closely with that of the dire wolf, a prehistoric relative of the modern day timber wolf. Whatever the case, some considered the waheela to be a likely suspect in the Nahanni’s many mysterious deaths and disappearances.

The Nuk-luk

Around the same time as the waheela encounters, various sightings of a short, hairy, half-naked “sub-human” were reported in the vicinities of Fort Liard, Nahanni Butte, and Fort Simpson, respectively. Clad in a moose skin loincloth, carrying a stone club, and sporting a long, dark beard, this creature was given the name “Nuk-luk” by the local Dene. Its diminutive stature notwithstanding, this creature sharply evoked the old tales of the hairy, cave-dwelling cannibals first told around Dene campfires so long ago.

The Curse of Oak Island: Drilling Down- Season 2, Episode 2: A Look Ahead

Well, it’s been an awesome season of The Curse of Oak Islandand we’ve thoroughly enjoyed covering it. This week’s episode of Oak Island: Drilling Down explores some of the findings made during this season, ties up a number of loose ends, and gives us an idea of where the Oak Island treasure hunt might be headed. Read on for a plot summary of this episode, and for a brief background of one of the groups referenced in it- the mysterious Knights Templar.

Plot Summary

This episode begins with a five minute recap of the various operations carried out by, and discoveries made by, the men of Oak Island Tours Inc. throughout Season 4. Following the summary, host Matty Blake meets with Rick and Marty Lagina, Craig Tester, and Charles Barkhouse at the Money Pit area. There, he asks the men of Oak Island Tours Inc. a series of questions regarding these operations and discoveries.

Money Pit

First, Blake confirms that Borehole Valley 3- Oak Island Tours Inc.’s first Money Pit shaft, which the Oak Island crew initially believed might have intersected the famous Chappell Vault– did, in fact, intersect a section of the Chappell Shaft, dug in 1931 by Chappells Ltd.

Next, Blake learns that, although nothing of interest was discovered at the bottom of Borehole C1- the shaft prescribed by Charles Barkhouse, at the bottom of which an underwater camera revealed the presence of a shiny, gold-coloured object- by diver John Chatterton, Oak Island Tours Inc. is not yet ready to abandon it.

In a narration, Blake reminds us that Oak Island Tours Inc.’s next Money Pit shaft, Borehole T1, produced a number of old oak logs carbon dated from 1655-1695, but reached bedrock before intersecting anything else of interest. The Oak Island crew’s fourth and final shaft, GAL1, produced a number of mysterious metal items, including hammered sheet metal, screws, nuts, washers, and a thick iron bracket, in addition to wooden timbers. When prompted by Blake, Marty speculates GAL1 might have “cut the corner of a searcher shaft, or maybe the corner of something ancient.” When asked whether or not he would like to continue excavations in the Money Pit area, he replies “if all the data, 100%, said ‘there’s nothing here’, then we’ve accomplished our goal. But… it doesn’t say that.”

The Swamp

Next, Blake shifts our attention towards the Oak Island swamp, where he meets with Rick Lagina, Charles Barkhouse, and Jack Begley. In a narration, he reminds us how the swamp yielded a 1652 Spanish 8 maravedis in Season 1, a long wooden plank in Season 4, and, most recently, an iron object akin to a railroad spike, which experts revealed to be a barotte nail from a Spanish galleon. Rick suggests that this evidence, coupled with the late Fred Nolan’s discoveries of a ship’s mast and scuppers in the swamp, all seem to point to the possibility that Oak Island’s swamp once housed a Spanish galleon. When prompted, all three treasure hunters affirm their desire to explore the swamp further.

Smith’s Cove

After that, Blake accompanies Craig Tester, Charles Barkhouse, Jack Begley, and Dan Henksee to Smith’s Cove, where the cofferdam Oak Island Tours Inc. erected there this past season is still in place. Tester explains that he is “90+ percent sure” that their excavation within the cofferdam verified the presence of a man-made French drain, which he believes feeds the Smith’s Cove flood tunnel which, in turn, leads to the Money Pit. Charles, Jack, and Dan all concur with Craig’s statement.

Borehole 10-X

Next, Blake meets with Dan and Dave Blankenship and Rick Lagina at Borehole 10-X. In a narration, he describes how Dan Blankenship discovered ancient chain at the bottom of the shaft in the early 1970’s, and how Oak Island Tours Inc. airlifted material from Borehole 10-X in Season 4, Episode 11. Dave describes how the spoils from the latest airlifting contained fragments of old wood and metal, which are currently being tested. He goes on to suggest that he and the team ought to “dry it up, and get down there, and see what is there,” an operation which Dan maintains is “very dangerous” due to the high risk of collapse. Upon being prompted, all three treasure hunters express their desire to solve the mystery of 10-X. Blake concludes the meeting by asking Dan Blankenship a final question: “Did you ever think that some fifty years later we would still have questions about this spot?” Blankenship laughs, and replies “No, I didn’t even think fifty years later I’d be livin’.”

Lot 24

Following that, Blake meets with Rick and Marty Lagina, Craig Tester, and Charles Barkhouse on Oak Island’s Lot 24, the site of the former residence of one-time Oak Island landowner Samuel Ball, and the location on which metal detection expert Gary Drayton, earlier that season, discovered 18th Century British coins, a piece of lead used for crafting musket balls, and an identifactory musket plate inscribed with the name “Ball”. The treasure hunters discuss how the items Drayton unearthed may indicate a military presence on Oak Island prior to the discovery of the Money Pit in 1795. Rick explains that this supposition is congruent with Fred Nolan’s theory that Oak Island’s treasure consists of booty acquired by the British following the Battle of Havana in 1762. Upon being prompted by Blake, Marty estimates that Gary Drayton has explored “10% of the island or less”, and affirms that the team intends to invite the treasure hunter back to the island for additional exploration.

Mari Vineyards

Following his various meetings with the members of Oak Island Tours Inc. on Oak Island, Matty Blake meets with Rick and Marty at Marty’s Tuscan-style winery, Mari Vineyards, located just north of Traverse City, Michigan. Marty briefly explains that the vineyard is something of an homage to his and Rick’s Italian heritage. The vineyard’s name derives from the maiden name of Rick and Marty’s grandmother, and owes its style to a cave their grandfather had chiseled out of solid granite near his home in Italy.

Before discussing Oak Island, Marty invites Blake to accompany him and Rick to the “coolest part” of the vineyard. The Lagina brothers lead Blake down a dark concrete hallway lined with oak casks and into dark a circular room. Marty asks Blake to stand on a particular section of floor. Blake obliges, saying, “you know you can’t kill me, right?” In response, a dilating mechanical iris situated directly above his head opens up, allowing sunlight to spill into the room. The camera man focuses on a stunned Matty Blake, his gaze towards the heavens and his palms upturned in stupefaction. The gathering sunlight gradually illuminates the place, revealing a giant compass rose painted on the floor; Blake is standing at the centre. The spectacle complete, Marty says, “this is what we affectionately call ‘The Occulus’,” to which Blake exclaims “You two are the two coolest people I’ve ever met in my life.”

Blake notes the Templar cross beneath his feet, situated at the centre of the compass rose. Although Marty neglects to disclose the reasons for the cross’ presence, Rick says, “to me… the Templars are a real mystery, just like Oak Island.” Blake, in a narration, then briefly describes how many Oak Island researchers believe that the treasure of Oak Island was interred by members of the Knights Templar following the suppression of their order in 1307. He reminds us of Rick Lagina, Charles Barkhouse, and Doug Crowell’s excursion to New Ross, Nova Scotia- where, some believe, lie the ruins of an ancient Templar fortress- in Season 4, Episode 1.


After visiting the winery, Blake meets with the Oak Island crew in what Marty refers to as ‘The War Room West’- one of the boardrooms of Rock Management Group Ltd., Marty and Craig’s exploration drilling company headquartered in Traverse City, Michigan. There, Blake inquires as to the carbon dating of the wood airlifted from 10-X. Craig Tester informs him that “the early date on [the wood] is from 1670-1780.” Rick expresses some interest in exploring the cavern at the bottom of Borehole 10-X with a new ultrasound-based downhole imaging technology called DarkVision, developed for use in oil and gas wells. Marty’s son, Alex Lagina, asks Rick if he is prepared to accept the results of a potential DarkVision operation, to which Rick responds “don’t be foolish- only if I see something.”

Blake asks if there is any more information the team can share regarding their discoveries this season. Rick explains that the testing of the mysterious metal pulled from GAL1 is currently underway, and that there are no results yet. Next, he discusses one of the two so-called ‘Templar maps’ introduced by New York-based Templar historian Zena Halpern in Season 1, Episode 1. He says that, using “the points of Nolan’s Cross [and] sacred geometry [geometric ratios and shapes ascribed with sacred significance],” a cypher on Halpern’s map has been interpreted to read “No Trap. There is a door.” Rick explains that this “door” appears to be the “hatch” which the crew investigated in Season 4, Episodes 2 and 5. Marty implies that they plan to excavate the hatch with an excavator.

Next, Rick explains that someone has “come forward with a singularly unique interpretation… and possible knowledge of” Oak Island’s legendary 90-foot stone. Alex ensures the team that he will follow up on this potential lead.

Having completed their discussion, Blake shows the team a video he put together documenting his various streetside interviews with Nova Scotians who live in the vicinity of Oak Island. Blake asked these Maritimers what they thought of Oak Island Tours Inc. and the Oak Island treasure hunt, and who, if anyone, they believed were responsible for Oak Island’s underground workings. Perhaps the most interesting part of the video is the section in which the interviewees put forth their theories regarding the nature of Oak Island’s original diggers. These candidates include pirates, privateers, the British military, the Vikings, and the Egyptians.

 After the video has finished playing, talk once again turns to the future. Marty reads a list of projects Rick hopes to eventually complete on Oak Island. These projects include:

  • An expansion of the Lot 24 search
  • Searching for Fred Nolan’s “log wall” in the swamp
  • Searching for the “hatch” indicated by Zena Halpern’s map
  • Preparing for a larger dig in the Money Pit area

Blake references a saying apparently once profered by Rick and Marty’s mother to the effect: “in order to solve a puzzle, you start at the four corners and move inward.” He asks them how many corners they have solved on Oak Island. Marty cryptically says “three” without offering further explanation.

Rick then recalls another phrase that he and Marty’s mother used to say: “sempre avanti“, which is Italian for “always forward”. He suggests that they all take this expression to heart. And with that, the meeting is ended.


The Templar Theory

One of the most intriguing theories regarding the Oak Island treasure is that it is the fabled treasure of the Knights Templar, a medieval Christian military Order which emerged in 1119 AD in the wake of the First Crusade.

The First Crusade was a massive campaign which began in 1096, when more than 60,000 Christian knights and peasant soldiers, referred to collectively as ‘Crusaders’, left Europe for the Holy Land in the hopes of liberating Jerusalem from Islamic control. After pushing through Anatolia (present-day Turkey) – which was, at the time, controlled by the Turkish Seljuk Sultanate- the Crusader armies marched down the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea to Jerusalem and laid siege to it in 1099. After nine days, the Crusaders assaulted the city and breached its walls before infamously massacring many of the residents within.

Following the Christian conquest of the Holy Land and the establishment of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, pilgrims from all over Christendom flocked to the Holy City and transformed it into a thriving metropolis. Along with the pilgrims, however, came gangs of bandits who killed and looted the hapless Christians along the popular route from the port city of Jaffa to Jerusalem. In order to protect the pilgrims from these bandits, a monastic military Order of monk-knights known as the Knights Hospitaller was established in 1099.

Twenty years later, a French knight named Hugues de Payens, following the example of the Knights Hospitaller, gathered together eight knights to whom he was related and formed a similar Order. Like the Knights Hospitaller, these nine knights took monastic vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, and were determined to protect pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem. They called themselves the Poor Fellow Soldiers of Jesus Christ. Initially, these nine monk-knights were indeed very poor. According to legend, Hugues de Payens and Godfrey de Saint-Omer, another of the nine, were so poor that they had to share a horse. Because of this, the seal the Order eventually adopted depicted two men riding a single horse.

The nine knights travelled to Jerusalem, where they sought the blessing of the city’s King Baldwin II. Baldwin granted the Poor Fellow Soldiers permission to take up residence on the Temple Mount, in the Al-Aqsa Mosque. According to tradition, the Al-Aqsa Mosque, considered by Muslims to be the third holiest Islamic site, was the location on which Solomon’s Temple had once stood. Because of this, the Poor Fellow Soldiers of Jesus Christ earned themselves a new name: the Knights of the Temple, or the Knights Templar.

For the first nine years of their existence, little was heard of the mysterious Templars, as the members of the Knights Templar were known. According to popular legend, the original knights began to excavate the foundations of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and discovered the ruins of the ancient Solomon’s Temple beneath it. After exploring the Temple ruins for some time, they came upon a secret chamber which held a treasure of incalculable value. Some say that the treasure included the Ark of the Covenant, the chest holding the tablets on which Moses inscribed the 10 Commandments. Others say it included the Menorah, the seven-armed lampstand of pure gold used to illuminate the Holy of Holies in the Temple of Solomon.

One of the original nine Templars, a Burgundian knight named Andre de Montbard, was the uncle of a prominent French abbot named Bernard of Clairvaux. Bernard championed the then-unpopular notion of a monastic knight and wrote glowingly of his uncle’s Order to Rome. Due to Bernard’s patronage, the Templars quickly rose from obscurity. They made a name for themselves in Europe, were officially endorsed as a charity by the Church, and began to receive a flood of donations and new recruits. By the late 1120s, the Order of the Knights Templar was well established, and growing rapidly.

In the late 1120’s, Turkish armies recaptured the cities of Aleppo and Edessa. A number of prominent clergymen, including Bernard of Clairvaux, supported the idea of a new crusade to take back the cities. By 1147, the Second Crusade against the Seljuk Turks was underway.

During the Second Crusade and the subsequent Ayyubid-Crusader War, the Knights Templar earned a ferocious reputation as a fighting force. According to British historian Desmond Seward, the Templars quickly grew to become “the first properly disciplined and officered troops in the West since Roman times.” The heavily armoured Templar knights- who wore white surcoats emblazoned with red crosses, symbolizing their vocation to martyrdom- were often employed as shock troops against enemy forces. In these instances, a small squadron of Templars mounted on heavily armoured warhorses would smash into enemy lines at full speed, creating a hole which the Crusader armies could take advantage of. The combination of elite training, heavy armour, brilliant battle tactics and religious fervour made the Templars one of the most feared Christian forces of the Crusades. One of the rules of engagement the Templars famously abided by was to never retreat from or surrender during battle. Because of this, they often, by necessity, won victories against much larger forces.

Although the Knights Templar were initially established to serve a martial purpose, they soon outgrew its original function. Using the Crusader castles donated to them by European monarchs, the Knights Templar established the world’s first banks. Knights, nobles and pilgrims who wished to travel to the Holy Land would entrust their wealth with the Templars. The Templars would, in turn, safeguard the wealth in their strongholds until their clients’ return, giving their clients letters of credit which they could deposit at other Templar strongholds on the road to Jerusalem in exchange for money. Although, being a monastic order, they could not charge interest on the treasures they safeguarded, they could charge rent for the space the treasure occupied. The Knights Templar also earned revenue from landowning, farming, managing vineyards, and importing and exporting, all the while still receiving donations from Europe. In no time, the Poor Fellow Soldiers of Jesus Christ were extraordinarily wealthy, although individual
members were forbidden from personally owning any of the Order’s wealth.

Throughout this time, ancient holy cities were constantly being taken and retaken by various Crusader and Jihadi armies. Treasure was constantly switching hands. According to legend, during this time, the Knights Templar came into the possession of a number of priceless religious treasures. One supposed treasure was the Holy Grail, the Holy Chalice used at the Last Supper in which, according to legend, Joseph of Arimathea caught Christ’s blood following the Crucifixion. Other treasures believed to have been acquired by the Knights Templar include the Holy Lance (the spear used by the Roman centurion Longinus to pierce the side of Jesus during the Crucifixion) and the Shroud of Turin (the linen cloth believed by some to be Jesus’ burial shroud).

On July 4, 1187, a battle was fought at the so-called Horns of Hattin between Crusader armies, including the Knights Templar, and an army of the Egyptian Ayyubid Sultanate commanded by Sultan Salah ad-Din (also known as Saladin). Due to some poor tactical decisions, the Crusader army was drawn out onto an arid plateau and cut off from natural water sources. When the Crusaders were overwhelmed by thirst, the Muslim army attacked and utterly destroyed them. It was one of the most crushing defeats the Christian armies ever suffered during the Crusades. In the aftermath of this decisive battle, Salah ad-Din’s army swept through the Holy Land and captured a number of Crusader cities, including Jerusalem.

This Islamic conquest sparked the Third Crusade, in which King Philip II of France, King Richard I of England (also known as Richard the Lionheart) and the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick I of Germany and Italy (also known as Frederick Barbarossa) led massive armies from Europe to the Holy Land. En route, the legendary 68-year-old Frederick Barbarossa drowned while trying to swim across the Saleph (now known as the Gosku) River in Anatolia, and his huge army immediately turned back. The French and English armies, however, continued on and retook a number of Palestinian cities. At the end of the Third Crusade, Jerusalem remained in Muslim hands. As a result, the Knights Templar- along with the other religious military orders the Knights Hospitaller and the Teutonic Order- set up their new headquarters in the freshly-recaptured city of Acre. Throughout the following century, their influence and wealth grew.

In 1291, an Egyptian Mamluk army under the command of Sultan Al-Ashraf Khalil laid siege to Acre. By Friday 18, 1291, all of the city save for the huge Templar Fortress had been captured by the Mamluk army. Al-Ashraf Khalil agreed to allow the remaining Templars safe passage to the nearby island of Cyprus, and sent in a force to oversee the evacuation. This force was promptly massacred by the Templars. That night, the Templar commander, along with a handful of hand-picked knights, fled to the docks by way of a secret underground tunnel (rediscovered in 1994) along with the fabled Templar treasure. These knights shipped the treasure to Cyprus, where the Knights Templar would later establish its new headquarters. According to legend, some of the most valuable artifacts from this treasury were later shipped to France. The following morning, the captain of the Templar Fortress, along with a small guard, rode into the Mamluk camp to discuss terms. The captain and his men were immediately executed in retaliation for the massacre perpetrated the night before. The remaining Templar knights and men-at-arms put up a last stand, which culminated in the destruction of the Templar Fortress. In the end, all of the Acre Templars were killed. This Muslim capture of Acre sounded the death knell of the Christian occupation of the Levant and was the beginning of the end of the Crusades.

During the late 13th Century, tensions grew between the Knights Templar and the French King Philip IV, also known as Philip the Fair. King Philip was deeply indebted to the Templars, having borrowed from them heavily in order to finance his war with England. He also feared that the Templars were too powerful, and that they might establish a monastic state in Languedoc, a region in southern France in which they had a strong presence. Secretly, Philip plotted to disband the Knights Templar, which had somewhat fallen from grace since the Muslim re-conquest of the Holy Land, and appropriate their enormous wealth.

In 1305, an ousted Templar knight accused his former Order of criminal activity. Although most agreed that the accusations were false, Philip took advantage of them and pressured the Pope to investigate them. At that time, the Catholic Church was headed by Pope Clement V- a French-born pontiff who, by many accounts, was a weak Pope who allowed himself to be easily manipulated by the powerful French monarch. Pope Clement V’s apparent willingness to bend to the will of the French king might be attributed, at least in part in part, to the fate of his predecessor, Pope Boniface VIII; in the fall of 1303, Pope Boniface was beaten within an inch of his life by members of a French- Italian embassy on the orders of King Philip, who disagreed with the Pope’s decree that Church property be exempt from taxation. Shortly thereafter, he came down with a fever, and little more than a month later he died.

On the dawn of Friday, October 13, 1307- a date which some have linked with Western superstition that Friday 13 is an unlucky day- French soldiers rounded up a large number of French Templars, including the Order’s leader, 70 year-old Grand Master Jacques de Molay, and seized the Templar assets in France. The knights were immediately thrown into prison cells and accused of all sorts of blasphemy, from spitting on the cross during initiation rites to idol worship- charges which many of the accused, including the Grand Master, confessed to under torture.

According to legend, a number of Templars had been forewarned of the French conspiracy against them. These men, in the early autumn of 1307, gathered together a number of important Templar treasures, which had been secreted away in various Templar strongholds in France, and brought them to the French port city of La Rochelle. When the Templars were rounded up by French authorities on October 13, 1307, several Templar galleys laden with this treasure left the port and were never seen again.

The October 13 arrests, and the confessions extracted from the Templar knights under torture, took the whole of Europe completely by surprise. In an effort to legitimize his actions, King Philip IV of France aggressively appealed to Pope Clement, and on November 22, 1307, the Pope issued a Papal Bull instructing all European Christian monarchs to similarly arrest and try the Knights Templar in their respective countries on threat of excommunication. Although most Christian kings were doubtful of the charges laid against the Templars, England, the Holy Roman Empire (Germany and Italy), the Spanish kingdoms of Aragon and Castile, and the Crusader kingdom of Cyprus (where the last headquarters of the Knights Templar was located) acceded to the Pope’s demands.

In the fall of 1307, Templar knights were rounded up all over Europe and imprisoned in castle dungeons. Templar lands and assets were confiscated. Inquisition trials were held. While under torture, some of the incarcerated knights confessed to committing all sorts of bizarre blasphemies. Although most later recanted their confessions, scores of Templars were convicted of heresy and burnt at the stake. Among those condemned to death was Grand Master Jacques de Molay, who was burned alive in a Paris square on March 18, 1314. Before he was executed, de Molay asked that his captors bind his hands as though in prayer and tie him to the stake so that he could face Notre Dame Cathedral.

Following the Templar trials, in 1309 Pope Clement V absolved Grand Master Jacques de Molay, along with the rest of the Templar leadership, of the charges brought against them. After restoring the good name of the Knights Templar, in 1312 Pope Clement V dissolved the Order and granted its assets not to King Philip, but rather to the Knights Hospitaller. And thus, the Poor Fellow Soldiers of Jesus Christ were no more.

To read about the treasures many believe the Knights Templar buried on Oak Island, and the evidence cited by proponents of the Knights Templar/Oak Island theory, check out our book Oak Island.


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The Curse of Oak Island- Season 4 Finale: Blood is Thicker

Wow! What a way to end the season! Read on for a Plot Summary of the Season 4 Finale of the History Channel’s TV series The Curse of Oak Island. Although I could have included an Analysis at the end of this article as I usually do, speculating as to the nature of the mysterious discoveries made in this episode, I imagine many of our questions will be answered in The Curse of Oak Island: Drilling Down episode scheduled to air next week. See you then!

Plot Summary

The episode begins at the Money Pit, where the men of Oak Island Tours Inc. are sinking a fourth shaft, dubbed GAL1 (George and Anne Lagina #1) in honour of Rick and Marty’s late parents. Craig Tester, upon observing the hand-hewn wooden timbers being extracted from the shaft, expresses his belief to Rick Lagina that they might have intersected a searcher tunnel constructed in 1861 by the Oak Island Association, which connected the ‘Oak Island Association Shaft #2’ with the Money Pit, located 18 feet to the east.

oak island money pit map

Meanwhile, on Oak Island’s Lot 18, Marty Lagina, Charles Barkhouse, and metal detection expert Gary Drayton sift through the debris brought up from GAL1 with a metal detector. In time, Drayton discovers what he believes to be an iron sailing cloth needle, used for sewing canvas sails. Shortly thereafter, he discovers a gold-plated military officer’s button. The narrator reminds us that this find is congruent with Oak Island Tours Inc.’s discoveries in Season 4, Episode 8, which included a dandy button, a lead ingot used for making musket balls, an identificatory plate from a musket, and six copper coins bearing the image of King George II of Great Britain- items suggesting that Oak Island’s subterranean anomalies are the work of 18th Century British military men.

Later that day, the Oak Island crew is visited by sisters Jean and Joan McGinnis, descendants of Daniel McGinnis, one of the three co-discoverers of the Money Pit. This is not the McGinnis sisters’ first Oak Island adventure; in Season 3, Episode 13, Jean and Joan, along with their late sister Joyce, paid a visit to the island, where they presented the Oak Island team with a small gold cross allegedly discovered by Daniel McGinnis in the Money Pit more than 200 years ago.

Jean and Joan have come to Oak Island to honour the memory of their late sister Joyce. Rick Lagina, Dave Blankenship, and Jack Begley accompany the sisters to the foundations of the old McGinnis home on the western end of Oak Island. There, beneath one of the foundations stones, they inter a bauble of colourful blown glass crafted from Joyce’s ashes.

Later, the party heads to the Oak Island Visitor’s Centre, where art and antiquities expert Dr. Lori Verderame examines the McGinnis sisters’ gold cross. After careful scrutiny, Dr. Verderame concludes that the cross is composed of high quality (22-24 carat) rose gold, and was likely cast in the Spanish West Indies sometime between 1550 and 1700. She also states that the purpose of the cross’s many holes was to house emeralds. The narrator follows up on this revelation by summarizing the theory that Oak Island’s underground workings are attributable to the crew of a Spanish treasure galleon, and that the Oak Island treasure consists of silver, gold, precious stones, and other New World riches.

Next, Rick Lagina, Dave Blankenship, and Charles Barkhouse ask Dr. Verderame to appraise additional historical artifacts they have unearthed on Oak Island. Verderame quickly concludes that the identifactory musket plate discovered in Season 4, Episode 8 is inscribed with the name ‘Ball’, indicating that it likely belonged to Samuel Ball, the one-time Oak Island resident and Revolutionary War veteran on whose property the item was discovered. Verderame also examines the railroad spike-like object Gary Drayton discovered in the Oak Island swamp in Season 4, Episode 7, which Drayton claimed to be a nail from the deck of a wooden sailing ship. Dr. Verderame claims that she will need to examine this object more closely before she can accurately speculate as to its nature.

The following day, Marty Lagina and Craig Tester meet with contractor Andrew Folkins of Irving Equipment Ltd. at the Money Pit site. Folkins informs the two treasure hunters that Borehole GAL1 has been excavated to a depth of 151 feet, and that it has, thus far, encountered nothing of interest aside from a handful of wood fragments.

On Oak Island’s Lot 18, Dave Blankenship, Jack Begley, and Gary Drayton examine more of the spoils from GAL1. After searching for some time, they discover a piece of hammered metal sheet bearing a small square hole.

Back at the Money Pit area, Marty Lagina and Craig Tester watch as the men of Irving Equipment Ltd. bring up load after load from Borehole GAL1. As Rick Lagina joins the men, the hammergrab being used to excavate the shaft emerges from the caisson with large wooden timbers in its jaws. A subsequent hammergrab scoop reveals more of the same. However, the timbers from this second scoop appear to be coated in a viscous black substance which Marty suggests is resin or pine tar.

Shortly after Dave Blankenship joins the crew, the hammergrab emerges from the caisson with a sizable sheet of hammered metal. Every crew member present is dumbfounded by this strange new discovery. Craig Tester suggests that perhaps the metal- which was brought up from a depth of 154 feet- is a remnant of a protective cover used in conjunction with the Onslow or Truro Company’s cast iron steam-powered pumps. Veteran treasure hunter Dave Blankenship states that the metal scrap”has no business being down there that I know of.”

The next load from GAL1 contains similar metal scraps. It also contains a piece of charcoal, one of the items allegedly discovered in the original Money Pit by the Onslow Company in 1804, along with coconut fibre, clay putty, and beach stones. The narrator reminds us that, over the years, some Oak Island researchers have postulated that the charcoal discovered in the Money Pit are relics of a subterranean furnace which the original excavators used to draw fresh air into the shaft.

Upon hearing of the new discoveries, Marty Lagina joins the crew. He examines the metal scraps, and theorizes that they might comprise the impenetrable iron object encountered at a depth of 171 feet (161 feet today, as a result of Robert Dunfield’s heavy duty operations in the late 1960’s) by the Oak Island Treasure Company in 1897.

As members of Oak Island Tours Inc. speculate as to the nature of the mysterious metal sheets, Andrew Folkins informs them that the GAL1 caisson has encountered an impenetrable substance and is no longer advancing into the earth. After some deliberation, the crew agrees that they ought to attempt to break up the impenetrable substance with a 4-ton chisel bit, and then excavate the broken rubble with the hammergrab.

While the crew waits for Irving Equipment Ltd. to perform the chisel bit operation, Rick Lagina, Jack Begley, Charles Barkhouse, and Dan Blankenship meet with Dr. Lori Verderame at Blankenship’s Oak Island residence. There, Dr. Verderame informs the men the spike discovered by Gary Drayton in the Oak Island swamp is, as Drayton predicted, a wrought iron barrote nail of the type commonly used in the construction of Spanish galleon decks. She dates the artifact to between 1575 and 1600.

Back at the Money Pit, Marty Lagina and Craig Tester watch as the men of Irving Equipment Ltd. prepare to continue excavating GAL1 with a smaller hammergrab. The narrator informs us that the chisel bit operation sufficiently loosened the earth below the 154-foot level to allow it to be excavated with a smaller hammergrab, but that the caisson will still not advance any deeper.

The first load brought up from GAL1 with the smaller hammergrab contains a thick, bent, perforated steel rectangle which Craig Tester believes to be a “corner plate”. This load also contains a large rusted steel washer which is congruent with the corner plate’s perforations. Additional loads from GAL1 contain primitive-looking steel nuts, screws, and other interesting metal objects.

Suddenly, during a retrieval operation, the hammergrab snags on some sort of underground obstacle. After some maneuvering by crane operator Michel Ouellette, the hammergrab breaks free and is winched to the surface. Loathe to damage the hammergrab or further jeopardize the structural integrity of the underground object they seem to have discovered, the Oak Island team decides to wrap up operations in Borehole GAL1.

Three days later, the Oak Island crew congregates at the War Room. There, they contact Dr. Lori Verderame via Skype. Verderame informs the team that the button discovered in GAL1 is, indeed, a gold-plated button which bears the characteristics of British military officer buttons used between 1775 and 1815. She goes on to claim that the bent, perforated steel rectangle brought up from GAL1 is a decorative bracket “used to actually attach the metal or wooden sides of treasure chests”. She maintains that the nature of this artifact- dated from 1650-1800-, along with other pieces of metal brought up from GAL1, seems to imply that the men who buried treasure on Oak Island used recycled ship materials to construct their treasure chest. The team thanks Dr. Verderame for her work and ends the call.

After the call, the men of Oak Island Tours Inc., cognizant of the rapid approach of winter and the end of another season on Oak Island, discuss what they would like to accomplish in the future. Rick proposes that the team conduct a rigorous metallurgical analyses of the metal brought up from GAL1- a proposal to which Marty agrees wholeheartedly. Craig Tester then expresses his desire to further explore the Oak Island swamp- an endeavor which Marty is less keen on pursuing, but which both Rick and Charles support. Jack Begley then maintains that he would like to continue excavations on Smith’s Cove in light of their recent discoveries there.

Marty Lagina commends the team on their incredible discoveries this season, and asks whether or not they think it is “prudent to continue”. Dan Blankenship advises the team to spend the winter contemplating that question, and recommends that they “take sufficient time to analyze the pros and cons” before making a decision. Marty, Craig, and Rick agree to consider Blankenship’s advice, while Charles and Dan passionately implore their fellow team members to not give up the search. In the end, the team agrees to “adjourn for the season and contemplate what comes next.” With that, the season is ended.


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