Oak Island

Oak Island is a 140 acre (57 ha) island in Lunenburg County on the south shore of Nova Scotia, Canada. The tree-covered island is one of about 360 small islands in Mahone Bay and rises to a maximum of 35 feet (11 m) above sea level. Located 200 metres from shore and connected to the mainland by a modern causeway, the island is privately owned, and advance permission is required for any visitation.

Oak Island is noted as the location of the so-called Money Pit and the site of over 200 years of treasure hunting.[1] Repeated excavations have reported layers of apparently man-made artifacts as deep as 31 m (102 ft), but ended in collapsed excavations and flooding. Critics argue that there is no treasure and that the pit is a natural phenomenon, likely a sinkhole.[2]

Coordinates: 44°31′00″N 64°17′57″W


History of the Money Pit

Early accounts

There are many 19th-century accounts of Oak Island, but some are conflicting and/or are not impartial.[2] Further, physical evidence from the initial excavations is absent or has been lost. A basic summary of the history of the pit is as follows:

In 1795, 18-year-old Daniel McGinnis, after observing lights coming from the island, discovered a circular depression in a clearing on the southeastern end of the island. Adjacent to the clearing was a tree with a tackle block on one of its overhanging branches.[3] Daniel McGinnis, with the help of friends John Smith (in early accounts, Samuel Ball) and Anthony Vaughan, excavated the depression and discovered a layer of flagstones a few feet below. On the pit walls there were visible markings from a pick. As they dug down they discovered layers of logs at about every 10 ft (3 m). They abandoned the excavation at 30 ft (9.1 m).[3]

This initial discovery and excavation was first briefly mentioned in print in the ''Liverpool Transcript'' in October 1856. A more complete account followed, again in the ''Liverpool Transcript''[3][4], the ''Novascotian''[5][6], ''British Colonist''[7] and ''A History Of Lunenburg County''[8] (the last source based on the ''Liverpool Transcript'' articles).

About eight years after the 1795 dig, according to the original articles and the memories of Vaughan, another company examined what was to become known as the "Money Pit." The Onslow Company sailed 300 nautical miles (560 km) from central Nova Scotia near Truro to Oak Island with the goal of recovering what they believed to be secret treasure. They continued the excavation down to approximately 90 feet (27.43 m) and found layers of logs or "marks" about every ten feet (3 m) and layers of charcoal, putty and coconut fibre at 40, 50 and 60 feet (12, 15 and 18 m).

According to one of the earliest written accounts, at 80-90 ft (24-27 m), they recovered a large stone bearing an inscription of symbols.[4] Several researchers apparently attempted to decipher the symbols. One translated them as saying: "forty feet below, two million pounds lie buried. "The symbols currently associated with the "forty feet down…" translation and seen in many books first appeared in ''True Tales of Buried Treasure'', written by explorer and historian Edward Rowe Snow in 1951. In this book he states he was given this set of symbols by Reverend A.T. Kempton of Cambridge, Massachusetts.[9] Nothing more is known about Kempton's involvement in the Oak Island tale. The pit subsequently flooded up to the 33 ft (10 m) level. Bailing did not reduce the water level, and the excavation was abandoned.

Investors formed The Truro Company in 1849, which re-excavated the shaft back down to the 86 ft (26 m) level, where it flooded again. They then drilled into the ground below the bottom of the shaft. According to the nineteenth-century account, the drill or "pod auger" passed through a spruce platform at 98 ft (30 m), a 12 in (300 mm) head space, 22 in (560 mm) of what was described as "metal in pieces", 8 in (200 mm) of oak, another 22 in (560 mm) of metal, 4 in (100 mm) of oak, another spruce layer, and finally into clay for 7 ft (2.1 m) without striking anything else.[4]

Oak Island Association and Old Gold Salvage group

The next excavation attempt was made in 1861 by a new company called the Oak Island Association which resulted in the collapse of the bottom of the shaft into either a natural cavern or booby trap underneath. The first fatality during excavations occurred when the boiler of a pumping engine burst.[10] (Six people have been killed in accidents during various excavations.) The company gave up when their funds were exhausted in 1864.

Further excavations were made in 1866, 1893, 1909, 1931, 1935, 1936, and 1959, none of which was successful. Excavators did however pour red paint into the flooded pit which revealed three separate exit holes around the island. Another fatality occurred on March 26th 1897, when Maynard Kaiser, a worker, fell to his death.[10] Franklin Roosevelt was part of the Old Gold Salvage group of 1909 and kept up with news and developments for most of his life.

Gilbert Hedden and William Chappell

In 1928, a New York newspaper printed a feature story about the strange history of the island. Gilbert Hedden, operator of a steel fabricating concern, saw the article and was fascinated by the engineering problems involved in recovering the putative treasure. Hedden collected books and articles on the island and made six trips there. He even ventured to England to converse with Harold Tom Wilkins, the author of ''Captain Kidd and His Skeleton Island'', believing he had found a link between Oak Island and a map in Wilkins's book.[11]

Hedden purchased the southeast end of the island. He began digging in the summer of 1935, following excavations by William Chappell in 1931. In 1939, he even informed King George VI about developments on Oak Island.

The 1931 excavations by William Chappell sank a 163 ft (50 m) shaft 12×14 feet to the southwest of what he believed was the site of the 1897 shaft, close to the original pit. At 127 ft (39 m), a number of artifacts, including an axe, an anchor fluke, and a pick were found. The pick has been identified as a Cornish miner's poll pick. By this time, the entire area around the Money Pit was littered with the debris and refuse of numerous prior excavation attempts. So, exactly to whom the pick belonged is unverifiable.

Restall family and Robert Dunfield

Excavation by the Restall family in the early 1960s ended tragically when four men died after being overcome by fumes in a shaft near the beach. In 1965, Robert Dunfield leased the island and, using a 70-ton digging crane with a clam bucket, dug out the pit area to a depth of 134 ft (41 m) and width of 100 ft (30 m). The removed soil was carefully inspected for artifacts. Transportation of the crane to the island required the construction of a causeway (which still exists) from the western end of the island to Crandall's Point on the mainland two hundred metres away.[10]

Triton Alliance

Around 1967, Daniel C. Blankenship and David Tobias formed Triton Alliance, Ltd. and purchased most of the island. In 1971, Triton workers excavated a 235 foot shaft supported by a steel caisson to bedrock. According to Blankenship and Tobias, cameras lowered down the shaft into a cave below recorded the presence of some chests, human remains, wooden cribbing and tools; however, the images were unclear, and none of these claims have been independently confirmed. The shaft subsequently collapsed, and the excavation was again abandoned. This shaft was later successfully re-dug to 181 ft (55 m), reaching bedrock; work was halted because of lack of funds and the collapse of the partnership.[12]

In the mid 1960s, an account of an excavation of the "Money Pit" appeared in ''Reader's Digest'' magazine.[13] Over a decade later, the Money Pit mystery was the subject of an episode of the television series ''In Search of…'', which first aired January 18, 1979, bringing the legend of Oak Island to a wider audience.

During the 1990s, further exploration was stalled because of legal battles between the Triton partners. As of 2005, a portion of the island was for sale for an estimated US$7 million. A group called the Oak Island Tourism Society had hoped the Government of Canada would purchase the island, but a group of American businessmen in the drilling industry did so instead.[1]

Oak Island Tours Inc.

It was announced in April 2006 that partners from Michigan had purchased a 50% stake in Oak Island Tours Inc., for an undisclosed amount of money. The shares sold to the Michigan partners were previously owned by David Tobias; remaining shares are owned by Blankenship. Center Road Developments, in conjunction with Allan Kostrzewa, a member of the Michigan group, had purchased Lot 25 from David Tobias for a reported $230,000 one year previous to Tobias selling the rest of his share. The Michigan group, working with Blankenship, has said it will resume operations on Oak Island in the hope of discovering buried treasure and the mystery of Oak Island.

In July 2010, Blankenship and the other stakeholders in Oak Island Tours Inc. announced on their website that the Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources/Tourism, Culture and Heritage had granted them a temporary Treasure Trove License, allowing them to resume activities until December 31, 2010.[14] After December 2010, the department repealed the former Treasure Trove Act and replaced it with a new "Oak Island Act".[15] The new Oak Island Treasure Act came into effect as of January 1, 2011 and allows for treasure hunting to continue on the island under the terms of a licence issued by the Minister of Natural Resources.

Treasure theories

There has been wide-ranging speculation amongst enthusiasts as to who originally dug the pit and what it might contain. Later accounts say that oak platforms were discovered every 10 ft (3 m)[16], but the earliest accounts simply say that "marks" of some type were found at these places.[16] They also say there were "tool marks" or pick scrapes on the walls of the money pit and that the dirt was noticeably loose and not as hard packed as the surrounding soil.[16] One expedition said they found the flood tunnel at 90 feet, and that it was lined with flat stones.[16] However, Robert Dunfield (a trained geologist) wrote that he carefully examined the walls of the re-excavated pit and was unable to locate any evidence of this tunnel.[16]

The cipher stone, which one researcher is said to have translated to read "Forty feet below two million pounds is buried"[17], was allegedly last seen in the early 20th century (exact dates are a topic of controversy). Some accounts state that Smith used it as a fireback in his fireplace[16], while others claim it was last seen as a doorstep in a Halifax bookbinder's shop.[16] The accuracy of the translation, whether the symbols as commonly depicted are accurate, or if they meant anything at all, remains disputed. Barry Fell, the author of the controversial[18][19] books ''America B.C.'' and ''Saga America'', was sent a copy of the inscription by the chief archivist of the Nova Scotia Archives in the late 1970s. Fell, whose publications consisted largely of alleged translations of inscriptions on stones found elsewhere in North America, concluded that the symbols were similar to the Coptic alphabet and when translated implied that the people needed to remember their God or else they would perish.[20]

Man-made structures under Oak Island do in fact exist as discussed in many books, including a book written by Lee Lamb, daughter of Robert Restall.[21] Whether these structures were constructed by people hiding a treasure, or are the remains of prior excavation attempts, is unknown.

Pirate treasure

One theory is that the pit holds a pirate treasure hoard buried by Captain Kidd or possibly Edward Teach (Blackbeard), who claimed he buried his treasure "where none but Satan and myself can find it."[17] Some also hold to the theory that Kidd conspired with Henry Every and Oak Island was used as a pseudo community bank between the two.

Naval treasure

Another theory proposes it was dug to hold treasure but that this was done by someone other than pirates, such as Spanish sailors from a wrecked galleon or British troops during the American Revolution. John Godwin argued that, given the apparent size and complexity of the pit, it was likely dug by French army engineers hoping to hide the contents of the treasury of the Fortress of Louisbourg after it fell to the British during the Seven Years' War.[22]

Marie Antoinette's jewels

There is a story that, like most others regarding the island, lacks adequate archival sources, or any quoted sources at all, which places the priceless jewels of Marie Antoinette (which are historically missing, save for some specimens in the collections of museums worldwide) on Oak Island. During the French Revolution, when the Palace of Versailles was stormed by revolutionaries in 1789, Marie Antoinette instructed her maid or a lady-in-waiting to take her prized possessions and flee. Supposedly, this maid fled to London with such royal items as Antoinette's jewels and perhaps other treasures, such as important artwork or documents, secreted away either on her person (one variation suggests sewn into her underskirts in the case of the jewels, though fails to mention artwork) or as her luggage; it is even said she was perhaps assisted by the remaining officers of the French navy during the uprising at the queen's behest.

The story then goes on to say that this woman fled further afield from London to Nova Scotia. Through the royal connections she would have had during her service to the queen at Versailles, she managed to contract the French navy to help construct the famed 'pit' on the island. This theory (as noted) lacks recognized documentation other than that which is folkloric in nature, involves the French navy, which (during the Revolution) had an uncertain level of authority, and would place the construction of the Oak Island structure very close to its initial discovery by Daniel McGinnis in 1795. Whether such a complex engineering effort could have been completed in that small space of time is questionable, though no official date of its construction exists. However, other theories do suggest the structure is French and naval in style.

Exotic treasure

Still others have speculated that the Oak Island pit was dug to hold treasure much more exotic than gold or silver. In his 1953 book, ''The Oak Island Enigma: A History and Inquiry Into the Origin of the Money Pit'', Penn Leary believed that English philosopher Francis Bacon used the pit to hide documents proving him to be the author of William Shakespeare's plays.[23] Author and researcher Mark Finnan[24] elaborated upon this theory. The theory was also used in the Norwegian book ''Organisten'' (''The Organ Player'') by Erlend Loe and Petter Amundsen.[25] It has also been asserted that the pit may have been dug by exiled Knights Templar and that it is the last resting place of the Holy Grail or even the holy Ark of the Covenant.[26]


Mark Finnan in his book ''Oak Island Secrets''[27] noted that many Masonic markings were found on Oak Island and pointed out that the shaft or pit and its mysterious contents seemed to replicate aspects of a Masonic initiation rite involving a hidden vault containing a sacred treasure. Joe Nickell identifies parallels between the accounts of Oak Island and the allegory of the "Secret Vault" in York Rite Freemasonry, similar to the Chase Vault, identifies many prominent excavators as Freemasons, and suggests that the accounts explicitly include Masonic imagery.[2]

Natural sinkhole theory

Critics argue that there is no treasure and that the apparent pit is a natural phenomenon, likely a sinkhole and natural caverns.[2] Suggestions that the pit is a natural phenomenon, specifically a sinkhole or debris in a fault, date to at least 1911.[28][29][30][31] There are numerous sinkholes on the mainland near the island, together with underground caves (to which the apparent booby traps are attributed).

The appearance of a man-made pit has been attributed partly to the texture of sinkholes: "this filling would be softer than the surrounding ground, and give the impression that it had been dug up before"[31], and the appearance of "platforms" of rotten logs has been attributed to trees or "blowdowns" falling or washing into the depression.[32] An undetermined pit similar to the description of the early Money Pit had been discovered in the area. In 1949, workmen digging a well on the shore of Mahone Bay, at a point where the earth was soft, found a pit of the following description: "At about two feet down a layer of fieldstone was struck. Then logs of spruce and oak were unearthed at irregular intervals, and some of the wood was charred. The immediate suspicion was that another Money Pit had been found."[33]

Pit flooding issues

In 1851, treasure hunters discovered fibres beneath the surface of one beach called Smith's Cove. This led to the theory that the beach had been converted into a giant siphon, feeding water from the ocean into the pit via a manmade tunnel.

A sample of this material was sent to the Smithsonian Institution in the early 20th century, where it was concluded that the material was coconut fibre.[34] The purpose of these fibres has been a source of heated debate among Oak Island researchers since Coconut trees are not natural to Canada. Carbon dating was conducted on a sample in the 1960s and returned a date of 1200–1400 CE.[34] However, this testing method reveals only when the material was harvested, not when it was deposited at the site. Furthermore it is now known that carbon dating is less reliable for marine organisms and objects long immersed in seawater, due to the marine reservoir effect. For marine organisms, typically the dated object appears about 450 years older than its true age (a correction first estimated in 1975, although the exact value would have to be determined for the waters in which it was found.[35]

Oak Island lies on a glacial tumulus system and is underlaid by a series of water-filled anhydrite cavities, which may be responsible for the repeated flooding of the pit. This type of limestone easily dissolves when exposed to water, forming caves and natural voids. Bedrock lies at a depth of 130–150 feet in the Money Pit area.

Upon the invitation of Boston-area businessman David Mugar, a two-week survey was conducted by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in 1995. This is the only known scientific study that has been conducted on the site. After running dye tests in the bore hole, they concluded that the flooding was caused by a natural interaction between the island's freshwater lens and tidal pressures in the underlying geology, refuting the idea of artificially constructed flood tunnels. The Woods Hole scientists who viewed the videos taken in 1971 reported that nothing conclusive could be determined from the murky images.[36]

Non fiction and fictional accounts

Oak Island has been a staple of treasure literature with the first published account appearing in 1863 and new books appearing on regular basis. Over 50 books have been published recounting the island's history and exploring competing theories.[37]

Several works of fiction have been based upon the Money Pit, including ''The Money Pit Mystery'', ''Riptide'' and ''The Hand of Robin Squires''. It was also a major plot device in the episode "The Man with the Bone" of the fictional crime drama series ''Bones''. Additionally, the Oak Island/Money Pit Mystery led to the ill-fated Cork Graham/Richard Knight hunt for Captain Kidd's treasure off western Vietnam in 1983, documented in ''The Bamboo Chest''.

In 2007, the island was featured in a museum display at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic which displayed many artifacts from various eras of treasure hunting as part of the museum's exhibit ''Pirates: Myth and Reality''.

In 2012, the island is featured in the video game Assassin's Creed III by Ubisoft. The player gets to Oak Island by completing quests related to Captain Kidd.


The Money Pit mystery was the subject of a January 18, 1979, episode of the television series ''In Search of…''. It was also featured on an episode of the television documentary series Northern Mysteries and covered extensively in the ''Ancient Aliens'' television series on the History Channel.

1. Whipps, Heather. "For Sale: Island with Mysterious Money Pit". retrieved December 5, 2005.
2. "The Secrets of Oak Island", Joe Nickell, ''Skeptical Inquirer'', March/April 2000.
3. Unnamed author. "Correspondence." ''Liverpool Transcript'', August 15, 1857.
4. McCully, J.B. "The Oak Island Diggings." ''Liverpool Transcript'', October 1862
5. Patrick. "Response to the Oak Island Folly." ''The Novascotian'', September 30, 1861
6. Unnamed author. "The Oak Island Folly", ''The Novascotian'', August 29, 1861
7. A Member. "A History of The Oak Island Enterprise." ''British Colonist'' (in 3 chapters published on 2, 7, and January 14, 1864)
8. DesBrisay, Mather, ''A History Of Lunenburg County'' (1895)
9. Snow, Edward Rowe. ''True Tales of Buried Treasure'', (Dodd and Mead, 1951) ASIN B000OI2EFC
10. The History Channel, ''Decoding the Past: The Templar Code'', video documentary, November 7, 2005, written by Marcy Marzuni
11. Doyle, Lynn C. "Nova Scotia's Treasure Island." ''MacLean's'' June 1, 1931
12. Ellerd, Kerry. "Finding Buried Treasure: It's an Expensive Business." ''Montreal STAR'' February 6, 1971
13. "Scanned copy of the original Reader's Digest article". Oakislandtreasure.co.uk. retrieved October 15, 2010.
14. "Treasure Trove Licence granted!". Oak Island Treasure. retrieved November 8, 2010.
Medel, Brian (July 15, 2010).
15. "Treasure hunter hopes new law clears path to gold" Province to replace old rules with Oak Island Act". Halifax Chronicle Herald.
16. Crooker, William S. ''Oak Island Gold'' (Nimbus Publishing, 1993)
17. Howlett, A. "Mystery of Captain Kidd's Treasure." ''World Wide Magazine'' October 1958
18. Stephen Williams (1991) ''Fantastic Archaeology'', Phila.: University of Pennsylvania Press, pages 264-273.
19. Kenneth L. Feder (1996) ''Frauds, Myths, and Mysteries: Science and Pseudoscience in Archaeology'', Mountain View: Mayfield Publishing Co., ISBN 1-55934-523-3, pages 101–107.
20. Mark Finnan. "Oak Island Secrets" Formac Publishing, 1995, 1997, 2002, 2009.
21. Lamb, Lee. ''Oak Island Obsession: The Restall Story'' (Dundurn Press, 2006)
22. Godwin, John. ''This Baffling World.'' (Bantam, 1971)
23. Leary, Thomas P. ''The Oak Island Enigma: A History and Inquiry Into the Origin of the Money Pit.'' (T.P. Leary, 1953)
24. 'Oak Island Secrets'. (Formac Publishing 1995, 1997, 2002, 2009)
25. Loe, Erlend, and Amundsen, Petter. ''Organisten'' (Cappelen, 2006)
26. Sora, Steven. ''The Lost Treasure of the Knights Templar'' (Inner Traditions/ Destiny, 1999).
27. ''Oak Island Secrets''. (Formac Publishing 1995, 1997, 2002, 2009)
28. This section follows Nickell, section "Man-made or Natural?".
29. Bowdoin, H. L. 1911. Solving the mystery of Oak Island. Collier's Magazine, August 18. Cited and discussed in Harris 1958, 110–120; O'Connor 1988, 63–66.
30. Faribault, E. Rudolph. 1911. Summary Report of Geological Survey Branch of the Department of Mines. Quoted in Furneaux 1972, 110.
31. Atlantic Advocate. 1965. Article in October issue, cited in Crooker 1978, 85–86.
32. Preston, Douglas. 1988 (thoughts taken form a Novel fiction body of work called "Riptide"). However this notion has been disregarded as a consequence of reported pick marks along the sides of the walls down to the 90 foot mark and the stone lined flood tunnel that leads from Smiths Cove as well as the presence of coconut fibres not found anywhere else in the area. "Man made death trap defies treasure seekers for two centuries." The Smithsonian. June. 53–56.
33. O'Connor (1988, 172–173)
34. French, Carey. "Treasure Island? Fabled Booty Eludes the Fortune Hunters." ''The Globe and Mail'' November 19, 1983
35. Ulm, Sean (April 2002). "Calibrating Marine Radiocarbon Dates: A Guide to Australian ΔR Values". AACAI Newsletter. no.89: 10. retrieved June 6, 2010.
36. Joltes, Richard (August 2002). "Appendix: Woods Hole Explores Oak Island". CriticalEnquiry.org. page 1. retrieved March 20, 2010.
37. Conlin, Dan. ''Pirates of the Atlantic: Robbery, Murder and Mayhem off the Canadian East Coast'', Halifax: Formac Publishing (2009), page 86 .

External links

News reports


Categories: hidden treasures

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License