Monday, August 23, 2010


That old adage was never more true than at desolate Oak Island in Nova Scotia, Canada. The ultimate quest for buried treasure has been a dream of many adventurers there over the past 200 or so years. Since its modern discovery in 1795 by 3 teenagers, there have been at least 13 organized expeditions seeking the buried treasure, and at least 6 people have been killed in the attempt. Yet, we're no closer to finding out what's at the bottom of the hole. Even with modern machinery, coffer dams, and the like, not to mention the millions of dollars spent, treasure hunters have come up empty.

Despite all that money literally down the drain, nobody is certain what, if anything, lies at the bottom of the shaft. We don't even know who constructed this maze, but we do know that it goes down at least 200 feet--the height of a 20 story building underground. Every ten feet or so, excavators have found layers of logs, alternating with flagstones and layers of charcoal, putty and coconut fiber not indigenous to the area. At certain levels, the tidal water from the ocean flows into the shaft and floods everything.

The aforementioned coconut fiber was carbon dated to 1200-1400 A.D. That date was when it was harvested, not when it was placed on Oak Island. In any event, carbon dating is not reliable when the article is exposed to seawater.

The many legends that abound keep the treasure hunters coming back to this privately owned island. Some think it was pirate treasure from Captain Kidd or Blackbeard, but it is doubtful that pirates would have the technology or time to dig such a shaft.

The story comes down to us in a 1951 book, True Tales of Buried Treasure written by explorer and historian Edward Rowe Snow who claimed to have received a set of symbols from Reverend A.T. Kempton of Cambridge, Massachusetts. We don't know anything about Kempton's involvement with Oak Island. The chain of evidence is very fuzzy, indeed.

The hook that got investors to try their luck in the money pit was disclosed by an 1803 expedition by the Onslow Company who claimed that they recovered a large stone with various symbols inscribed on it. They hired researchers to decipher the symbols, and one translated the markings as "forty feet below, two million pounds lie buried." This Rosetta Stone disappeared in 1912, and incredibly, no photographs or images of that stone were ever taken, at least, to our knowledge.

Adventurers are typically willing to take large risks on a rumor, after all, how would anything ever get discovered? In the early digs, the pit kept flooding up to the 33 foot level, but in 1849, the Truro Company used more modern technology to dig down to the 86 foot level where the shaft flooded again. So much for the "40 foot down" story. In the Truro account, they drilled down through a spruce platform at 98 feet and below, found "metal in pieces", 8 inches of oak, 22 inches of metal, 4 more inches of oak, another spruce layer, and finally clay for 7 feet. No treasure in the first 100 feet.

The 1861 excavation collapsed the bottom of the shaft into either a natural cavern or a booby trap underneath.

There were more excavations--you think about a fool and his money--in 1866, 1893, 1909, 1931, 1935, 1936 and 1959. The 1909 expedition which featured the young Franklin Roosevelt thought they had a new deal, but their hand also came up empty. Mr. Roosevelt proved to be more successful in other areas in later life, but he was known to keep up with developments on the island.

The 1931 excavation by William Chappell tried a different tack. He sank a parallel shaft down to 163 feet and tunneled over to the main shaft. At 127 feet, his people found artifacts including an axe, a pick and part of an anchor. But since there had been many previous excavations, it could not be certain when they were placed there.

In the early 1960's, the Restall family lost 4 men who were overcome by fumes in the shaft.
Next was Robert Dunfield who leased the island in 1965 and brought in a 70 ton digging crane with a bucket and went down 134 feet in a hole 100 feet wide. Just getting the crane there was a major undertaking. Dunfield had to build a causeway to the island. They sifted through the soil for artifacts but found little.

In 1967, Daniel Blankenship and David Tobias formed Triton Alliance Ltd. to purchase the site site. They started digging in 1971. They went down 235 feet to bedrock and lowered cameras into a subterranean cave and claimed to have produced fuzzy images of chests, human remains and tools, but the claims could not be independently confirmed. Alas, the shaft collapsed, and then their partnership did also.

So what does all of this mean? Did the engineers who created the whole system outsmart themselves? If they buried treasure or whatever they buried, how did they plan to retrieve it?
Was it built by aliens, as others have suggested. This was a massive engineering feat. Recent excavators poured red dye into the shaft and observed it flowing into the ocean at 3 different points on the island.

What did they bury that they went to this much trouble? If it was pirate gold, surely they could have dug a 6 foot pit next to a tree, and using a map, found it easily. Some speculate that the Holy Grail is buried there. Someone even suggested that Shakespeare's original works are buried there. The truth is that the so-called experts don't know any more than we do. Perhaps the more plausible explanation is that the English Navy who had looted Havana, Cuba in 1762, could have buried the Spanish gold on Oak Island. Nova Scotia was British; they had engineers to construct such a system, and this may have been a handy place to hide the loot.

The answers are not forthcoming, and unless someone is willing to roll the dice again and throw big bucks into a money pit and somehow dam up the Atlantic Ocean and excavate the whole island, we're not going to know.