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Oak Island

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Oak Island, Nova Scotia.

Oak Island (44° 31' N, 64° 17' 57" W [1]) is a 140 acre (570,000 m²) island in Lunenberg 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.

The Money Pit

Oak Island is known around the world as the location of the so-called Money Pit. The Money Pit is the site of numerous excavations to recover treasure believed by many to be buried there.

According to mid-19th century newspaper records, in 1795 a young man, Donald Daniel McInnis, is said to have discovered a circular depression in the south eastern end of the island with a tree nearby which had had one of its branches fashioned to support a tackle Block. According to the 19th century account McInnis, with the help of friends John Smith and Anthony Vaughan, excavated in the depression and discovered a layer of flagstones a few feet below. On the pit walls were visible the markings of a pick. As they dug down they discovered layers of logs at about every ten feet (3 m). They abandoned the excavation at 30 feet (10 m).

Again according to the 19th century article, about eight years later another company began to examine what was to become known as the Money Pit. The Onslow Company sailed 300 nautical miles from central Nova Scotia near Truro, to Oak Island for the purpose of funding the recovery of what they believed to be secret treasure. They continued excavating down to 90 feet or so (27 m), finding layers of logs or "marks" every ten feet (3 m), and apparently layers of charcoal, putty and coconut fibre at 40, 50 and 60 feet (12, 15 and 18 m) respectively.

At 90 feet (27 m) (80 feet according to one of the earliest written accounts, a newspaper article, "The Oak Island Diggings" from the Liverpool Transcript Oct 1862), they allegedly recovered a large stone bearing an inscription of symbols. The pit subsequently flooded up to the 33 foot (10 m) level; bailing did not reduce the water level, and the excavation was abandoned. The flooding is thought by some proponents of the treasure theory to be caused by the existence of a 500 foot (150 m) tunnel from the pit leading to Smith's Cove nearby and so linking it to the sea. Note that no evidence supporting the existence of this tunnel has ever been reliably reported.

A new company, the Truro Company, was formed in 1849 and re-excavated the shaft back down to 86 feet (26 m), at which point it flooded again. They then drilled down into the ground below the bottom of the shaft. According to the 19th century account, the drill or "pod auger" is alleged to have passed through a spruce platform at 98 feet (30 m) then a 12" head space, then through 22 inches (560 mm) of what was described as "metal in pieces", 8 inches (200 mm) of oak, and then another 22 inches (560 mm) of metal followed by 4 inches (100 mm) of oak and another spruce layer, then into clay for 7 feet without striking anything else. One account states that they recovered three small gold links of a chain from mud stuck to the drill. They attempted to prevent the pit from flooding by damming Smith's Cove and subsequently by excavating a shaft into the tunnel to block it and prevent the pit from flooding.

The account of the discovery at the end of the 18th Century through to the mid-19th century is based on unverified folklore and may be entirely false. This view is supported by the fact that the earliest known publicly available written description of the Money Pit is a news article published in the Liverpool Transcript newspaper in October 1862, which included an oral account of the early years of the excavation attempts as told by at least one digger. No corroborating material has publicly surfaced to date, making the story told by these men impossible to verify at this time. Much of Oak Island's historical documentation and artifacts are in private hands and are not available for observation/study by the general public.

The history now begins to become more documented, with a number of articles appearing in the Liverpool Transcript (1857, 1861 and 1862); and A History Of Lunenburg County, Des Brisay, 1895. This latter account was based largely on the earlier Liverpool Transcript articles, and does not represent an independent resource.

The next attempt was made in 1861 by a new company, the Oak Island Association, which apparently led to the collapse of the bottom of the shaft into a suspected void or booby trap underneath it. The first fatality during the excavations occurred when the boiler of a pumping engine burst — in total about six people have been killed in accidents during the various excavations. The company gave up when they exhausted their funds in 1864.

Numerous further excavations were made by different people in 1866, 1893, 1909, 1931, 1936 and 1959, none of which were successful in finding treasure. The 1931 excavations by William Chappell sank a 163 foot shaft 12x14 feet to the southwest of what they believed was the site of the 1897 shaft and close to the original pit. At a depth of 127 feet were uncovered a number of artifacts, including an axe, anchor fluke and pick. The pick has been identified as specifically a Cornish miner's poll pick; however it should be noted that the entire area underlying the Money Pit was by this time littered with the debris and refuse of numerous prior excavation attempts; thus it is inaccurate to ascribe artifacts such as the abovementioned pick to the alleged "original" party that buried the fabled treasure.

In 1965 the area of the Money Pit was dug out using a 70 ton digging crane with a clam bucket to a depth of 140 feet (43 m) and width of 100 feet (30 m); the soil removed being carefully examined for artifacts. Consequently the location of the original shaft (Money Pit) is no longer precisely known. 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.

Around 1969, Daniel C. Blankenship and David Tobias formed Triton Alliance, Ltd. and bought most of the island. In 1971, Triton workers excavated a 235 foot (72 m) shaft supported by a steel caisson to bedrock. Cameras lowered down it into a cave underneath allegedly recorded some chests, a "human remains", wooden cribbing and some tools though none of these claims have been confirmed. The shaft subsequently collapsed and the excavation was again abandoned. Later this shaft was restarted and was successfully re-dug to 181 feet, reaching bedrock where work was halted due to lack of funds. Upon the invitation of a Boston area businessman, David Mugar, a cursory survey was conducted by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in 1995. While the results have never been published, interviews conducted with the scientists reveal they were unconvinced of the existence of the fabled "flood tunnel" and believed the flooding of the Pit was of entirely natural origin.

Various opinions have been put forward as to what the pit might contain. Most of these suggest treasure which has been buried by any of a wide variety of people — the pirate Captain Kidd, British troops during the American revolution, Spanish sailors from a wrecked galleon, the Inca or even exiled Knights Templar. Some even go as far as to suggest that Blackbeard, the notorious pirate may have a part in the building of the money pit. He claimed he buried his treasure "where none but Satan and myself can find it", however there is no evidence suggesting this theory to be true. But perhaps the most far-fetched theory is one that suggests that Francis Bacon, the English philosopher and statesman, hid documents there that proved him to be the author of William Shakespeare's plays. It is possible that the pit contains nothing at all.

Since the 1970s, fewer people have believed in its connection to pirates, due primarily to the massive scale of the subterranean construction.

The inability of excavators to gain access to any contents the Pit may hold is due to the presence of a flooding system which has foiled repeated excavation attempts over the last two centuries. Opinions vary as to whether or not this flooding system is man made or naturally occuring. Treasure hunters discovered coconut fibres beneth the surface of one beach. Coconuts are not indigenous to Nova Scotia. One theory is that the beach has been converted into a giant "sponge" which feeds water from the ocean into the pit. Others point out that coconut fibres were used as packaging material and that the fibres may be have been discarded from cargo ships that had stopped on the island or sailed nearby. Also the island lies on a glacial tumulus system and is underlain by a series of water-filled limestone cavities (actually Anhydrite), which offers an explanation for the repeated flooding of the pit. It is interesting to note that bedrock is found at the 160 – 180 level in the Money Pit area; some have suggested this means natural geology could not possibly be the cause of sea water flooding at 111 feet. However, excavations at the 120+ foot level during the mid 19th century progressed into soils described as "sand and boulder rocks" that could easily have given way under pressure from deeper subterranean tunnels filled with sea water.

It should also be noted that Robert Dunfield, a professional geologist who excavated the Money Pit in the early 1960s, stated flatly in his notes that "we resolved the water problem completely beyond a shadow of a doubt. Water enters through a natural course and caves typical of the limestone and gypsum of the Windsor formation. [...] This deceives the theory of man-made flood tunnels from which water defeated searchers for the past 170 years." Given this information, it is surprising that anyone still believes in the existence of the flood tunnels.

Considering the size of the original pit, it is noteworthy that none of the debris, spoil earth, lost tools, or other items one would expect to result, have been uncovered. It is not certain that any elements of the original tale (e.g. "oak platforms", an "inscribed stone", or even the tree) actually existed, other than as documented in oral testimony, however, few details have changed since this version was published. Some elements found in the Oak Island story, such as the discovery of tantalising but inconclusive objects, and a message in indecipherable code, are said to be common in fictional works on treasure and piracy (see the Edgar Allan Poe story The Gold Bug for example). This has led to speculation that the early account of the Money Pit is due to the merging of several works of 19th century fiction.

Oak Island is also well-known because Franklin Roosevelt, former President of the United States of America, was once a treasure hunter there, part of the Old Gold Salvage group of 1909 and kept up with news and developments for most of his life.

  • Much of the preceding information is largely the opinion of one person and is highly biased toward an unreasonably cynical viewpoint. Dissenting viewpoints and attempts at providing opposition views based on fact, are quickly erased and edited, making this information suspiciously biased.

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