For two hundred years, rumors have swirled that hidden treasure lies buried on Oak Island, a 140-acre plot of land off the coast of Nova Scotia. Over the centuries, thousands of people have devoted ridiculous amounts of time and money to finding it. Their adventures are a litany of awesomely catastrophic failures as they chased after tall tales of hidden gold, crown jewels, and even the Ark of the Covenant. But why did these treasure hunters focus on this unassuming little island in the Maritimes? Let's find out.
The top image is from Raiders of the Lost Ark, one of the more popular recent depictions of the Ark of the Covenant.
Discovering the Pit
Stories circulating around Oak Island told of fortunes and treasure hidden underneath the ground, due to Nova Scotia's connection to pirate activities in the 17th Century. In 1795, a local boy, Daniel McInnis, found a circular depression in the ground roughly ten feet in diameter. Daniel recruited two of his friends, to help explore the area in hopes of finding pirate treasure.
The three boys began digging, then hit a layer of stone, and then a layer of wooden planks ten feet further down. The three stopped at thirty feet, convinced no one would bury something in such a manner unless it is extremely valuable. A few years later, the trio obtained the help and funding of Simeon Lynds to further investigate the pit. As they dug deeper, they passed more wooden planks, and layers of putty, coconut husks, and charcoal.
A Mysterious Tablet
In the process of digging with Simeon Lynds and the Onslow Company, at 80 to 90 feet deep the workers found a stone tablet inscribed with a substitution cipher. Once decoded, the tablet reads, "(F)orty feet below 2 million pounds are buried." The tablet divides the Oak Island community, with many believing it a ruse conjured up to obtain additional funding. The location of the tablet is currently unknown.
Shortly after finding the tablet, the diggers struck a solid block. Believing it to be a treasure chest and a sign of success only feet away, the workers stopped for the day. Unfortunately, when the crew returned the next morning, they found sixty feet of water in the pit. Initially, the workers thought the flood to be a consequence of an elaborate system of booby traps. The Onslow company tried unsuccessfully to remove the water as the diggers soon hit a flood tunnel connected to the sea. The Onslow Company quit digging at the site soon thereafter.
In 1849, the Truro Company attempted to excavated the site using an auger, a drill bit with a helical screw blade that brings excavated material to the top as it continues to dig deeper. With the auger, the Truro Company bypassed the water, finding 3 links of gold chain for their work. A group working on the site after Truro abandoned its efforts found a couple of pieces of porcelain dishware and a piece of parchment the size of a dime.
Excavation of the money pit continued through the 1800s, bouncing from company to company, with little success due to continued flooding. The Oak Island Money Pit collapsed in on itself in the 1860s.
Excavations of the area continued throughout the 20th Century, with John Wayne and Franklin Roosevelt involved in investment plans to find the treasure. Most efforts concentrated on digging in areas away from the money pit, as the ground became too unstable to work with. Six individuals died in over 200 plus years of digging.
Oak Island is now a popular tourist site, with some still looking for the island's secret treasure. Anyone with a license from the Nova Scotia Minister of Natural Resources is allowed to dig for treasure on the island, so if you and some friends are looking for a unique Spring Break trip, head to Nova Scotia.
Hiding Place for the Knights Templar?
A series of stone boulders creating a large cross on Oak Island, sparks an association of the Oak Island Pit with the Knights Templar, leading to theories suggesting the intricate pit is a hiding place for the Holy Grail or Ark of the Covenant. The six ten-ton stones are situated around the island, and when connected on a map, create a nine hundred foot cross. No other data links the Templars to the island.
Some also propose the Oak Island Money Pit contains ammo and payroll intended for soldiers fighting and the Revolutionary War, the crown jewels of Marie Antoinette, or concrete proof of Sir Francis Bacon's authorship of plays attributed to William Shakespeare.
Another Translation of the Tablet
An alternate translation of the tablet cipher makes it appear that the treasure is not 130 feet below the surface, but on nearby Birch Island. Keith Ranville's interpretation of the code is based on various engineering patterns. The first symbol points to Birch Island, and the rest of the symbols dictates a series of tunnels and shafts leading to the treasure. Ranville also proposes a Mayan connection to the Oak Island Pit.
Just a Sinkhole?
While the items in the Oak Island Money Pit appear to be placed in some sort of organized manner, the effort and time necessary to dig a pit as well as additional "flood tunnels" to the sea makes a designed pit appear unlikely. The sinkhole argument is much easier to stomach, especially with the litany of sinkholes and underground tunnels found on the island.
The lack of concrete evidence of treasure, along with numerous theories as to what is actually contained in the pit muddies the water. Three links of gold chain, some porcelain dishware, and a piece of parchment are the sum of items extracted from the pit. In 200 years of excavation , one expects more artifacts to be discovered or found by accident if a treasure truly lies at the bottom.
Additionally, the absence of the original cipher tablet is puzzling. Without the tablet, the story and lore behind the Oak Island Money Pit becomes a tale of three young boys searching for treasure, and gullible investors willing to follow their lead.