This year, much of the Curse of Oak Island focus has been on an apparently paved area in the swamp area. According to the show’s speculations, this would have been created for transport of treasure to the original money pit.

Ian Spooner, an environmental scientist from Acadia University, who has worked with archaeologists in the past, was brought in to evaluate the paved area, and the formation of the swamp in general. His statements so far make it clear that there is indeed an area of the swamp which has a high concentration of rocks that is not the result of natural processes. Humans put them there. He clearly states that they are above the glacial till, and that they don’t have the kind of clay coating one would expect from the natural layer.

Archaeologically, the next questions are obvious. In order of likelihood that we will find answers to them: When were they put there, how, why, and by whom. As of last week’s episode, there is some hope of answering the when, because Spooner recovered some organic material embedded in the platform, which can potentially be carbon dated. The why and the whom are always elusive in archaeology.

As always with Oak Island, or with any other pseudo-archaeology claims, it is certainly possible that a platform was built in the swamp in a remote past for the purpose of bringing a treasure to the Money Pit. However, there are simpler, more likely explanations to rule out before we get to that one.

Nolan’s platform?

A few possibilities come to mind in that kind of archaeological context, but before I get to them, there is on obvious possibility that needs to be ruled out. According to Robert John on the Oak Island Treasure Facebook group, Fred Nolan, one of the previous treasure seekers on Oak Island, created a stone platform (Figure 1) in the swamp so that he could bring in a coring rig. The platform is clearly visible in the upper left corner of the accompanying unattributed photo.

NolanPlatform

Figure 1: Unattributed photo of Oak Island showing Nolan’s platform in the upper left corner

Going by the photo, Nolan’s platform was more extensive than what is still visible today in screenshots from the show (Figure 2). The rest of it may have been scattered by erosion, and may be showing up as a heavy concentration of rocks of various sizes. Part of it may still be submerged and recognizable as a platform when uncovered.

Swamp1

Figure 2: Screenshot from Curse of Oak Island (Season 7, Episode 13: Bromancing the Stone), showing what is left today of Nolan’s platform, jutting out into the swamp.

The puzzling thing is that Fred Nolan’s son was interviewed on camera at the swamp, and claimed that he could not think of an explanation for the platform or the rock concentration. He even said that his father did not have the means to create something on this scale.

As the photo from the Facebook group shows, someone certainly did have the means to create something on that scale in the swamp, and quite recently. Rick Lagina, even remarks on the colour and nature of the rock material, which is very consistent with what is visible on the photo of Nolan’s platform. I’ve emailed Spooner to ask him about Nolan’s platform. I’ll be sure to report on any answer, if and when I get one.

Other possibilities

The other two obvious possibilities from an archaeological perspective are field-clearing and fill. Despite what is often claimed on the show, we know that the island was farmed and used for light industry starting in the 18th century. We know that the island, like much of that region, is rocky and covered in boulders of various sizes. The first order of business for farmer settlers in those kinds of environments is to clear the fields of rocks as much as possible.

They often put the rocks to various uses, including building chimneys, field separation walls, root cellars, etc. But there are so many rocks that they often just find handy places to pile them up or simply dump them. The swamp would have been a good location for that. Sometimes, they intentionally fill areas to dry them, to build stuff on them, or to facilitate travel and transport.

Testing the hypotheses

Archaeologically, there are a number of potential explanations that are simpler, and at the moment more likely, than the burying of a major treasure on Oak Island. The first, simplest, and likeliest explanation that has to be ruled out is that the team is finding the remains of Nolan’s platform. This can be done mostly with historical and eye-witness data. Where did Nolan get his material for the platform? Are the remains geologically consistent with the source?

The second, for me, would be field clearing. If it turns out that this structure is separate from Nolan’s platform, then I would do a survey of the types and sizes of rocks in the swamp structure, and compare that with what is left on the island’s current surface, especially at lot boundary lines and near the shore, where field clearing would have pushed material.

The more cynical viewer will suggest that the team knew about Nolan’s platform the whole time, and that they kept it’s reveal for a later season, in order to draw out the series. That, of course, would require some level of intentional deception.

15 thoughts on “Oak Island archaeology update : What do we know about the paved area in the swamp?

  1. Great content, as always! Couple of comments. First, when I worked as a tour guide in Nova Scotia (long time ago!), I remember being told that indigenous communities had been known to cover small areas of land next to the water with a layer of flat stones, as a place to lay out fish to dry in the sun. Any chance this was the use of the stone platform? Second, I think you mis-stated the location of Nolan’s platform in your caption to figure 1 (it should be upper left, I think, not upper right?). Thanks!

    Like

      1. Has the swamp been searched with FLIR technology? I think it would be a great tool to aid in the search.

        Like

  2. The strange rock structure is further inland than the pad that Nolan put up. Most of that still existed when they were probing the swamp and found it as a point of interest. That being said, it is likely a dumping ground for rocks with maybe a benefit of something like a fish drying platform as Andy suggested. Not knowing the exact elevation of the rocks, I do suspect that it would have been above sea level during the Little Ice Age.

    Like

    1. In a high energy coastal environment such as Oak Island, remains from Nolan’s platform could actually end up further inland, or upslope from their original location. I wouldn’t completely rule out Nolan’s platform on that basis. However, the fish drying platform idea is really interesting. I am looking up some stuff in that direction.

      Like

  3. Maybe, but it would be strange to have a gap between Nolan’s structure and the strange rock structure. Their drainage ditch is between the two and there doesn’t seem to be much rock of that size in it. And Nolan’s platform (at least according to the last show) seems to be mostly intact with some expected erosion. That’s actually a benefit of the swamp vegetation. It absorbs a lot of energy from coastal storms, so it’s not that damaged.

    Like

    1. It’s very adjacent 🙂

      The dating of the organic material will be a very important piece of information. At this point, I would say that it is as likely to be part of Nolan’s platform as to be a separate structure, or just a field clearing dump. Let’s hope we get more info to reject at least some possibilities.

      Like

  4. Before Ian Spooner carbon dated the stick under the paved area, what as his thinking about the time frame for the creation of the swamp, based on his core samples? I ask this question because it occurs to me that the platform could have been constucted before the area became a “freshwater” swamp. And I forgot to note this important fact at the time…

    Like

  5. Someone, somewhere is having a big laugh over all of this effort…. for ….nothing.
    A fool and his money are soon parted.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s