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.
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.
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.
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.
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.