In the season 7 finale of Curse of Oak Island, the team reveals that wood recovered by Ian Spooner just below the stone pavement in the swamp area gave a radiocarbon date in the 13th century. A number of hypotheses have formed around the paved area, both on the show and in fan communities. Some have suggested that it is merely the remains of a platform created by searcher Fred Nolan to bring a coring rig into the swamp. It has been speculated on the show that it may be a roadway built in relation to the exploitation of a possible clay mine which now forms the so-called Eye of the Swamp.

Fortified with a date in the 1200s, speculation has renewed that it may have been built by depositors, perhaps even Templar Knights, as part of their work to bury a treasure in the Money Pit. What do we actually know about the age of the stone pavement? Archaeologically, what are some possible explanations, and how plausible are they?

Is the platform 800 years old?

The date on the wood found just below the stone pavement, or perhaps embedded in it (not completely clear), is very interesting. Without seeing a clear stratigraphic profile of the find context, it is difficult to interpret it. At the very least, it means that the pavement is not older than the 1200s. Either there is something just below it that dates from the 1200s, or something became embedded in its construction that is from the 1200s. In either case, the carbon date gives us a maximum age for the structure. The platform is no more than 800 years old.

Unfortunately, the date doesn’t help us with another important question, which is: how young is the pavement?  We don’t have a second date which overlies the pavement that would give us a bracket to securely date it’s construction. If, for example, another piece of wood recovered just above the pavement, in clear and secure depositional context, was dated to the 1400s, then we could say that the pavement dates from between the 1200s and the 1400s. Unfortunately, we don’t have that.

Right now, the bracket for the age of the pavement is sometime between the 1200s and the present. If during its construction, the ground was leveled, for example, or local materials were excavated from nearby and used for fill, it is very possible that the immediately underlying surface is from the 1200s, or that material from the 1200s is embedded in it. That would be true whether it was built in the 1200s or two weeks ago.

Some archaeological possibilities

If the pavement is indeed 800 years old, then then most likely possibility is that it was built by indigenous groups. Stone pavements are reported on the northeast Atlantic coast that are as old as 6000 years (see the work of Bill Fitzhugh, for example). They tend to be associated with dwellings, and tend to be somewhat smaller than what we see on the show. Still, old stone pavements are not unknown in the archaeological record of the area.

Starting in the 17th century, however, European fishermen built large numbers of stone pavements for drying and curing fish. These are very similar to the one found on Oak Island, and often involved preparation and leveling of ground, which could have exposed an underlying 13th century surface.

Page 100 of Bryn Tapper’s 2014 Masters Thesis describes the construction of the galet, one such type of stone pavement:

“At the beginning of each fishing season, crews often prepared natural cobble beach terraces along the shoreline by stripping them of vegetation, clearing them of material washed ashore or left behind by the previous season’s occupants and levelling any uneven ground (Pope 2009a: 134; Niellon 2010: 6). While most galets are close to the shoreline, where drying space was at a premium, fishermen constructed ramps to access the higher ground of adjacent escarpments and coastal slopes on which they laid artificially constructed galets. This required them to gather considerable quantities of stone from the foreshore to set out in raised beds and pavements, sometimes retained at their edges with stone kerbing which also demarcated paths between them (eg. Pope 2006: 40-41; Pope et al. 2007: 7).”

This possibility that the pavement on Oak Island is a galet strikes me as very likely. Not only would it explain the stone platform, it would also explain why material from the 1200s is just underneath it. Some of them even have a ramp. I would definitely want to rule this out before going any further.

The other two main possibilities, of course, are not to be ignored. I am still not convinced that this is not the remains of Nolan’s platform. I would like to see some work on ruling that one out. The clay mine road/platform sound intriguing as well, although we have very little information on that one.

In other words, we have a few possibilities to rule out, some eminently likely, before we turn to more complex explanations involving Templar Knights and buried treasure.

One thought on “Oak Island archaeology update: What is the paved area, and how old is it?

  1. This comment in your interesting post says it all: “That would be true whether it was built in the 1200s or two weeks ago.”

    I know little/nothing about archeology, but from a common sense/thought experiment, it takes about 5 seconds to realize that material that is, actually, relatively old (like the wood from ~1200 AD) could have been lying around or dug up nearby and deposited around the stone platform area at ANY TIME since then. I honestly wonder if Billy Gerhardt or someone said “You know, that could have been put there really recently” and they just edited it out to align the show with the goofy Templar narrative, etc.

    Liked by 2 people

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