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.

13 thoughts 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

    1. Well and logic, as well as some historical context, suggests that the most likely explanation is that because lot 14, created in the 1760’s subdivision of the island, was partially cut off from South Shore Cove by the swamp between the drumlins that make up the island, a past owner of the lot decided to build a haul road to the Cove across the corner of his property and across the edge of the swamp, using the materials and means available to him at the time (log cribbing and rock). We have evidence that there were a number of docks/wharves on the island over the years, and is likely that this owner had one in the cove, rather than on the northern part of his property between Joudrey’s and Smith’s cove, either because his homestead was closer to South Shore Cove than the other side of the island, or a dock/wharf on the other side of the island was not possible (maybe due to more water depth at South Shore Cove). It is likely that most lots on the island had their own docks/wharves – some more than others may have been more complicated to access.

      But then logic and historical context can explain pretty much anything and everything on the island, without resorting to conspiracies, curses, and assumptions of a vast trove of treasure. All is simply the results of people living on a geologically active (sink holes) island for hundreds of years. Mundane colonial life extrapolated to the extreme for entertainment and money-making by those fixated by gold fever and ratings.


    2. Seriously though – these are the people that believe a large treasure vault is moving around deep underground, evading them at every step, but they cannot grasp the concept that older wood material in a swamp might “ooze” up into a stone structure laid on top of soft hydric soils loaded through use. Every thought is tilted to conspiratorial treasure, through the obsession with either treasure or ratings.


  2. This revelation i must admit leaves the mind reeling. Whist trying to stay contained and objective the mind is drug towards the first and most blatant wow moment. I am in no way a man of science or classical scholarly education but my mind still does jump to (if double and triple checked) that if true this is history book changing stuff. We are talking about (in theory here. Please forgive my harnesed excitement) a period in canada and “the americas” 300 ish years pre colombus and about 200 years post the presence of the norse at Lanse eau meadows. This creates a whole lot of “what if’s” to which we dont have an answer but the thought does foster great excitement. Imagine the bimb drop if it pointed towards further norse exploration post lanse eau meadows or that beginning in the 1200s and ever century since the likes of the european templars have been depositing and withdrawing items of significance until the 1700s ish. I eagerly await further hard evidence to be discovered to help unveil one way or the other what is un doubtedly a very interesting and exciting archaeological oddity. Kind regards. Owen Ward.


  3. The frustrating thing for people who understand archeological principles is of course the selective sensationalist editing and absurd narration. The most important things are accurate context and provenance data. Why did they just pick up the ox shoes without geo-marking the locations?
    I’ve read that carbon-dating seawater-soaked artifacts can be inaccurate by up to 200 years. Does this make the coconut fiber and human remains possibly 200 years newer than reported?
    Would love to see a Frontline-style or even National Geographic show just on the archaeological facts, but that wouldn’t sell near as much advertising. It’s all about the Benjamins.
    Tarpit dating, the parts of the ship found in the swamp, the piece of 8 coin, the Chinese coin, the exploded cannon parts, the British pottery deep in the mine shaft, the French drain, these are all significant contextual finds.


    1. I believe the discrepancy in radiocarbon dating marine-exposed items is upward of +400 years. Puts things in context when they get items dated to 1200 to 1400 something – so up to 1600 and 1800 something AD. That includes items from the swamp (salt water marsh), from Smith’s Cove (coconut fiber) and from depth on the island (salt water intrusion all across the island subsurface).


      1. I think it is called the “marine reservoir effect” and can be higher with colder climates (upwards of +1200 years in the arctic). I believe there is a discrepancy for freshwater items as well. It is related to how carbon 14 is taken up by the item in terrestrial, marine, and freshwater environments – if the item is not dated accordingly to the environment in which it was found, with the correct correction factor, you can end up with a much older date than is accurate.


      2. I would think that Dr, Spooner being a specialist in wetland areas would be well abreast of that correlation in the dating and salt exposure as well as the archaeologists working on the island. Myself being a layperson i would not know but one would assume that in their fields of study that it would be common knowledge. There is always the possibility to keep in mind that items found at a layer that dates to a specific time may be older but deposited at the same time. Lets use the lead cross as an example. Its been established that it can date to the 1200-1300s or there abouts. It doesnt mean that it was brought to the island then simply that someone has misplaced it sometime between then and now. Could gave been last week or 400 years ago.


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