The Curse of Oak Island (COOI) E06S10 brought us one of the more interesting finds of the team in a long time. As an archaeologist, I am of course interested in old ox shoes and random fragments of stoves dumped in fill. We can learn a lot from those, from their spatial distribution, from their associations, etc. But I must admit that even I breathe a sigh of relief when something like last week’s decorated copper plate comes out of one of Gary’s excursions.

The decorated copper object

So what is that thing? As always, we only know what they show us on COOI. It is a metal sheet, about 95% copper and 5% zinc, which makes it brass, it is folded, and has quite intricate designs that seem to be repoussé. Laird says his first thought is that it is military. My first thought is closely related to that also.

This is pure speculation here, but I think it might be a gorget, which is an ornament worn around the neck, sometimes over the throat (hence the name from the French for throat: gorge). These were often part of European military uniforms, and also worn by North American Indigenous warriors. The British gave gorgets to their Mi’kmaw allies at the end of the War of 1812, for example. The decoration on this one suggests an Indigenous origin more than European one.

A Caddoan Mississippian culture ”Craig style” shell gorget from the Spiro Mounds Site in eastern Oklahoma.

Indigenous gorgets have been made and used for thousands of years. They were originally made of bone, slate, or sometimes native copper (i.e. copper found in metallic form in nature). They were important symbols of status and were often elaborately decorated.

But while the decoration on this one is more indigenous than European, the composition of the metal suggests that it comes from a European source, and is therefore no older than the 1500s. Indigenous people have worked copper in the Americas for thousands of years, but I am not aware of any brass being produced, and native, or naturally occurring brass alloys don’t seem to occur in the deposits that were exploited in the Great Lakes region, for example.

The object could be cut from a trade kettle. These were copper or brass kettles exchanged by European traders to Indigenous groups starting in the 1500s.  Anselmi et al. found some brass trade kettles in Ontario with as low as 6% zinc content. 

Meanwhile, Pavlish et al. strongly suggest that brass becomes more frequent relative to copper in archaeological sites in the Northeast as time progresses. Brass is almost absent in the 1500s, and becomes dominant in the mid 1600s, which would help us date this thing if it is indeed a reworked piece of a trade kettle. Trade kettles were often cut up and reworked like that into ornaments, tinkling cones for dancing outfits, tools, etc.

When Laird said that the object was folded over, I immediately thought of the lugs of brass trade kettles, which were often folded. But then Laird specified that it is folded three times over, which I think would be unusual for a simple kettle lug.

Another possibility is that the object is made of gilding metal, sometimes known as Pinchbeck, which has a very similar composition, and is prized for its resemblance to gold. It was used for ornaments, plates, and things like military badges. It was manufactured in the UK starting in the early 1700s.

Unfortunately, the decoration on the object is of little help for either dating it or pinning down its origin. As Ed Barnhart appropriately notes on the episode, geometry is everywhere. People have used it in all kinds of places, at all kinds of time, for all kinds of purposes. His inclusion as an expert on the show suggests that the COOI team might be thinking of giving this object a Central American origin. We’ll see where they go with this.

If I had to take a wild guess right now, based only on the information I saw on the episode, I would say that the object is probably a Mi’kmaw gorget, probably made from trade brass, probably in the late 1700s.

But who really knows? It could also be a small piece of a larger object that we would recognize immediately if we saw it in its context. All we have to go on is what we have. Which is often the case in archaeology.

23 thoughts on “Oak Island Archaeology Update: Is the decorated copper object a gorget?

  1. Great comments- Do you think if we were to examine other coasts- we would be mystified by some of the same things we are seeing here?


    1. Definitely. One thing I have learned is that anywhere you look, you find evidence of past human activity. All of it is interesting, all of it is intriguing, and some is definitely puzzling, at least until we get more context around it.


      1. I love reading about other reasonable causes of things that are being located on Oak Island. I do not believe anyone has offered some “other” explanation for the tunnels (or at least the very old cut lumber being located on the island. Are there alternative reasons for what they are finding (and now taking video of the “tunnels”)?

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      2. Hi Bruce,
        You have to remember that there was no trace of anything being dug up or searched for until 1849 when a treasure license was sought for Oak Island. No news accounts. No letters. No diaries. No public records. Nope, not until 1849, a year known for gold in dem’dar hills; and of course, treasure scams. Since then, there have been numerous digging operations. Heck, in the 1960’s Robert Dunfield dug up a pit about a hundred feet in diameter, dispelled the flood tunnel theory for good and came to the same conclusion that a digger in the 1860’s came to. That all activity was done presupposing there was a treasure to be had, when truth be told, it has always been a hoax. So when they now find “wood!”, it is simply past remnants of prior excavations and tunneling that have occurred for over one hundred and seventy years. They dug it up, then buried it. Again and again and again. The conclusions the show makes in this regard are nothing but intellectually dishonest speculation.

        They also are misleading their audience when finding either natural caves or crevices. Voids could also be caused by burying lumber from past digging and tunneling operations leaving spaces within. But last week’s episode claimed that natural caves do not form in limestone. Thankfully, they didn’t have their geologist make that claim, as it would have been professional malpractice. But make it, they did. Then they drop a sonar device down there to claim they found a cave almost thirty feet long and twelve feet wide. What didn’t they tell you? The height. They left that out. But note they couldn’t find the void until they dropped the sonar down another six inches. Wouldn’t dropping it down further have revealed the height? For some reason, they did not do that. Why do you suppose? Either way, the Windsor Formation runs below part of that island, along with natural caves and crevices. They are mystery-mongering.


  2. They’ll figure out some way to tie it to some imaginary treasure theory. I mean… didn’t Gary just find two links of chain and conclude they must have wrapped around a strong box of some sort… or better put, a treasure chest. Next thing you know, they’ll have some Templar “researcher” on to claim the bit of copper must have been worn by a Templar knight. You know, maybe even after sailing to South America.

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  3. There has to be something close for cross comparison. It’s clearly old. I’ve been searching (google, but very limited) to anything that shows similarities to the symbols on the copper. Everything from embossed, etched, museum displays/archaeological finds, I can’t find anything that reasonably matches these symbols. Someone/somewhere has an idea, or this is a monumental find.

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    1. I stumbled across a shoe on history channel that was discussing the copper scrolls that turned out to be locations of hidden treasure etched into copper sheeting and rolled up as to hide the writing. They were later cut apart for preservation and pieced together for deciphering. They are now on display in a museum near Jordan I believe. Maybe this could be something similar


    2. Dar, couple of those symbols resemble ancient alchemist symbols. I’m NO expert, but enjoy reading history. I’ve seen a couple of these before or symbols like this pertaining to ancient alchemy. Maybe pre periodic table? I don’t know.


      1. They need to take it to Carmen the blacksmith. Blacksmiths use alchemy every time they are combining metals, minerals, ores to make brass, steel, rose gold. I’m sure if there was a colony or homesteads there would have been an ancient blacksmith. Alchemy symbols whether combined to give a recipe (mixture) could have been used. A couple of those symbols look like alchemy and could be combined individual symbols to make a certain metal. I left messages on Niven and Ricks sites but I don’t think they look at them. The show was already pre filmed so they may know already and will see it on a future show this season.


  4. Some of the symbols on the copper object look like squash blossoms. I would guess this is definitely Native American though I don’t know if it is North, Central, or somewhere in between. It was previously speculated that stolen Aztec and Mayan gold and treasure was transported north. This could be part of that loot.



    Well, last night’s episode has the piece likely composed of European brass. When Portugal was mentioned as a possible source, they all jumped up “TEMPLARS!” in the war room. But then came the possibility of Vikings having made it, which then seemed to be their new angle. I’d tell you more… but that was about all I could stay awake for.

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    1. It could be alchemy symbols two of them appear to be. Maybe there was an ancient chemist on board. Not everything has to be Templar, no matter HOW they wish it was so. By banking their beliefs on THAT fact, they may be missing the real meanings and the people behind it. They are romanticizing to much. A brooch doesn’t have to be from a treasure chest. The people that inhabited the island had homes, it’s reasonable to assume a wife or two may have lived there also. Maybe children. Wouldn’t it be amazing after all this they find a root cellar full of vegetables and household things to be protected from the weather. Maybe they need to go back and find out WHO divided the island into lots.


    1. Honestly, Donna, I’ve put info on Laird Niven and Rick Legina sites, No answers. A couple of those symbols look like ancient alchemy symbols. Alchemists would have been around then. Who knows. That they are symbols in their own compartments resemble a possible periodic table, only ancient.


      1. I think they need to take that artifact to the blacksmith. Maybe it’s recipes to make different types of metals. Like I said before, some of the symbols look like ancient alchemy tables. Different metals are made by mixing different materials together.


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