Zena’s map has made a lot of noise on The Curse of Oak Island (COOI) so far. Its authenticity has been debated both on the show and in fan communities. It has guided part of the work done by the COOI team. Today I’d like to take a good, close, long overdue look at it.

Zena’s map

My first impression is that if there is an original somewhere, and if that original is old, this is a very recent copy of it. The script is modern. For contrast, here is an example of 18th Century French script, and anyone who has been following the show has seen other examples.

Zena’s document is mostly block letters with what I would call semi-cursive mixed in. The S and the T are fully modern. This is not an old document in its current form.

It’s also clear to me that whoever made it is not Francophone, and probably not terribly familiar with French. There are very basic errors and oddities that can’t be ascribed simply to archaic language. I will note when there are linguistic features that could be archaic, and when archaic features should be there and are missing.

The COOI Team’s translation

Starting in the top right corner of the full map, we have “cette dessan”, which is probably intended to mean “ce dessein” (this drawing). “Dessein” takes the masculine article “ce”, and not the feminine “cette.” The word “dessan” seems to be a phonetic rendering of “dessein”, if you pronounce it with a modern Parisian accent. It would be rendered differently with a Quebec accent, for example.

“Dessein” is a strange choice here. There are many better options, such as “carte” or “plan” (both for map, or “croquis” (sketch). You would normally use “dessein” if you were drawing a flower or something, but not a map.

Anything after “Rochefoucauld” is difficult to read and interpret, and looks like nonsense. It could be something like “un peu verre d’appre nous (something)”, which could stand for “a little toward (something) according to us”, except that toward should be “vers”, and not “verre” (which means glass), and “d’appre” should be “d’après.” Anyway, I won’t spend more time on this fragment. If someone has an idea. Let me know.

The compass rose is definitely odd. It puts the west at the top, which is quite rare. Old maps are much more likely to be oriented either north, like modern ones, or east, which is where the expression “to orient a map” comes from (i.e. orient = east).

The compass rose also shows “le bateau” (the boat, as opposed to “navire”, which would be a ship), and “le barque” (the barque, a common type of boat), except that “barque” takes the feminine article “la”, rather than “le.” 

Below that we have “le atterissage”, intended to mean “the landing”, but “attérissage” takes the feminine article “la”, which would be abbreviated to L and an apostrophe (“l’attérissage”), because French doesn’t tolerate consecutive vowels in an article-noun group. This is a very basic rule in French and suggests that whoever did the map did not know French very well. “Attérissage” also takes an accent on the e. 

This is followed by the date “un mille trois cent quarante-sept”, meaning “one thousand three hundred forty-seven”, except that in French, whether modern or archaic, the “one” (“un”) in “one thousand” would be dropped entirely. This should simply read “mille trois cent quarante-sept.”

To the left of that, we have “Ne vous allez ici avec le bateau”, which is likely intended to mean “Don’t go there with the boat”, and should read “N’allez pas ici avec le bateau.” The meaning is plain, but the grammar is very tortured. Interestingly, if this was really in archaic French, the “pas” would likely be replaced by “point.”

At the very bottom, we have a cryptic note that “Les sud indiens travaille tres bon”, probably intended to mean “The indians to the South (referring to indigenous people) work very well”, and in that case should read “Les indiens au sud (or du sud) travaillent très bien.” The verb ending is third person singular instead of plural, but I can let that go. The literal translation of what’s written here would be something like “the south indians work very good.”

This is followed by “le lionceau de Talmont”, or “the lion cub of Talmont.” Talmont is a castle in France associated with Richard Lionheart.

Now we get to the representation of the island itself, and the landmarks noted on it. 

Just above the island, we have what is pretty clearly “La anse”, which in geographical context is a small bay. Again, the article’s vowel should be dropped and replaced with an apostrophe, so this should be “L’anse”, similar to L’Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland, where there is a Viking archaeological site. 

On the translated map shown on COOI, “La anse” is read as “La ange” and translated to “The angel.” In French, however, angel takes the masculine article “le”, rather than the feminine “la”, and anyway, it would still be “L’ange.”

Then we have “le trou sous la trappe”, which is translated on the show as “the hole under the hatch.” This is defensible. “La trappe” could be more directly translated as a trap, as in for animals, but it can also be a hatchlike door.

To the left of this is “les isle des chene”, translated by the team as “Oak Island.” There are a number of problems here. First, the article “les” is plural, indicating a group of islands, rather than a single one, but the work “isle” is still singular. Like in English, it would take an “s” in the plural. 

“Isle” is the archaic form of the modern French word for Island, but again it is missing its accent on the “i”. Then we have the “chene” (oak), which is missing its accent (should be “chêne”) and should also be plural, since it is preceded by the plural “des”, rather than the singular “du”. 

In modern French, Oak Island would be either “L’Île du Chêne” or “L’ïle des Chênes.” On an old map, however, I would expect the archaic forms of both words, giving us “L’Îsle des Chêsnes.”

Moving to the left a bit, we have “la soupape”, accurately translated by the team as “the valve”, and then “le triangle”, followed by a word that could be “deca”, but I don’t know what to make of it. The COOI team seems to think it is an abbreviation for December, making the whole thing “the December triangle.” It looks doubtful to me, and “dec” as an abbreviation for December should still have an accent on the e (“déc”).

Moving down the island, we have “le marais”, uncontroversially rendered as “the marsh”, “le basin” as “the basin”, and “le barrage” as “the dam.”

“La ancres” as “the anchors” is a bit more problematic, simply because “la” indicates a singular, and “ancres” is plural, and we have the two consecutive vowels again, rather than the apostrophe. So it should either be “l’ancre” (singular), or “les ancres” (plural).

“Le triangle de Pierre” as “the stone triangle” presents a bit of a puzzle. Normally in French, the stones in a stone triangle or a stone circle would be plural, as in “le triangle de pierres” (note the “s” on pierres. On the other hand, the “P” on Pierre seems to be upper case, which could indicate the name of a person, as in Peter’s triangle, in which case it would be singular and not plural. Make of that what you will.

Going around the point of the island, we find “le chene entrer ici”, translated by the COOI team as “the oak enter here.” I mean, generally yes, but it is bad and confusing French grammar. “Le chene” is the oak, minus the accent on the e (again), and in it’s modern instead of archaic form, but “entrer” is the infinitive form of the verb. 

If it was an instruction, it would normally take the imperative form (“entrez”), and if it was a description (i.e. an entrance), it would take the noun form (entrée). Still, it is an easy enough error to make, and some Francophones would make it too.

Finally, we have “la voute en bas de terre”, which is very confusing, and is translated by the team as the no less confusing “the earth vaulted bay.” I think whoever wrote this was trying to say “the underground vault”, which would then be “la voûte souterraine”, or at the very least “la voûte sous terre.” 

The literal translation of the phrase is “the vault below earth”, but no one would say it that way in French. It reads like a very literally translated English phrase. And there is that missing accent again, as if the person who made the map had never heard of all the diacritics we liberally sprinkle over French words to indicate different sounds.

In summary, I would say every indication is that the map is recent, and was made by someone with no more than passing familiarity with the French language.

26 thoughts on “Curse of Oak Island Archaeology Update: A good look at Zena Halpern’s map of Oak Island

  1. The map was taken to France to the castle of the Rochefoucould where the family member and caretaker translated to Rick and team the meanings of the old French. Also, they were taken down to the dungeons (?) to see the carvings in the walls and one that matched the cross that they found. It was an interesting show. The map they carry around isn’t the original from the book zena found it in. She left everything to Rick and OAK IDLAND. Deb


  2. I find the whole treasure thing intriguing. Especially considering it has been around for so long and involved so many people. I also understand the skepticism outlined on this site. I understand the difficulties in this adventure. But there is one question that no one has dealt with on this site- All the lumber they have found underground. The lumber that has been found to be “old”. Why is this lumber so far underground and deeper than the searchers have ever gone? It leads me to believe there is some reason for this and what is it. This may be a fools gold errand- but to find the answers to the questions may be in and of itself a “found” treasure.


    1. In regard to the aged wood, the show would like you to think that there was nothing happening on Oak Island until the treasure hoax began (allegedly in 1795, but actually in 1849). They’ve been digging up that island for over 170 years, then burying it back again and again and again. Considering that people actually did live on that island in the 18th century and had been there for some time prior, it would not be out of the ordinary for old works from unrelated projects to be dug up and deposited with the rest of the material from fruitless searches over the years. Remember when they dug up the beach and found a bulkhead? Well, they didn’t call it that, but instead made it some sort of mystery out of it as if a bulkhead on a waterfront isn’t an every day sort of thing. And this all assumes that their carbon dating is accurate and uncontaminated… which given their past overwhelming mendacity in other concerns, has me skeptical of same.

      As for the map, the more interesting history in its regard is the ongoing war between fringe forces competing for this bit of tripe. I kid you not:


      Liked by 1 person

      1. Shortly after I clicked the link you helpfully embedded, my five-year-old began expounding on a Rube Goldberg machine he was building in the living room. His chain of logic and his understanding of cause and effect was a remarkably appropriate primer for the credulity required to investigate the claims made at the blog you linked to, and at the many other sites I visited to understand its claims and the general context for Halpern’s so-called map.

        So, I thank you for your comment, and other equally incisive ones you’ve made here on Dr. Costopolous’s blog. I can’t say that I thought much of the map or of any of the show’s fanciful theories, but you’ve saved me much effort should I ever have sought to explain why.

        It gave me an idea for a t-shirt slogan: “Real archaeologists don’t go down rabbit holes. They dig their own.”

        However, to be fair to rabbits, I’m sure they’ve inadvertently contributed more to archaeology than Templar theorists ever will.


    1. As a french speaker I’m almost certain it says “Le triangle de ça” loosely meant to mean “That triangle”. Like it has been pointed out, it is not a good french translation. Maybe it is meant to say Nolan’s cross. Just guessing here.

      I’m trying very hard to imagine why a non french speaker would try to translate a map in any other language. But this map definitively is about Oak Island because besides its distinct elephant shape there arr many items on the map that have actual known counterpart on the island itself.

      About the date 1347. We saw that date inscribed in the well in Portugal. 1347 is the year of the Plague. We should not be surprised to see that particular date appear anywhere in medieval times. Surprised nobody ever mentionned it. Btw Templars were decimated on October 13, 1307. That was 40 years before.


  3. Your assessment has me thinking of my own chicken scratch (in English) when analyzing a problem or creating visual aids to a theory (say genealogy timelines or property descriptions). My notes are truncated or “short handed”. Perhaps this is a note made by a former “searcher” that was roughly translated into French to send off for review/input. Before internet, earlier researchers would have had to hand copy notes and mail to an expert in some field or another. This would account for the incomplete thoughts and poor translations. My first impression when I saw the earlier episode introducing this map is also in-line with many, that ultimately this is not a copy of an old map. Many features captured were created at different times (per their own dating?)…so the map can only be as early as the last land mark creation. Remember, they believe that originally Oak Island was two islands and the the swamp was filled in to bury something.


  4. Has the show ever shown Zena’s original map? Marty and Rick and the team seem to test everything they find. Has anyone tested the map? Analyze the paper and ink?


    1. It’s linked above Bruce. You have to realize that Scott Wolter is a liar and a fraud. Every academic that ever worked with him regrets same, from Henrick Williams to Alice Kehoe. The former has actively debunked his wild claims and the latter scrubbed him from her revised take on pre-Columbian trans-Atlantic voyages, referring to him as an unnamed technician after initially following him down the rabbit hole that is the Kensington Runestone.

      He’s faked having a master’s degree on his professional resume, having only a bachelors degree in Geology from the University of Minnesota Duluth. When pressed on this, he claims it was honorary. When there was no evidence of such an honorary degree, he then claimed his professors saluted him with a cup of coffee in recognition of his work. I probably shouldn’t have to point this out, but a cup of coffee can’t be an honorary degree, even with a whipped topping as described.

      He lies that his work has been academically peer reviewed. It never has been and never would survive same. Logic 101 is all you need to refute his preposterous claims for what he calls “archaeopetography”; a wholly self-invented concept. If he ever appeared in court as an expert witness it was in regard to his true specialty. Concrete. He has never been qualified as an expert witness in court for archaeopetography, though he would like you to believe otherwise.

      He once sold a rock claiming it was a Lake Superior agate and was successfully sued when the buyer realized otherwise. So much for an expertise in Geology.

      Websites exist that debunk his many ignorant claims in regard to his canceled television show America Unearthed. Here’s just one for you:


      So if you believe Zena ever had an original map… wake up and smell the mendacity. These are not scholars we’re dealing with. They are pretenders that poison the well of history. For profit.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Excluding the script/hand of the lettering, when I think about the half-literates walking around these days, I wonder if it’s not possible that the writing was done by someone for whom French was not their first language, by someone who was uneducated about or never learned formal spelling and grammar, etc. Also, I knew a guy with a bachelor’s degree who spelled “sausage” as “sokag” so formal education doesn’t have to equate to perfection. I’m no fan of the map but does it have to have been created by someone who had an excellent grasp of spelling, grammar, etc?


  6. Thanks to the OP for a clear and concise interpretation of the pigeon French used on the map.

    The map is drawn by William (Bill) Jackson (1970’s), as are Cremona document maps and La Formule. La Formule is also connected to Oak Island by the same Zena Halpern, as I understand it. A simple examination of his handwriting proves this beyond any doubt. Here is a link to my short research. It didn’t really warrant much more.



  7. No great rush and apologies for it being a bit long, there are lots of pics, and a bit of humour.
    Last part concerns Scottish Chain measurements. I have been doing the SC measurements on the two well’s they have recently found.
    North one has 16 SC hits to our locations.
    South one has at least 9 SC hits, (to be honest I gave up so there may be more).
    Could all be coincidence of course


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