The Oak Island Treasure – Mystery of the Money Pit

Oak Island money pit seen from the air

Oak Island Discovery

One spring day in 1795 Daniel McGinnis, then a teenager, was wandering around Oak Island, Nova Scotia when he came across a curious circular depression in the ground.

Standing over this depression was a tree whose branches had been cut in a way which looked like it had been used as a pulley. Having heard tales of pirates hiding their treasure in the area McGinnis hurried home to tell his friends.

Over the next several days McGinnis and two other boys worked furiously on the hole. What they found astonished them.

diagram of the money pit

Click Image to Enlarge

Two feet below the surface they came across a layer of flagstones covering the pit. At ten feet they found a platform of oak logs wedged into the shaft’s walls. Ripping it out they excavated another ten feet. There they found another platform, then another one ten feet lower.

Frustrated by the barriers, the boys eventually returned to their farm chores.

Eight years later, in 1803, the three boys returned to Oak Island to continue the hunt. They were adults now and had the financial backing of a syndicate of Nova Scotia businessmen who called themselves The Onslow Company.

The excavation picked up where it had left off eight years before and more oak platforms were discovered – every ten feet. Besides the boards, at 40 feet a layer of charcoal was found, at 50 feet a layer of putty, and at 60 feet a layer of coconut fiber.

At 90 feet one of the most puzzling clues was found – a stone tablet inscribed with mysterious writing:

inscription found in the money pit on Oak Island

It turned out to be a simple substitution cipher where each symbol inscribed on the stone corresponded to a letter in the alphabet. When decoded the cipher read:


As nightfall descended the digging had to be stopped due to poor visibility – the treasure would have to wait one more day.

The group returned to Oak Island the next day eager to recover treasure only to find the shaft completely flooded with seawater. No matter how hard they tried, all attempts to pump out the water failed.

Booby Trap!

Many believe that the flooding was part of an elaborate booby trap built to protect the Money Pit’s secret. Later excavations discovered an intricate rock-lined tunnel system that directed seawater from the ocean into the shaft. The water had been held back by a barrier that was tripped during the excavation.

Unwilling to give up on the treasure, the group dug a separate shaft next to the original in order to allow the flood water to drain out.

But the plan turned out to be a disaster – the walls of the new shaft collapsed leaving the original shaft flooded once again. The diggers were lucky to escape with their lives.

The pit was abandoned for 45 years.

A Brief History of The Oak Island Treasure Hunt

Over the next 200 years the Money Pit’s secrets obsessed scores of people – an endless procession of individuals and corporations descended upon the island to take up the hunt.

The lure of the unknown attracted all types of adventurers – some of the more noteworthy were: soon to be US President Franklin D. Roosevelt, explorer Richard Byrd, and actor Errol Flynn who wanted to search Oak Island in 1940, but was discouraged when he found the search rights already belonged to a company owned by fellow actor John Wayne.

Rosevelt looking for Oak Island Treasure
Franklin D. Roosevelt and friends working the Oak Island Money Pit in 1910.

Below is an accounting of the various treasure hunters who tried in vein to discover the mystery of the Oak Island money pit.

Drilling For Core Samples (1849-1851)

The successors to the Onslow Company’s mission were called the Truro Company. They started their work in 1849 by digging down to 86 feet. However, once again the Money Hole flooded.

When the digging proved futile, the Truro Company switched to another strategy: drilling for core samples. In other words, by using a drill, they attempted to retrieve samples of whatever lay buried at the bottom of the Pit.

The findings were promising. First, they discovered layers of spruce, oak, and then something which they described as “metal in pieces”, followed by more oak and spruce. That led them to believe that they had drilled through actual treasure chests. Some anecdotal evidence even lists three small gold links among the findings.

What’s interesting is that the earth beneath the bottom spruce was loose, which indicated that the Pit went even deeper than those 98 feet.

Unfortunately, over the following years, the Truro Company faced trouble with the sea water, which kept flooding the Pit.

The Cement Vault (1861-1897)

In 1861, another group called the Oak Island Association tried to intercept the channel from the sea with a new shaft. However, their work resulted in the bottom of the Money Pit caving in.

Shockingly, the Pit dropped for more than 15 feet.

The next serious attempt at excavation started in 1893 when the Oak Island Treasure Company took over. By 1897, they managed to clear out the Money Pit down to a staggering 111 feet. They even managed to temporarily block the entrance of the flood tunnel, although their success was brief.

Having reached a greater depth than their predecessors, this expedition did their own drilling for core samples. Their findings took them by surprise.

First, they discovered deposits of iron and wood at 126 feet, which probably ended up down there when the Pit collapsed. Following that, they found two separate deposits of blue clay — between 130 and 151 feet, as well as between 160 and 171 feet.

However, what lay between these layers of clay was a cement vault. It was 7 feet tall and was lined with 7-inch walls. Inside the vault, the drill struck wood, an unidentified substance and a layer of soft metal.

When the excavators brought the drill back, what they found attached to the auger was a tiny piece of sheepskin parchment. The piece contained a pair of letters which could not be identified without the remaining part of the parchment.

Unfortunately, who the parchment belonged to still remains an Oak Island mystery to this day.

Other than the discovery of a second flood tunnel in 1899, all further attempts by the Oak Island Treasure Company were hindered by the flooding.

The 20th-Century Projects (1936-1965)

No further attempt to uncover the treasure took place until 1936. That year, two explorers named Gilbert Hadden and Fred Blair made some discoveries outside the Pit.

The first of those was a fragment of an inscribed stone, while the second one was a number of old timbers in Smith’s Cove. They believed that these timbers had remained from the original diggers because they were joined by wooden pins, instead of metal ones.

In 1938, Erwin Hamilton tried his luck in the Pit and made two discoveries. First, he found rocks and gravel at the depth of 190 feet, which appeared to be out of place there. Secondly, he found splinters of wood below a layer of natural limestone.

In 1965, an explorer named Bob Restall, his son, and two workers all tragically died at the site. It appeared that they had passed out due to gas, fell into the pit, and drowned.

The same year, Bob Dunfield assaulted the Pit with heavy machinery and dug down to 140 feet. There, he discovered a layer of limestone, under which lay a 40-foot natural underground cavern.

Modern-day Expeditions  (1965 to 1990)

In 1965, Daniel C. Blankenship and David Tobias formed The Triton Alliance, Ltd. and purchased most of the island.

While building a cofferdam at Smith’s Cove, they discovered the remains of the original builders’ cofferdam: several wooden logs marked with Roman numerals, carbon dated to over two centuries ago.

On the western end of the island, the expedition discovered wooden structures and a pair of leather shoes.

Borehole 10-X

The last major discovery by Triton happened in 1971 when Triton workers excavated a 237-foot shaft into the ground northeast of the Money Pit.

They called the shaft Borehole 10-X.

Once a camera was lowered into the hole, to the depth of 230 feet, it brought back some amazing images.

According to Blankenship and Tobias, they saw what was likely a severed hand, three chests, a number of tools, as well as a human body.

Unfortunately,these incredible findings could not be inspected in person, since the strong current had made it impossible for divers to explore.

Afterward, the hole collapsed and nobody has reopened it ever since.

Work was eventually halted in the 90s due to lack of funds, legal battles between the Triton partners, and the collapse of the partnership.

Oak Island Mystery Finally Solved?

Over the course of two long centuries, numerous explorers had dedicated their entire lives to figuring out the Oak Island mystery.

In recent rumors which would have us consider the Oak Island treasure found 2017 is the year most often brought up. With that in mind, how exactly are researchers working on the Oak Island mystery these days?

What is the truth behind those recent discoveries which have garnered so much public attention?

Today, the mystery of the buried treasure is in the hands of a pair of passionate explorers. The brothers Rick and Marty Lagina have devoted their lives to the Oak Island mission.

Although for many years they saw little success, it appears that their recent efforts bore some results, which is why they were documented in the popular History Channel series, The Curse of Oak Island.

Lagina Brothers on Oak Island

Following the success of the series, the Lagina brothers used the money from the TV show to fund their expedition. Their first important discovery was a Spanish copper coin. They estimate that the coin dates back to the 17th century.

The First Major Findings

By the time the third season of the show was airing, the persistent brothers’ efforts were beginning to pay off. Upon draining a large hole, the excavators came across a number of ancient artifacts. These items included what appeared to be an ancient Roman sword, as well as a number of Portuguese carvings. Some findings even appeared to be related to the Aztecs.

If the sword was indeed of ancient Roman origin, that would mean that the Romans had visited the western continents thousands of years ago. No one has uncovered any evidence of such Roman expeditions other than this mysterious sword.

However, the deeper the brothers had dug, the stranger their findings became. At one point, they discovered something puzzling: a French treasure map dated to 1647.

The map contained the words “anchor”, “hatch”, and “valve”, which seemed to indicate that the Oak Island history ran further back than anyone had thought before. What the map also indicated was that the Oak Island mystery stretched all the way to an unlikely origin in Africa.

The Bookbinding and the Parchment

However, all of these findings pale in comparison to what the Lagina brothers found after the airing of the fourth season of the show.

What they discovered was a piece of material which appeared to be a fragment, or more precisely, the binding of a book. If that estimate happens to be correct, it would seem that some sort of ancient manuscript exists at an incredible depth inside the Money Pit.

Alongside this potential fragment of a bookbinding, the excavation team discovered what seemed to be a piece of parchment. The parchment was made of animal skin and some even speculated that it could be linked to an exchange between William Chappel and Frederick Blair, originally discovered in 1897.

Others believed that they could trace this parchment back to the 15th century. Back at that time, people wrote down only the most important messages.

Modern-day Oak Island history

Although, because of these findings, some consider the Oak Island treasure found 2017 did not, after all, bring the conclusion to the island’s mysteries.

On the contrary, the Lagina brothers continue their work with fervor and passion, with the help of the experienced Blankenship family of the Triton Alliance.

Members of the team are busy coming up with new and creative ways of speeding up the digging process. Their freshest ideas include the possibility of freezing the Money Pit so that it becomes possible to eliminate the flooding.

However, such methods are expensive and would require much more funding than the team currently has at its disposal. It seems that it will take a long time before someone gets to the bottom of the Oak Island mystery.

Luckily, the dedicated individuals working on it right now are continuing the legacy of the rich Oak Island history.

What Treasure is Buried in The Oak Island Money Pit?

heart shaped stone found at oak island in the money pit

The pit has yielded few clues to what it may hold. Three links of chain, iron scissors of Spanish manufacture, a carved-bone boson’s whistle, and a scrap of parchment are among the few artifacts to be raised.

Coconut fiber has also been found, although the nearest coconut trees are 1,500 miles away – coconut fiber was used to pack cargo on seventeenth and eighteenth-century ships.

One of the most tantalizing discoveries was a heart-shaped stone similar to those found among pirate treasure-troves in Haiti.

There are many theories as to what the Money Pit may hold but my three favorites are:

Theory #1 – The Treasure of the Knights Templar

Three knights Templar in white robes.

The tale of the Knights Templar’s Lost Treasure is well known among treasure hunting buffs. In the early hours of October 13th, 1307, King Philip IV of France ordered all the Knights Templar arrested on trumped up charge of heresy – and their fabled treasure confiscated in the name of the crown.

But when the King’s men arrived at the Templar’s Paris Headquarters the treasure had vanished as had almost the entire Templar naval fleet.

The Templars were now wanted men in most of Europe, so, the theory goes that desiring to establish a new Templar government outside the reach of French persecution, the Templars sailed westward towards Nova Scotia where they established a colony.

The presence of the Knights Templar in Novia Scotia a century before Columbus discovered America may sound far-fetched, but it is supported by a Zeno narrative and map that depicts the landmass of Nova Scotia (New Scotland) with the figure of a crowned knight drawn upon it (one of the Templar’s Symbols).

At some point, the theory goes, the Templars decided to abandon their colony and head back to Europe, but with the order weakened and fearing their treasure might fall into the wrong hands, they decided to hide it.

They constructed the money pit to protect their treasure until such a time they could return for it. Which they obviously never did.

To this day none of the Templar treasure has been found!

Their treasure is rumored to contain artifacts of spiritual significance retrieved by the order during the Crusades, including the genealogies of David and Jesus and documents that trace these bloodlines into the royal bloodlines of Merovingian France.

Some theories even go so far as to suggest that the Knights Templar may have hidden the Ark of the Covenant or the Holy Grail at the bottom of the Money Pit.

captain William Kidd

Theory #2 – Captain Kidd’s Treasure

Legends abound about the numerous secret caches of treasure buried by Kidd throughout his illustrious career as a Pirate. One legend told of a dying sailor in the New England Colonies who confessed to being a part of Kidd’s notorious crew.

The old sailor stated that Captain Kidd had buried a hoard of treasure to be found on an island “east of Boston”, but he never named an exact location for the hidden booty. Could it have been Oak Island?

Skeptics claim that Kidd spent little time near Nova Scotia, suggesting that he could not have devoted enough time to constructing the money pit.

Theory #3 – Inca or Maya Treasure

Mayan oak island treasure

During the conquest of the Americas by the Europeans in the mid 1500s much of the wealth of the Incas and Mayas disappeared. There are two persistent legends about where much of this treasure went – if you want to know more check out these two articles:

Montezuma’s Gold

Inca Gold: The Treasure of the Llanganatis

Some researchers believe it’s possible that a group of Incas or Mayas, possibly with the help of sympathetic Europeans, stole away with the wealth and buried it on Oak Island out of the reach of the conquerors.

Theroy #5 – Marie Antoinette’s Jewels

Another interesting story involves Marie Antoinette’s missing jewels and reads like the beginning of a Clive Cussler novel…

The year was 1789 and the French Revolution was in full swing. The Palace of Versailles was in imminent danger of being stormed by revolutionaries so the doomed Queen gathered up her most valuable possessions and entrusted them to her favorite lady in waiting.

Marie gave instructions to take the treasure and flee the place immediately.

Some believe the maid fled to Nova Scotia with the help of her royal connections, and with the aid of the French Navy, constructed the Money Pit as an elaborate vault to house the jewels.

The timeline of the mystery of Oak Island does work well for this theory. The mystery of Oak Island began in 1795, just four years after Marie and Louis flight to Varennes on June 20, 1791.

The most intriguing part of this theory is that the main body of Marie Antoinette’s jewel collection does remains lost to this day.

Theroy #6 – Freemason Artifacts

One enduring Oak Island treasure theory is that the Money Pit is in fact a Masonic secret vault, created by the Freemasons.

There are several reasons why I like this theory.

First, many Masonic markings, symbols and artifacts have been discovered around and within the Money Pit. One such stone (pictured below) is said to depict a symbolic Masonic “G” character.

Oak Island Freemason "G" stone

Second, many experts believe that the way The Money Pit is constructed is very similar to other Freemason “vaults,” around the world and it shares a deep connection with the Freemasons rituals involving buried treasure.

What could the Freemasons have been trying to hide down there? Some experts believe the mysterious group was not hiding treasure, but books, documents, and ancient knowledge dating from as far back as the library of Alexandria.

Frequently Asked Questions About Oak Island

The recently aired TV show about the long and detailed Oak Island history, as well as the most recent discoveries made there, has brought the mystery of this island to public attention.

Anyone who has just learned about the project can use this FAQ section to answer some of the most essential questions related to the Oak Island mystery.

Where Is Oak Island Located?

Oak Island is located on the south shore of the Canadian province of Nova Scotia. Oak Island belongs to the Lunenburg County, which ranges from the Vogler’s Cove to the west to Hubbards to the east. Moreover, the island is in the large Mahone Bay, which contains around 360 small islands.

Furthermore, Oak Island rises to a maximum of 36 feet, or 11 meters, above sea level. Explorers named it after the oak forests which cover it. It has a connection to the mainland in the form of a gate and a causeway. What made this island famous is the Oak Island mystery and the story of the lost treasure.

Who owns Oak Island?

Private parties own Oak Island completely. Most of the island belongs to an organization known as Oak Island Tours Inc. — around 78%, while other private owners possess the remaining 22%.

Oak Island Tours Inc. belongs to a group of owners which consists of the brothers Rick and Marty Lagina, Dan Blankenship, Alan Kostrzewa, and Craig Tester. The organization dedicated itself to figuring out the Oak Island mystery. There are two permanently inhabited houses on the island, as well as two cottages which are only seasonally occupied.

How many people have died searching for the Oak Island treasure?

The Oak Island history earned this island the reputation of a “cursed” place due to the number of people who died there. The expedition has been more-or-less active for over two centuries. During this long period, the dangerous working conditions have claimed a number of lives.

We know that fourteen people have died on Oak Island since 1795. Today, we believe that seven of those fourteen people were engaged in the treasure hunt.

One Indian legend has it that the search will end only after all the island’s oaks are dead, and seven treasure hunters have lost their lives in the search. The treasure has claimed 7 victims and only three live oaks remained on the island.

Did they find treasure on Oak Island?

Although explorers have uncovered numerous objects of interest over the history of the Oak Island excavation, the fabled treasure still remains hidden. As a result, the mission continues to this day, as the Lagina brothers and their team continue exploring.

Although 2017 had shed light on some of the mysteries of the Money Pit, it will take more time, money, and technology before someone gets to the bottom of the Oak Island mystery.

What did they find on Oak Island?

Explorers have found a number of artifacts on Oak Island so far, however, most of them only created more questions than answers. Some of them are the remains of the previous expedition, while others are of a more puzzling origin.

The old findings include an old ruler, a pair of scissors, metal fragments, a hand-wrought nail, and a washer.

However, the Lagina brothers have had much more exciting findings. The most recent one was a mysterious brooch. We are still in the process of learning about Oak Island history.

About the Author

CM Burns
CM Burns
CM Burns has been a music video director, a cameraman for Nat Geo, has recorded ancient Tibetan chants in India and swum with whales in Baja, California. Currently living in the Philippines you will find him anywhere Adventure happens.
CM Burns
CM Burns
CM Burns has been a music video director, a cameraman for Nat Geo, has recorded ancient Tibetan chants in India and swum with whales in Baja, California. Currently living in the Philippines you will find him anywhere Adventure happens.
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