The Oak Island Phenomena – Digging Deeper Into Us

Do I have some ideas about what happened on Oak Island? Sure, but first I want to talk about what the reactions to the Oak Island mystery can reveal about us humans.

If you do not know about Oak Island and the mystery about what happened there, read this. I have been personally interested in the Oak Island puzzle since years ago when I first read about it in a Reader’s Digest article. Like many, I was thrilled when I saw that there would be a TV show about two brothers’ attempts to solve the Oak Island mystery. As one of the brothers, Rick Lagina, says, the search on Oak Island is as much an information hunt as it is a treasure hunt. I am going to engage in my own philosophical information hunt. I think the phenomena swirling around the mystery say a lot about who we are as human beings.

The Oak Island phenomena of books, TV shows, and tons of online chatter, touches on three great human loves and fascinations. I will touch on each in turn.

Our Love of Mystery

We humans are curious beings. Most of us love a story, a mystery, a problem to be solved. This is why perhaps the single most popular genre of literature is the mystery novel­—the whodunit. Weave a good story around a mystery and you have an eager audience.

Oak Island offers an intriguing story and a unique mystery. More than a whodunit it is also a question of what happened. Something was buried there. Beyond that, all we know is that it was buried sometime before 1795. Naturally, the idea of something buried on an island conjures up images of pirate gold. There has to be treasure there, right? For someone to have gone to so much trouble burying something more than 100 feet underground with booby traps must mean that what is buried there must be very valuable. Or so it is easy to assume.

The Oak Island mystery has captured the interest of many people for over two centuries, spawning books and TV shows. I mentioned the Reader’s Digest article. Anyone remember the Leonard Nimoy In Search Of… episode about it? Now we have the regrettably named show The Curse of Oak Island, which shows, partially, the brothers Rick and Marty Lagina and their team trying to solve the Oak Island mystery.

That so many people have tried but failed to solve the Oak Island mystery adds to the intrigue. Since the discovery in 1795 that something was buried on the island, there have been few years in which someone wasn’t actively trying to find out what was and may still be there. It seems simple: dig down, find what is there. That’s what quite a few people thought, anyway. Over a dozen legally established business entities and multiple individuals and families have spent considerable time and energy searching for whatever is buried on Oak Island. Most notably, the Restall family, Fred Nolan, and Dan Blankenship all moved to the island and dedicated their lives to the mystery. All of these people, over the course of 220 years, came up short, finding only clues that raised more questions than answers. That we are 220 years along, with millions of dollars spent, and untold number of hours of labor expended, and still have a mystery on our hands is pretty incredible.

One element that makes the Oak Island mystery so interesting and fun to consider is that it has a small set of tangible pieces of evidence (and, yes, some bogus evidence, too). This sets it apart form some other mysterious stories, like UFOs and Bigfoot, which are nebulous phenomena with mostly unverifiable reports scattered across large areas. Whatever happened on Oak Island happened right there, on this small island. We can go there. We can explore it. We can actually hope to solve the mystery, which is what we really want to do with a mystery.

Our Love of Solutions

We humans also love to solve problems. We like a good mystery, but we also like the mystery to be solved. That is why murder mystery novels almost always end with the protagonist solving the case. Sherlock Holmes and Miss Marple would be far less popular if they failed to solve mysteries.

Armed with the available small set of tangible pieces of evidence, the Laginas are searching Oak Island trying to solve the mysteries of what happened and whodunit. It is now season five of the TV show and the lack of resolution is annoying some people. We want solutions. We may enjoy some suspense, but we do not want to be strung along. Much of that frustration is directed at the producers of the show, who are clearly stringing things out to create more episodes for which they can sell advertising. Rumors are growing that the show’s producers are withholding finds made by the Laginas to keep the mystery from being solved.

Aside from any criticism of the show, the mystery does remain unsolved. This is probably more due to the intractable nature of the mystery than any suppression of evidence by the show’s producers. There are reasons that the mystery hasn’t been solved for over 220 years, and TV cameras are not going to change those reasons. But, we live in an age of instant gratification and the hair triggers of social media, and people lack patience.

Still with us today is the very old human urge to fill in the blanks. If a puzzle piece is missing, we want to finish the puzzle. This human tendency is so strong that if the perfect fitting piece isn’t readily available, we fashion one and try to fit it in the hole. The Oak Island mystery has one big hole—what was buried there—and some related smaller but significant holes. So, humans who love solutions have been trying to fill in those holes.

Down the rabbit hole…

The efforts to fill in the blanks and find a solution to the Oak Island mystery have spawned many theories. The most prevalent and reasonable theory is that there is pirate treasure buried on Oak Island. We know that pirates and rogue naval commanders did bury treasure. We know that the coastlines of the Atlantic Ocean were frequented by pirates both rogue and with letters of marque from the English, French, or Spanish crowns. It certainly is not much of a leap to conjecture that pirates of one sort or another had buried something on Oak Island. Many of the best known pirates, such as Captain Kidd and Blackbeard, have been linked to Oak Island, but no tangible evidence definitively linking any of them to the island has surfaced.

The assumption that pirates were involved in the Oak Island mystery is sensible, but without proof. The mystery remains unsolved, so humans fashion a new puzzle piece to try to fill the hole. The idea that pirates deposited treasure is not romantic enough for some, and these people conjure up their own theories. The proposed solutions get increasingly far-fetched. I cannot detail all of the conjectures about what is buried on Oak Island, but the speculations include loot captured during the various wars among the French, British, and Spanish secreted away by a military commander, or manuscripts proving Francis Bacon wrote the plays attributed to Shakespeare, or royal jewels smuggled out of France during the French Revolution, or stuff buried by Freemasons (because no mystery goes by without someone saying the Freemasons were behind it).

The most bizarre theory I have seen is that the treasure buried on Oak Island belonged to an ancient Egyptian woman named Scotia, a daughter of a Pharaoh. That is why the province is called “Nova Scotia” the conjecture goes. Never mind the reality that the province was named after Scotland—“New Scotland” in Latin. Of course, the theorist’s answer to that is that Scotland is also named after the ancient Scotia when ancient Egyptians traveled there. Evidence offered? None really, just a story passionately told and defended. Which leads me to the third human love. (Don’t worry, I will deal with the Templar theory in due course.)

 

Our Love of Our Ego

We don’t just crave a solution to mysteries, we crave solving it ourselves. When the solution is our solution, that’s a good feeling. Humans need recognition from others and we get recognition when we do good in the eyes of others. Solutions are loved by humans who value those who solve problems and mysteries. We therefore want the honor of being problem solvers.

The trouble is that the need and desire for recognition can outstrip other needs. Putting forward a theory is fair game. Hey, you want to say aliens buried a flying saucer on Oak Island? Go for it.

Sorry, I knew mentioning aliens would attract some bad attention. But that is the thing: an open mystery attracts people offering solutions, and that’s a good thing, even if a few crazies get involved. Everyone is entitled to offer a theory—even if it is about aliens.

What is not a good thing is when ego eclipses other considerations, such as the need to be factual and fair-minded. Offering a theory is fine. Not respecting others’ theories and responses is not fine. Some people want so much for their solution to be the solution that they refuse to consider evidence that contradicts their theory. Worse, some attack those who bring up such evidence.

The online world eases and enhances these ego-laden exchanges. Every online discussion forum about Oak Island is filled with people talking about their solutions to the Oak Island mystery. That’s fun and interesting. But far fewer are the number of people who listen to others. I am not suggesting everyone is fighting with each other, though that does happen, but people do talk past each other. That’s not fun and is quite tedious. We learn through the free exchange of ideas and a free exchange requires listening to others.

Over the years that I have followed the Curse of Oak Island TV show, I have regularly scrolled through the fan forums, mostly Facebook groups, learning from other people’s perspectives. Folks are basically decent, but not everyone. One woman I remember in particular joined a group and laid out her theory that a particular person hundreds of years ago went to Oak Island and buried treasure there. Again, fair enough. But when people responded with questions or pointing out problems with her theory, she became increasingly belligerent. “Have you been to Oak Island? If not, be quiet,” was her go-to come back. She was eventually removed from the group, and justifiably especially since she could not prove she ever conducted research on Oak Island, but she is a more blatant example of too many others for whom their love of their ego is more important than their love for truth and dialogue. The number of Oak Island groups on Facebook keeps growing as factions now angry at each other split off to form new groups.

Which brings me back to the producers of The Curse of Oak Island. On the one side we have the show’s producers and on the other side we have the viewers. As I mentioned, annoyance with the show is growing, and the go-laden vitriol against the producers is growing. The producers share some of the blame for this because in their ego-laden quest for ad revenue they are insulting the intelligence of the viewers.

Everyone who has watched the show knows it is ridiculously repetitive—though to be fair, no more so than a lot of TV shows these days. The common criticism that there are about five minutes of new information in each 42 minute episode, the rest being filler and recap, is not far off. The viewers go overboard sometimes in their criticisms, though, when their love of complaining or desire to be witty overwhelms their sense and reason. Unsubstantiated accusations are made online that the producers are hiding sensational finds and otherwise lying to the world. Then people fight over these accusations. Meanwhile, the Laginas and their team struggle to solve the Oak Island mystery, and we see only glimpses of their actions, leaving it up to everyone to fill in the holes of the puzzle.

The producers of The Curse of Oak Island are not helping their case with their sensationalizing of the lead cross found on the island by metal detectorist, Gary Drayton. The show is trying to sell the idea that the cross is from the Knights Templar. They have presented zero evidence of this other than that it kind of looks like a carving on a wall of a castle in France where Templars were. The Templars have been a trendy topic for basic cable networks ever since Dan Brown’s silly book in which he compiled a whole mess of lies about Templars and other false history. (For some truth about the Templars: 5 Ridiculous Myths About the Knights Templar—you can safely skip the first 15 minutes.)

The theory that the Templars buried something on Oak Island is far-fetched, almost as bad as the Egyptian theory. Worse, the show keeps floating the suggestion that what the Templars buried was the Ark of the Covenant combining Robert Langdon false history with Indiana Jones false history. It damages the show’s credibility and probably does not raise viewership much. People do love a mystery, and they do love a story, but they also do not like to be taken for fools.

My theory? I do not really have one, but I can say that every piece of tangible evidence (coins, bones, fibers, and wood) points to the original depositors on Oak Island doing whatever they did around 1700. Beyond that, I do not know and nobody else does either, but I do hope the Laginas figure it out.

 

Further Reading:

Far and away the most serious and detailed analysis of each The Curse of Oak Island TV show episode.

Details on past search efforts (incomplete site but some good information)

Oak Island Compendium

The Curse of Oak Island TV show site

The most informative and least troll-laden Oak Island Facebook group, in my opinion.

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