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An unexpected discovery awaited workers as they began to build a new underground garage near a cemetery wall in the Swiss town of Schüpfen: the subsoil was full of human skeletons. They were actually warned that something like this could happen because it was known that the plot of land was used as a burial ground in the Middle Ages. In fact, archaeologists located up to 342 bodies at the site dating from the 8th-17th centuries.
But the Spanish newspaper ABC explains that neither workers nor researchers were prepared to discover the remains of a man who was placed face down in his grave a little away from the other burials. They found a knife and the remains of a bag or purse alongside his skeleton. In addition, 24 corroded coins which form a single compact block of metal, were discovered.
The surprised specialists have developed various hypotheses in an attempt to explain the man’s strange burial position. Some believe that the burial had to be done in a hurry, leaving no time to prepare the body. If the body had been washed, as was customary by that time, the bag would have been removed. Is it possible that this man died from an infectious disease - requiring his immediate burial?
24 coins have been identified in this corroded metal block which was found with the human remains. (ABC/Archäologischer Dienst des Kantons Bern )
Coins are a great source of valuable information. Therefore, archaeologists examined the deceased’s bag, which was placed under his chest, in more detail: the passing of the years had caused the leather to decompose and corroded the coins to form a single solid and compact block. The experts wanted to observe the coins individually, but they are extremely brittle and could not be separated without turning to dust.
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"The block of coins is not very big, but it absorbs a lot of energy, so we needed a very powerful X-ray source," Mathieu Plamondon, a specialist from the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology ( EMPA) explained. [Via ABC]
Thus, the scientific team resorted to using a computer tomograph X-ray which has the kind of power that was needed and a powerful high-resolution detector - capable of resolutions in the micrometer range, even with samples of dimensions up to 10 cm (3.94 inches). They were able to identify 24 coins: some with a seal on just one side and others on both sides. They were even able to observe that some of the coins were made of two different metals - some with an alloy of copper and silver. One, however, was minted in pure silver. Despite the severe corrosion, it was also possible to see images in relief and the text of individual coins.
Due to the corrosion of the coins, the scientific team resorted to using a computer tomograph X-ray which has the kind of power that was needed and a powerful high-resolution detector. (ABC/Archäologischer Dienst des Kantons Bern )
Of the coins that had the year of manufacture recorded on them, the most recent are from 1629, so the man must have been buried after that date.
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"He may have been a traveling merchant, as we have found coins from different regions. Overall, the coins are actually only a small sum. There is nothing in the bag of a value equivalent to, say, a hundred francs today,” explained Christian Weiss, numismatic expert who works for the Archaeological Service of the Swiss canton of Bern.
It is also considered unlikely that someone took the most valuable coins and left those of a lower value, which rules out murder associated with robbery. However, it does not exclude other reasons for a possible murder, such as revenge. In the end, the researchers are still wondering if they may someday discover the reason why the man was buried in such a strange position.
Archeologist in awe at 2,100 year old iPhone-like belt buckle unearthed in Atlantis grave in Tuva
Ancient Xiongnu-era woman took stylish accessory to the afterlife.
'This site is a scientific sensation', said Dr Marina Kilunovskaya from the St Petersburg Institute of Material History Culture, who leads the Tuva Archeological Expedition. Picture:
To archeologist Pavel Leus the striking new find resembled a modern smartphone.
The black rectangular object was located in a burial site known as &lsquoThe Russian Atlantis&rsquo in mountainous Republic of Tuva, for it only appears from under water for few weeks a year.
Archeologists jokingly nicknamed the ancient female Natasha, while her accessory was called &lsquoan iPhone&rsquo.
In fact, the discovery is a large - 18cm by 9cm - chic belt buckle made of gemstone jet with inlaid decorations of turquoise, carnelian and mother-of-pearl.
The woman&rsquos belt was decorated with Chinese wuzhu coins which helped the scientists to date it.
They believe it might be up to 2,137 years old because this is when such coins were first minted.
Burial AT 1/29 and a stunning find which archeologists jokingly named 'Natasha's iPhone'. Pictures: HMC RAS/Pavel Leus
The find was made in 2016 at the Ala-Tey necropolis in the Sayan Sea.
This is a giant manmade reservoir on the Yenisei River upstream of the Sayano-Shushenskaya Dam, Russia&rsquos biggest power plant.
The water drains in May and June each year exposing the vast desert-like floor.
Graves have been found here dating from the Bronze Age to the time of Genghis Khan.
Archeologist in awe at 2,100 year old iPhone-like belt buckle unearthed in Atlantis grave in Tuva. Pictures: HMC RAS/Pavel Leus
Earlier two partly-mummified prehistoric fashionistas, buried with the tools of their trade were unearthed.
One called &lsquoSleeping Beauty&rsquo - dressed in silk for the afterlife - was at first believed to be a priestess. Now she is thought to have been a leather designer.
The second was a weaver laid to rest with her wooden spindle packed inside a sewing bag.
As many as 110 burials appeared on an island in the reservoir at Ala-Tey site.
'This site is a scientific sensation', said Dr Marina Kilunovskaya from the St Petersburg Institute of Material History Culture, who leads the Tuva Archeological Expedition.
'We are incredibly lucky to have found these burials of rich nomads that were not disturbed by (ancient) grave robbers.'
Earlier the so-called 'Sleeping beauty' in silk clothes was found at the site. Pictures show Ala-Tey site before and after it goes under water for most of the year, and Terezin site. Pictures: HMC RAS/Pavel Leus
Pavel Leus is from the Society for the Exploration of EurAsia.
Tuva archeological rescue expedition in flooded areas is possible thank to a grant from the Russian Geographical Society, and help from Society for the Exploration of EurAsia (Switzerland).
Burial AT 1/29 and a stunning find which archeologists jokingly named 'Natasha's iPhone'. Video: Pavel Leus
Obeah Is a Fact of Life, and Afterlife, in the Caribbean
On Barbados, an 18‐year‐old girl is awakened by a tapoing at her window. She recognizes the rings on the hand waving good‐by as her grandmother's, hut when she rushes outside, no one is there. Later the girl learns that her grandmother has died at that very moment. on the other side of the island.
In Jamaica, a dying woman warns her husband that if he mistreats their son, she will come back to haunt him. He remarries and has a second family. Then his first wife begins showing up at the front gate. The night fishermen see her, standing there in the same white dress in which she was married and buried. It is not until her husband sets down rules for his second wife concerning the upbringing of the first wife's son that the ghost vanishes.
In Georgetown, Guyana, a live black chicken is found under the clothes of a not‐yet‐buried corpse. With it are slips of paper bearing the names, birth dates and addresses of certain people. Those mourner,: who are named flee the scene in panic. They know they were expected to suffocate and die within nine days, like the chicken that was to have bean buried with the body.
This is obeah, the black magic of the Caribbean. It is too secret, too mercurial for statistical study, but it found everywhere in the West Indies, and believers consider it effective both in matters of life and death and in day ‐to ‐day affairs. A person might turn to obeah if he yearns to see his competitor's business fold, or if he wants to clinch a promotion, or if he needs spell that will make him irresistible to the opposite sex. Man's scientific advancements may have taken him to the moon, but witchcraft remains alive and hexing in the West Indies. Peace of mind is still something to be worn around your neck.
Tourists seldom realize how powerful and persistent this obeah, or necromancy, is throughout the Caribbean islands. Brought over centuries ago by African slaves, it has thrived, enhanced by superstitions prevalent among Scotch and Irish Highlanders, interlaced with Christian ritual and aided by an expert botanical knowledge inherited from the Carib Indians.
Obeah is a private pursuit, something just between a fellow and his fears. Since obeah is technically illegal on most islands, its believers maintain a conspiracy of silence. Caribbean obeahmen live in seclusion in the bush, out of the eye of the law, which is forever on their trail. They speak in unknown tongues, which not even they themselves can always understand. Their powers can both heal and harm and are for hire by rich, poor, black and white.
Obeah (or Obecyahism) is not to be confused with the formalized rites of Haiti's more familiar voodoo. Obeah has no creed or organized service of worship. In the language of the Ashanti, obayɿo meant wizard, and obi in East Africa meant sorcery or fetishism. The etymology has been traced to ancient Egyptian mythology in which ob (or aub) mean serpent. Moses warned the Israelites not to recognize the demon Ob, translated in the Bible as divinator or sorcerer.
Peace of mind in the West Indies is something to be worn around the neck to ward off the jumbies.
Whatever its sources, obeah drove the West Indian sugar magnates right up the plantation walls. When Africans were shipped to the New World, they were forced to relinquish language, culture and religion. Black magic they managed to cling to, perhaps because represented revenge and hope to them. The planters outlawed African drums, for fear they might communicate a message of insurrection, yet they considered obeah merely quaint superstition at first. They did not prohibit Africans from wearing amulets or packets of herbs around their necks. The planters seldom discovered the slaves who were secretly harvesting arsenic beans in their gar
Most planters eventually learned at first‐hand about the power obeah had over their slaves. The latest European medicines were useless against the slave who moaned, “I obeahed. I goan die.” Without any apparent physical symptoms the African turned his face to the wall and “pined away.”
A search of an obeahman's shanty would reveal only a few cats’ ears, bottles of grave dirt, dried plants and some human hair. “Shadow‐catching” was called in the 17th‐and 18th‐century plantocracy era. Someone who was spellbound believed an enemy had caught his shadow and thus had the power to bring about his death.
When it finally dawned on a planter that he himself might be the victim of this underground resistance, he outlawed obeah, making its practice punishable by death. Still, people continued to die without symptoms. Convictions were impossible to obtain because no one would testify against an obi‐man for fear of being hexed himself. Deathbed confessions, however, were not unusual. “Remember when Massa's son was sick? Well, I de one put somethin’ in his soup.”
A drop of poison secreted under servant's thumbnail as he served the tea and the slave had her gruesome revenge on a cruel master.
It was a West Indian slave named Tituba, part Carib Indian and “very proficient in the art of black magic,” who started the witch hunt of 1692‐93 in Salem, Mass., which resulted in 19 innocent people being hanged and one SO‐year‐old man “pressed to death.” Tituba had been brought to Massachusetts from Barbados by Samuel Parris, a merchant turned Puritan minister.
Of course all that happened nearly 300 years ago. Surely one would think this cult of the occult would have perished by this time. Well, the truth is that obeah remains a vital, if clandestine, force in West Indian life. The man who vehemently denies obeah nevertheless stuffs his window frames each night to keep out jumbles, or zombies, or duppies. Graves In places like the Virgin Islands are surrounded by conch shells, guaranteed to steer away evil spirits. Nearly everyone, it turns out, has had some personal brush with sorcery and the supernatural. Obeah practices are not restricted to any class, racial group or educational background.
Before the West Indian tells you his hair‐raising story about the man who was killed on St. Vincent's Dorsetshire Hill by a jumbie's chain, he prefaces with, “Course I doan follow obeah.”
“I doan hold wid such notions personally,” a Vincentian shopkeeper says, grabbing a handful of salt and tossing it over his shoulder. “Still, I'm not one for takin’ foolish risks.”
Obeah is the scapegoat for bad times, something to hang bad luck on, and ready explanation for disease. Obeah is real, not only because people think it is but because its practitioners have a formidable knowledge of the properties of plants. Animal entrails may be part of their kit, but it is the leaf broths and bark teas and berry astringents with which these expert herbalists are able to heal or to harm. When the London‐or Toronto‐trained physicians at Government Hospital fail to cure with their needles and pills, one seeks out the “bush doctor.”
His “wish‐bag” can protect one from enemies. His love potions with names like “Follow Me, Man,” guaranteed to turn a perfume advertiser positively green, promise that affections will be returned. He can recommend virility victuals and insure faithfulness from one's beloved. The powers of obeah protect fishermen, aid farmers’ crops, get a man's boss to offer him a raise, make a man's shop profitable, help a lawyer win his case by tongue‐tying his opponent in court, or drive off that evil spirit which has brought one down on one's luck.
With his occult powers, the obeah doctor can control both the living and the dead. He can haunt a house, ruin marriage, “put a jumbie on you till you go outa your head,” cause someone to break out in sores—and for the proper price, even in this rational, scientific age, cause death by using poison spiders, contaminated water, rusty nails, black candles and grave dust.
For those who can't afford a professional job, there are do‐it‐yourself hexes:
“Git your enemy's footprint and gather up dirt where he walked into a bag. Add salt and tie de bag on your wall. Then stick pins In th’ bag. Right away, wherever he may be, de foot or arm goan swell up and take sores.”
if a person wants to keep someone's field from producing, all he has to do is place a roasted breadfruit on the land with a dried herring inside and the crops will wither. To keep thieves away, put a miniature coffin on a pole it will be more effective than a scarecrow or no‐trespassing sign. If such techniques fail, it means simply that the person not a true believer. That is the obeah doctor's insurance against failure. Faith can move mountains, so if the mountains refuse to budge there is obviously serious lack of faith somewhere.
The head of a white rooster or a lime cut in half and left in a yard means that someone “has put somethin’ on the occupant.”
Woe to anyone who discovers a dead lizard in a matchbox on his porch or tiny box covered in black cloth and containing a seed or coffin nail wrapped in black, for those are signs that his own body will soon be in its shroud. A coin or handkerchief found in the yard not disturbed for fear it might be hexed.
Jumbie dust or grave dirt is powerful stuff. If it is sprinkled where an enemy walks in bare feet, his legs will soon start to itch, then swell up and begin burning with pain and break out in festering sores. Unless he gets help from the bush doctor and soaks in prescribed herb cures, he could get an infection and might even die. (“Carricou Jack, the obeah man, took de bones and teeth from a grave, and boil dem into tea, and de victim die ‘fore de ninth day!”
Of course a nonsuperstltious American tourist wouldn't believe any of this macabre malarky. That is, not until he visits the but of someone like Jestina Bailey, the obeah woman, or hears the story told by an overseer for a banana estate on St. Vincent whose 20‐year‐old daughter had been hexed.
“She break out in sores an’ her limbs swell up and she took to bed, wanting to die. Doctor couldnɺ help. He doan know what cause her agonies. So at last, I takes her to de bush doctor.” The only cure for an obeah he is more powerful counter‐obeah.
Somewhat reluctantly the overseer consents to let a visitor tag along when he takes the girl to Jestina Bailey for treatment. Jestina's neighbors not only stand in awe of her unfathomable powers, they have also made her the neighborhood scapegoat. When anyone is uptight or having a tough time of it, it is because of “dat ooman up there on the hill. She all time makin’ evil deeds.”
“I doan belief obeah, but I tell you, Jestina Bailey walk wid de debil,” one Vincentian said in a guarded whisper. “She wan’ me marry her daughter, but choose another, so she put a jumbie to lib at our house and hex my marriage. Oh, we livin’ bad, bad. Plenty trouble from her.
“One night I dream she chokin’ me. Old Jestina got her hands on my throat ‘n I canna move. De Lawd save me, for suddenly I hear myself speakin in tongues. From my mouth comin words doan unnerstand. Then she vanish and since that night, I got no more misery.”
Jestina learned her secrets and inherited her powers, it is said, from her father, Ezra Bailey. He confessed “devil play” on his deathbed, and to prove his powers to skeptics he vowed to return from the dead to claim his wife and children on the ninth day (the day the evil spirit supposedly leaves the body, permitting the soul to ascend to heaven and eternal rest).
“An’ who’ you think, man? Before nine day dawnin Ezra's ooman and two children take sick and lie down and die. Strong healthy folk but no doctor can save ‘em fer they touched by Ezra's hand from the grave! Only de daughter, Jestina, left to carry on his dirty business.
“After Ezra died, he used to walk plenty at night. He tryin’ alway to take some person to de other side with him. An’ he hopin’ to recruit live folk to do de debil's work.”
Ezra's daughter had apparently been a willing volunteer and had studied under experts at Trinidad. Some timehonored obeah formulas have been recorded by an underground press. Books like “Pow‐wows With a Lost Friend,” “Titabeh,” “The Black Arts” and “The Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses” are committed to the obeah doctor's memory. More often, obeah secrets are Jealously guarded. The great fear of an obeah man is a fellow practitioner whose powers outshine his own, casting “double obi” spells, causing his own to boomerang.
It was 11 P.M. when the overseer's daughter and the rest of, the party climbed the forested hills above Kingstown, St. Vincent's capital. The girl's appointment with the bush doctor was set for midnight. The group trudged dirt path through arrowroot fields, toting baskets of breadfruit, avocados and rum, partial payment for medical fees. It was a heavy darkness, unbroken by neon or electric lights. The sea, whose incessant rhythms were comforting by day, now seemed menacing. It was a night that had forgotten to hang out its moon, and the only lights besides the flashlights the girl's party carried were the wavering torches of the night fishermen parading down to the beach with their woven traps, the centuries‐old traditional fishing techniques used by Carib
Soldier crabs made a weird clatter as they crawled through town, eternally on their way between sea and mountaintop, seeking fresh water. Indeed, in this nocturnal atmosphere, their dragging claws could be taken for footsteps or jumbie chains. Caribbean nights belong to the wind, which sets tropical leaves fluttering like huge hands and breaks the stillness with whistling echoes. Over all, those frowning omnipresent moun tains, the rugged spine of the island, brooded above their domain like so many primeval gods.
Bush doctors do not hang out shingles. The party struggled through vines that would have made Tarzan jump for joy. The but of Jestina Bailey, Spellbinder, was far from any road. Just before he knocked at the deer of the small, unpainted shack, the girl's father pointed to a pot where a skull was buried —filled with silver coins to keep the spirit on Jestina's side.
When Jestina opened the heavy wooden door, the callers were surprised to see that she didn't bear the slightest resemblance to a Halloween witch. In fact, she could have been cast for part in “Arsenic and Old Lace” — as one of those sweet old ladies. Inside, under better light, the visitor recognized the sorceress as a woman who worked at the hotel laundry. She practiced her superpowers part time, “moonlighting” whenever people hired her to hex or help.
The overseer's daughter, who did indeed have an unsightly skin condition, got into a bush bath outside at precisely midnight. Jestina Bailey disclosed that this particular cure had been revealed to her in a dream. Her therapy was combination of ancient root remedies, Christian incantations and intuitive psychology.
Although the rest of the party was excluded from the mysterious ceremony of exorcism, they could hear strange chanting and see from the window Jestina kneeling before a burning candle. The overseer explained that the candle was red, which was the color to “keep off bad times and provide happily‐ever afterdom.” A green candle would have brought money, while yellow signifies power and a blue one is lighted for love. The black candle, sometimes planted outside the house of a person under hex, symbolizes death and destruction.
The girl's steaming cure‐all was a potpourri of lemon‐grass, horehound, limes, olive bush, soursop leaves, circe bush, honeysuckle, cowfoot, guava, sage, jackin‐the‐bush, thistle, elder, bitter tally, cochineal, duppy‐basil and grape and ringworm bush, all steeped in the right combination of rainwater and seawater.
Tools of the trade of alchemy and witchcraft cluttered Jestina Bailey's shack. Calabash bowls held animal bones and teeth. Her other paraphernalia included feathers, egg shells, playing cards, cat and dog skulls and citrus peels. Packets of leaves and roots hung from walls and hundreds of bottles lining shelves were filled with powdered leaves, ground herbs, human hair and ashes.
“These vials,” the overseer said, pointing to a couple on one shelf, “they hold grave dirt.”
After centuries of experimentation, plants, aphrodisiacs and home‐cooked chemical combinations often do achieve their intended effects in the West Indies, for better or for worse. All that is required is the faith of the followers. Animal entrails may be part of the obeah bag, but much more powerful are the lotions and potions. Although some obeak, recipes are jealously guarded professional secrets, others are common knowledge. Soursop leaves steeped in hot water brews homemade phenobarbitol. The wild sea‐onion causes the heart to speed up dangerously. Castor‐oil beans inflame the intestinal tract.
The dead can have power over the living. A jumbie, or zombie, is an emissary of the devil who borrows the body of someone who has died. It roams at will and can enter another human or animal body, even forcing a man to commit a crime (a belief which supplies an offender with a handy alibi).
“My sister feel someone tuggin her hair, a ting she couldna see kept pullin at her night after night. Was de jumbie come to carry her away.” Sudden death is sometimes explained as “a touch from de grave” or “a jumbie thief.”
The obeah doctor can summon jumbies for assistance. One young man, a clerk in a supermarket on St. Vincent, tells about the night he passed Jestina's house on a crab‐hunting expedition and saw a ball of fire roll out of her window.
He watched and It turned into a green phosphorescence and he was nearly overcome by a stench of decaying matter. He could hear Jestina chanting frenzied words inside. Suddenly, where the glow had been, there appeared ram, which immediately ambled off into the darkness.
Jumbles are not always easy to see, except by those they are sent to “hum bug.” However, some observers swear if a person “takes some water from a dog's eye and puts it into his own, the jumbles will appear.” Or if one is out strolling some night with someone who sees the jumbie, all he has to do is “mash his toe against a rock til it smarts and he too can see the jumbie glow.”
The pantheon of obeah is a full one. “Maljeaux,” the evil eye, is taken so much for granted in the islands that people joke about it. On the main street in Kingstown two women pass a little girl and one stops to say, smiling: “Oh what a little gem she is.” But her companion coaxes her on: “Aw, leave dat poor child alone. Doan put de maljeau on her.”
People may not know that their eye is evil. A taxi driver described one such case. “I know a pretty miss. She doan know she got de evil eye. She see my pepper tree and says, ‘man, dat's a nice pepper tree and dat healthy tree wilt and die dat same week.”
In the Grenadines, the island chain between St. Vincent and Grenada, houses are often marked with the sign of the cross against the evil eye and parents may protect their newborn baby by calling in the bush doctor to bathe him and say prayers for his welfare. The best insurance against the evil eye is camphor and garlic worn in a bag around the neck and an open Bible kept under the baby's pillow.
Many West Indians are spooked by things that go bump in the night—spirits who shrink themselves and roll about in calabashes or turn into stones. “You may sit on a stone, man, and discover it is the devil!”
Then there are runks (or runx), which look like pigs and block one's path. The way to deal with one of these is to hit it, but don't count the number of swats or it will attack. Just call out, “That is none,” with each blow.
La Jablesse (Joblesse or La Diablesse) is a siren who waits for those coming home late and lures her victims into the woods for illicit love affairs, then gets them so lost that they never again find their way home. Jablesses are believed to haunt deserted coral reefs off the Grenadine Islands, enchanting men and driving them insane or leading them onto dangerous shoals. They can be identified by their cloven hooves, which make an incessant clump‐clump as they limp along.
The loup‐garou (Lagahoo or Loogaroo) is a chain‐dragging creature with the power to transform itself into any animal but is particularly fond of playing werewolf. He will devour anyone, living or dead, with the exception of twins. The way to restore a Loup‐garou to human form is to spill his blood. Or you can outsmart him by leaving 99 grains of sand (or rice or corn, depending on the island) outside the house. He has this compulsion to count them, and when he has gotten up to 99 he will search everywhere for the 100th. Unable to find it, he will think he's made a mistake and begin counting all over again, and keep on until dawn breaks and he must take human form once more.
Finally, there is the soucouyan (sukuyan), or heg, a female vampire who thrives on the sweet blood of children. She might turn out to be that dear old lady down the street who at night leaves her own skin behind in a heap and metamorphizes into a bat, ball of fire or huge egg or becomes invisible. The weapon to use against her is salt.
Find her skin and thoroughly salt it. This causes it to shrivel, and when the soucouyan returns just before the first cock crows, calling, “Skin, come to owner,” she will discover that it no longer fits. Pull and tug though she.may, she will never be able to wear it again and the world will thus be rid of one more heg.
A Vincentian woman introduces visitor to one of her children, a submissive blond boy of about 8, and goes on to explain that she is lucky to still have him since his “shadow had been drawn.”
“This boy was sucked by a heg bout three years ago.” The child nods emphatically, and as his mother speaks his eyes grow very wide. “Is true,” she goes on, “I caught the evil, disgustin’ ting at his neck while he sleepin.
“I make prayers and yell at de heg to get out and she do vanish. The boy is unconscious, not heself at tall, so we carry him to the bush doctor. He know how to find the guilty heg and salt her skin and offer her presents, so she doan come back. It cost us plenty, plenty money, but my boy thrives today.”
Then observing the skepticism on the visitor's face, she adds, “You doan believe? Look, look, my boy's neck.” She pulls his head sideways and points to what appears to be a tiny purple birthmark just below and back of his ear. “See! Is proof! The mark of the beg!”
This boy will grow up a believer, that much is certain. He never doubts this terrible tale he had heard his mother relate so often. It is through such retelling and embellishment that the belief in supernatural beings is nurtured in the West Indies.
Obeah provides ready answers to the unknown, alleviates personal guilt, offers outlets for hostility and explanations for failures. And its practitioners earn living from people's fantasies and fears.
If all these tales of witchcraft cast a momentary shadow over the travelposter image the visitor might have of the Caribbean isles, all he has to do to avoid getting hex appeal is to live the simple life:
“Doan gib nobody cause for jealousy, and nobody goan put trouble on you! Doan have too much ambition or get too much good tings, or surely somebody goan get plenty, plenty vexed and he humbug you.”
What these gems reveal about the brutal men who made England
The Anglo-Saxons ruled England through the upheavals of the Viking age right up to the Norman conquest of 1066
From his high vantage point, the mighty Anglo-Saxon king Penda looked down on a sight of unimaginable brutality.
Below, on a battlefield strewn with bodies, his men fought with a lust for blood, filling the air with the roar of their shrieks, sword striking sword with the metallic clang of early warfare.
Later, in the glory of victory, Penda’s warriors dug a shallow hole.
They made a triumphal burial of their enemy’s weapons and battlefield spoils.
It was a custom of the day, a form of ritual humiliation of the foe, described in the great Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf: ‘Weapons of war and weeds (clothes) of battle, with breastplate and blade – a heaped hoard’.
Could it be that this was the scene that took place 1,400 years ago – and that such a hoard has now been discovered in Staffordshire? It seems more than possible.
King Penda would have been worthy of such treasure. He killed five kings in battles in the mid seventh century, becoming the most powerful Anglo-Saxon ruler of the age.
He was described by a contemporary as ‘a most warlike man of the royal race of the Mercians’. Later, he would be beheaded in battle. Truly it was a brutal era.
To say this magnificent find changes our understanding of the early Anglo-Saxons is an understatement on a massive scale for it changes so much we thought we knew about our warrior forebears.
It sheds new light on a period we have come to know as the Dark Ages – for unlike the Romans, who left us such a wealth of historical evidence, the Anglo-Saxons did not write anything down before they were converted to Christianity in the seventh century.
It is of course early days in terms of reconstructing how this treasure trove came to be buried.
But we certainly believe it to be a hoard of armaments taken from an enemy. Notably, there are no feminine objects such as dress fittings, brooches or pendants. Nor are there cooking utensils, nor domestic trappings – everything points to it being a trophy hoard taken in a war.
These warring Anglo Saxons were probably male soldiers in their teenage years and early twenties. The hoard shows that the soldiers were presumably wealthy enough to pay for beautifully wrought treasures, including gold and garnets, which might have come from as far away as India.
In the coming months and years, we will be analyzing each piece in minute detail and ascertaining what light these remains shed on our ancestors. The treasure was discovered in the heartland of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Mercia, in the English Midlands.
The Anglo-Saxons thought of themselves as the descendants of invading Germanic tribes who settled in the south and east of England at the end of Roman rule, in the early fifth century AD. They ruled England through the upheavals of the Viking age right up to the Norman conquest of 1066.
Basic: An artist's impression of a Anglo-Saxon village
The early Anglo-Saxons founded England as we know it. They spoke Old English – and they would have been just about intelligible to us. They developed royal families, systems of justice and a currency, which has come down to us with only slight modifications. They lived in settlements of wooden houses, with fireplaces in the middle and few windows.
The names of their villages still exist – Reading, Henley, Fulham, Hastings and Middleton are all Anglo-Saxon words. By the time the Staffordshire hoard was assembled, about half of England was officially Christian and monasteries were beginning to appear.
Their homes would have been smoky, dark and primitive. All activities requiring good light had to take place outside, making the magnificent craftsmanship seen in this treasure even more amazing.
Their food would have been familiar to us, but much more restricted in variety. They would have eaten porridge and bread, butter and cheese, but not so much meat, and not very many vegetables.
They did however have leeks, garlic and onions, and relied heavily on herbs to flavour their food. Meat came from farmed animals and from hunting. Apples and other native fruit would have provided vitamins.
They loved to party, drinking mead – a brew fermented from honey – beer and ale. They sang and danced, and were wonderful storytellers – we know this from the little poetry they left behind.
But there are still many ‘known unknowns’ about the Anglo Saxons. The big mystery is where did they come from?
Did they arrive from Germany in family units? Or as immigrant men who had children with native British women? Or did just a few come from the continent and show the native British a way of life to adopt.
Our Anglo Saxon forebears remain something of an enigma but with these magnificent treasures, we come a step closer to knowing our early English ancestors.
- Dr Helen Geake is National Finds Adviser (Early-Medieval Artefacts) at the Department of Archaeology, University of Cambridge.
Unravelling the mystery of Arnhem Land’s ancient African coins
MYSTERY AND MAGIC still inhabit the wild places. Few are wilder than the Northern Territory’s Wessel Islands, which arch out into the Arafura Sea like a reaper’s scythe, harvesting flotsam from Indonesia’s fabled Maluku, or ‘Spice’, Islands, just a few days’ sail to the north-west. And no mystery is more beguiling than the 900-year-old coins from a medieval African sultanate, found on one of the archipelago’s beaches during WWII by RAAF serviceman Morry Isenberg.
By far the oldest foreign artefacts ever found in Australia, the Kilwa sultanate coins are now held at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney. Only twice before have Kilwa coins been found outside Tanzania once in Zimbabwe and once in Oman. Australia is a great deal further for them to have travelled more than 8000km.
Perhaps their discovery in the Wessels tells of ancient disaster, shipwreck and castaways, or they may merely have been left by ocean-going traders at ease in the safe anchorage beside a freshwater lagoon on Marchinbar Island.
Were Yolngu Aboriginal people trading comforts and necessities for iron tools centuries before they were first thought to have bartered them for grog and tobacco with Macassan fleets from Sulawesi in the 1700s? Perhaps the Yolngu played a small, and previously unknown, part in the ancient maritime trade network that stretched from Mozambique on east Africa’s Swahili coast, across the Indian Ocean to the Spice Islands and China.
The island of Kilwa Kisiwani, off the south coast of Tanzania, was once a thriving seaport. From the 11th century, the sultans of Kilwa grew rich controlling the gold, ivory and slave trade, and presided over a vast empire that included Zanzibar and the Comoros archipelago.
Could it be that other Europeans connected to this trading network had contact with Australia before the well-documented arrival of Dutch explorer Willem Janszoon in 1606? The Yolngu tell of white men emerging from the sea dressed in “mirror” (armour), and beating stones to make metal on the beach. The rock art in caves on Marchinbar features passing ships and European-looking sailors.
These ideas and questions had long been on my mind. So in July 2013, Australian anthropologist Dr Ian McIntosh, based at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) in the USA, and I led the “Past Masters”, a team of five archaeologists and heritage experts, to the Wessel Islands.
Our ultimate objective was to answer how these 12th century coins ended up on a beach at Marchinbar Island, the largest in the archipelago. But our week-long expedition in 2013 was more specifically aimed at locating and mapping key sites of interest and finding enough evidence to justify a much bigger scientific study of the islands in 2014. We were also hoping to find interesting new artefacts and document the rock art.
Searching for evidence of ancient Australian trade
OUR JOURNEY BEGAN at Nhulunbuy, a small township on the NT’s Gove Peninsula. Our morning flight from Darwin had barely touched down before our hosts, the sea rangers of the Dhimurru Indigenous Protected Area, had bundled us into four-wheel-drives. Within minutes, we were bumping along the Gulf of Carpentaria’s rough coastal tracks, over remnant red sand dunes that once stretched all the way to New Guinea.
We were heading to Wurrwurrwuy, the site of important Yolngu rock sculptures that decorate a large bauxite shelf. Here we would collect data and advise on the proposed restoration of these extraordinary artworks, which depict a history of contact with Macassan trepang (sea cucumber) fishermen from Sulawesi, which is today part of Indonesia.
The following day, we conducted a heritage ranger workshop for the Dhimurru rangers and members of the broader Nhulunbuy community. In attendance were rangers from nearby Yirrkala and from Milingimbi community on Yurrwi Island, which is the largest of the Crocodile Island Group and about 70km south-west of the Wessels. A large contingent of Norforce reservists of the Australian Army – who patrol remote parts of the Top End coast (see AG 93) – swelled the ranks.
The aim of the workshop, which was sponsored by the Swiss Ubuntu Foundation, Minelab and Pacific Aluminium, was to sensitise the rangers and reservists to the rich heritage they will encounter on the Arnhem Land coast.
Specifically, they were taught how to handle the types of Aboriginal and maritime artefacts that are often found here. On the afternoon’s field visit to a former Macassan trepang processing site in Melville Bay near Nhulunbuy, everyone also had the chance to work with metal detectors under the tuition of our expert, Bob Sheppard.
That evening, as the tide rose and the sun set, our expedition boarded the Hama Pearl II in Melville Bay. The former pearling boat would be our home for the next five days while we island-hopped through the Wessels. As we cleared the harbour, the south-east trade wind lashed the Pearl’s starboard side and we battened down for a tempestuous night passage to Jensen Bay on Marchinbar Island, the largest of the Wessels.
After the bombing of Darwin in 1942, Top End coastal defences were strengthened and surveyor Wyndham Richardson visited Marchinbar by air to plot a site for a radar unit and camp. As we followed in his footsteps, my mind turned to his subsequent return with a construction corps by sea in 1943. This had been more hazardous than our own journey, given the bombing of nearby Milingimbi and sinking of Navy cutter HMAS Maroubra by Japanese warplanes.-
As we arrived in the morning, the rising sun slowly revealed Jensen Bay. A low line of dunes rolled out towards a backdrop of hills. The landscape was framed by the skeletal remains of massive trees – a reminder that cyclones regularly whip through this windswept place. In the bay, shallow waters rippled over rocks and boulders, which gave way to gentle beaches. Stretches of white sand concealed turtle nests and were cut by camouflaged creeks and crocodile tracks. We were at the start of our quest.
After the first few euphoric hours ashore, we settled into a routine that we followed each day of the expedition. In the mornings, some teams would be dropped off along the coast with specific targets at midday the boats would ferry them back to the Pearl to eat lunch and decide on new targets for the afternoon.
Others would take a packed lunch and start early, trekking across the island to the windswept eastern shore. Hours later and tasks completed, they would radio the Pearl and boats bearing sea-cooled drinks would be dispatched to pick them up.
The positions transmitted by the returning teams were not always accurate and the boats would have to identify tiny figures that seemed like hermit crabs wandering along the beach. It resulted in frequent delays and depleted drink rations for the last party to be retrieved.
See a larger, zoomable map of the Wessel Islands
Locating the site of the Kilwa coins in Arnhem Land
OUR FIRST MAJOR port of call on Marchinbar Island was marked on a map that late RAAF serviceman Morry Isenberg had drawn in the early 1980s. That was more than 30 years after he’d found the Kilwa coins (along with four Dutch coins from the 17th and 18th centuries) while fishing, not far from the Marchinbar radar station at which he was based.
He had labelled the site simply ‘coins’. We located the spot but realised the harsh landscape here is ever-changing. We pondered what hope there could be of gleaning much new information about the coins following 70 years of winds, waves and storms.
In 1944, when Isenberg found the coins, the region was still a wild, uncharted and downright dangerous place. Following the 1943 sinking of the Maroubra near the mainland, HMAS Patricia Cam was sunk in 1944 off the Wessel Islands, bombed by a Japanese float plane.
Yolngu helped rescue the survivors and Wyndham Richardson photographed many of the servicemen, construction crews and Yolngu on Marchinbar. His colleagues’ names are on the backs of the photos but the descriptions of Yolngu stretched only to things such as ‘No. 1 Boy Djingal’ or nicknames such as ‘Swivel Eye’ and ‘Snowball’ for some of the children.
Richardson’s daughter, Ann Brothers, has recently supplied us with copies of the images and we are trying to identify and record the names of the Yolngu photographed, with help from communities on Gove Peninsula, Elcho Island and Milingimbi.
The geography of Marchinbar Island today is quite different from 20,000 years ago during the last Ice Age. At that time, sea levels were about 150m lower and the Wessels were distant hilltops in the middle of a vast plain that connected Australia to New Guinea.
By about 6000 years ago, seas swollen by meltwater from polar ice caps had almost completely flooded this land bridge, isolating Marchinbar’s bauxite-capped sandstone into a series of small islands, rocky shoals and reefs.
In the millennia that followed, the great weight of the ocean bore down upon the surrounding continental shelf and, by about 3000 years ago, this pressure had forced Marchinbar upwards to roughly its current height above sea level.
Slowly the shoals and reefs became connected as waves, currents and wind conspired to form beach-ridge plains, spits and barrier dunes. A freshwater lagoon that formed at Jensen Bay probably little more than a thousand years ago is a haven and would have made Marchinbar a suitable trading port and useful way station for sailors to restock their drinking supplies.
Our theory is that this lagoon brought the mysterious vessel that carried the five Kilwa coins to the island. Unlike the trade winds, trade routes are fickle, but the Yolngu are survivors – pragmatism and resilience are part of their -culture.
Their oral histories resound with accounts of hardship and camaraderie they tell of massacres inflicted and endured. They recall battles fought with foreign invaders, as well as times when enemies became allies and foes became family.
The Macassan mariners from Sulawesi influenced virtually every aspect of Yolngu life – they brought technology, language, music and vices. Some historians argue smallpox was introduced to Australia by Macassans and that the disease quickly spread across the continent the northern Wessels were depopulated by it in the mid-1800s and only seasonally visited as the survivors struggled to recover.
While combing the island for artefacts, we located several campsites behind the main dunes. Using metal detectors at a number of WWII sites, we uncovered handfuls of rifle cartridges, bullets and burst ammunition cases. We found other metal objects, including a large pin, an iron chisel, many heavily-corroded axe heads and one beautiful bronze screw that had been refashioned into an oyster shucking knife.
We also discovered a polished stone axe head. This was particularly significant because stone tools have been rare finds in this part of Arnhem Land, since most tools were made of materials that decay, such as wood and bone.
It is thought that the trade in axe heads was part of an elaborate exchange cycle: items travelled great distances via hand-to-hand exchanges that promoted bonds among clans and language groups. Macassan items invigorated this trade system as coastal groups began trading steel axes and cloth with inland groups, in exchange for spears, boomerangs and woven bags.
Ancient coin location proves elusive
THE WESSEL ISLANDS in general have the reputation of being a ships’ graveyard. Matthew Flinders anchored the Cumberland in a bay on Marchinbar’s south-east corner on 28 October 1803. Next morning, while his men were cutting up a wrecked prau (a boat used by trepangers) for firewood, they met local islanders. Reporting this encounter, Flinders – who had recently circumnavigated the continent – used the term ‘Australians’ for the first time to name the people.
Shipwreck debris and rock art depicting many vessels can be found across the Wessels. At Rimbija Island, the northernmost of the group, what appears to be a rock slipway is littered with nodules of red laterite iron ore used for smelting.
On our next trip, the bay will be targeted to search for ballast stones and other signs of visits. Ballast was used to ensure a ship’s stability the stones would have been dumped in the bay and replaced with loads of timber, turtle shells, wax, trepang and iron ore.
Those abandoned rocks probably anchor large clumps of seaweed today and will be difficult to identify. The narrow channel between Rimbija and Marchinbar is strewn with rocks. Palms and old stone fish traps guard sites where Yolngu and white men made metal knives, according to oral records. Did these white men bring the Kilwa coins?
In the end, the provenance of the coins proved to be elusive. It is unclear whether the Kilwa and Dutch coins Isenberg found arrived on the island together. They may have been carried to Marchinbar by early traders, or given to the Yolngu much later in exchange for use of the freshwater lagoon at Jensen Bay.
Perhaps they were left by a collector, or were washed up after a shipwreck. In geological terms, Isenberg was just lucky to be there on the day the coins happened to be on the surface of the beach. A day later and he might not have found anything, as coins on a beach are soon buried. Nevertheless, we made great progress at mapping the island and plan to come back on a much bigger expedition.
Anthropologists and a historian on our trip worked with local indigenous people to identify likely sites of contact with foreign visitors. The Yolngu are very interested in this project, and in the possibility of uncovering aspects of their past.
This rock art was painted iin the days of steam and sail the spinning propeller is clearly visible and the figures are wearing European clothing (Credit: Mike Owen)
Rock art depicts Macassan traders
PERHAPS THE MOST spectacular find of the trip to the Wessels was the rock art. Among whales, snakes and fish, the ancient (but not yet dated) art depicts white men with hats, trousers and guns and many ships of different sizes, including a nice little pearling lugger.
The most fascinating artwork, however, depicts a steamship with what seems to be a rotating propeller. To date, no-one has reported seeing a ship with a propeller in cave art, so it could be very important.
The expedition also found a piece of timber believed to be deck bracing for an old sailing ship. Although it, too, is yet to be dated, the timber could support the theory that the coins were washed ashore after a shipwreck. Supporting this theory, the ship with the propeller in the Aboriginal art appears as if she could be on the rocks with her back broken.
Tim Stone, geomorphologist on our expedition, speculates the coins could be from an Arab ship, similar to a wreck discovered off Sumatra in 1998. Or they may have come off a Portuguese vessel that carried Kilwa coins after the Portuguese destroyed the African sultanate in 1505.
We made some remarkable finds during our week in the field and we established the location of key sites on which to base a comprehensive scientific study of the Wessel Islands in 2014. This will involve marine archaeologists and geophysicists from Indiana University’s Office of Underwater Science – a leader in research about submerged cultural artefacts – and searching for shipwrecks will be their focus.
The study will also include a detailed rock art survey to look for further clues of an ancient trading network it will examine middens, systematically analyse evidence of iron-ore collecting and metal working, and confirm the location of mining and military sites on the island.
The Wessel Islands are an archive, holding many secrets that could rewrite histories. Collaboration among heritage managers, Yolngu community members, local rangers and government bodies is key to ensuring heritage assets are protected until their scientific, social and economic potential can be realised.
In consultation with traditional owners, we are seeking to have the archipelago listed as a national park and, subject to discoveries during our next expedition, the Wessels may one day be eligible for World Heritage listing.
As it stands, there are still many questions yet to be answered. But we have refined the questions themselves and next year we hope to be in a better position to answer some of them.
Oak Island Money Pit
I f someone were to claim they knew a story that involved the Holy Grail, a band of pirates, William Shakespeare, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Edgar Allan Poe, you might think the tale was a riddle or a fanciful movie script. However, one particular site in Canada holds a history that brings together all of these elements and more.
Located off the shores of Nova Scotia, along Canada's Atlantic coast, Oak Island is among approximately 360 islands dotting Mahone Bay. To the casual observer, the 140-acre island appears like many in this part of the province. Rocks and sand skirt the perimeter of the landmass while native forest and brush cover much of its interior. At first glance, the seemingly mundane island conceals any evidence of historical importance. However, appearances can be deceiving. Despite the natural scenery and serene setting of Oak Island, the story of this island's past is replete with mystery, intrigue and even tragedy. The potency of the story that follows has captured the human imagination and has driven men to their graves. From academics to adventurers, many have grappled with trying to explain the mystery, but none have been able to get to the bottom of the Money Pit of Oak Island.
B y most accounts, the story of Oak Island's Money Pit begins in the summer of 1795 when a teenager named Daniel McGinnis saw strange lights on an island offshore from his parent's house. According to author Lee Lamb, upon investigating the island for the source of the lights, McGinnis noticed a peculiar circular depression approximately 13 feet in diameter on the island's forest floor (2006). Looking around, McGinnis observed that a number of oak trees surrounding the depression had been removed. In addition, McGinnis saw that a block and tackle hung from a severed tree limb directly over the shallow hole. Although some researchers refute the presence of the block and tackle, whatever he witnessed that day convinced him that the scene was worth investigating. McGinnis decided to leave the island to enlist the help of two friends, John Smith and Anthony Vaughan. The following day the three teenage boys began enthusiastically excavating the curious site.
One of the reasons McGinnis, Smith and Vaughan were so excited to investigate a dirt depression on an otherwise nondescript island in eastern Canada can be found in an enticing chapter in Nova Scotia's history. As described by the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, the "Golden Age of Piracy" occurred between 1690 and 1730. At this time, Nova Scotia had only a few European settlements. With just over 200 nautical miles separating the remote bays of present-day Nova Scotia from the thriving commercial center of colonial Boston, pirates were known to frequent areas near Oak Island. The unpopulated wilderness of the region provided an abundance of natural resources to restock and repair vessels while its isolation proved an ideal place to harbor their vast misbegotten treasure. In fact, one notorious pirate, the infamous Captain William Kidd, admitted to burying an unspecified wealth of treasure in the area before his capture in 1699 (Conlin, 2007).
A long with many residents in the eastern province, the three boys digging on Oak Island must have been aware of the fabled pirates and had notions of gold doubloons in mind. It wasn't long before the young excavators came across buried evidence to further convince their imaginations. Two feet beneath the topsoil, McGinnis and his friends uncovered a layer of flagstone extending across the surface of the opening (Crooker, 1993). Excitedly, the boys pulled the rock floor away from the pit to retrieve the golden bounty that must be hidden below. Unfortunately for them, the boys only discovered more dirt. Undeterred, they continued their excavation. Any treasure worth finding would certainly require more than two feet of digging.
As the teenagers continued burrowing down, they followed the walls of the previous hole. In doing so, the boys found that the pit had narrowed to seven feet in diameter. They also noticed the work of their predecessors. Imprinted in the clay of the tunnel wall were the impressions of pickaxes. Had these marks been left by pirate laborers before securing their treasure underground? The adolescent explorers were determined to find out.
At a depth of ten feet, the boys discovered a layer composed of rotting wood timbers. The timbers spanned the width of the hole, forming a wooden platform. The ends of the timbers had been driven into the sides of the tunnel wall to firmly anchor the structure. This deliberate barrier and the hollow sound beneath the timbers must have confirmed to the boys that vast wealth was close at hand. The team eagerly continued their efforts, removing the timbers to claim their treasure. Just as before, the enthusiastic excavators were again disappointed. After taking out the barrier, the boys found a two-foot pocket of air followed by soil that had settled below (Lamb, 2006).
McGinnis and his friends carried on undeterred. Tunneling down to approximately 20 feet, the boys encounter another level of wood timbers. Nevertheless, they continued toiling in the pit, removing one barrier after another in hopes to claim their mysterious reward. When the teenagers pulled away the second platform of wood timbers only to find another layer of soil staring back at them, the team decided to suspend their work at the site (Harris, 1967).
Several weeks later, the young fortune-seekers returned to the pit with their pickaxes and shovels. However, the second attempt for the boys proved similar to their initial outing. After hours of laboring beneath the June sun, removing ten more feet of dirt from the deepening hole, they were once again confronted by a table of thick timbers embedded in the clay of the tunnel wall (Harris and MacPhie, 2005). McGinnis and his companions continued down five more feet before defeat set in and the boys stopped their treasure hunt.
The Onslow Company
A lthough the first attempt proved fruitless, the legend of Oak Island's Money Pit still had many secrets to reveal. Perhaps too convinced of treasure to give up the pursuit, the eldest of the excavators, John Smith, purchased the lot containing the intriguing cavernous pit that same month. However, interest in the peculiar hole was not limited to the teenaged McGinnis, Vaughan and Smith. In fact, more mature and experienced minds would soon succumb to the prospect of wealth contained in those shadowy depths. According to Harris, in 1803, Simeon Lynds joined the excursion. Lynds was the grandson of a pioneering family from Ireland who settled in Nova Scotia in 1761 (1967). Simeon's father, Thomas Lynds fell in love and married Simeon's mother, Rebecca Blair in 1774 (1873). Rebecca was the fifth daughter of Captain William Blair, a Scottish immigrant who had moved his family north from New England to help suppress the French forces at Louisbourg. Perhaps it was his maternal grandfather's daring nature coursing through his veins when, in 1803, the pit's discoverers convinced Simeon Lynds to continue the hunt. Lynds was a relative of the Vaughan family and was listed as a "wheel-wright," in historical records. To assist with his new adventure, Lynds enlisted the help of Colonel Robert Archibald, Captain David Archibald and Sheriff Thomas Harris. Together, the group established the Onslow Company, a professional venture with the sole purpose of recovering the Oak Island treasure.
The renewed effort began in earnest in the summer of 1804. That year, the team returned to the pit for what they hoped would be the third and final attempt at uncovering the supposed riches. Lynds and his men started by removing the backfill from the initial excavation. Just as the first team indicated, the Onslow Company noticed marks in the clay walls nearly every ten feet where the wooden timbers had been removed. After the first 25 feet, the excavators found themselves in unexplored territory. From this point, every shovelful came with the promise of discovery. At a depth of 30 feet, one of the laborers hit a solid object. Removing the soil, the crew found that another timber level had been installed inside the tunnel (Lamb, 2006). This time, however, the men noticed the remnants of charcoal scattered around the platform.
Baffled, the crew disposed of the wooden barrier and continued their search. Digging 10 more feet, the enthusiastic men of the Onslow Company found themselves standing on yet another shelf of horizontal timbers. This time, rather than charcoal, the diggers observed a sap-like substance along the seams between the logs. Whatever was stored beneath must have been worth the trouble of encapsulating the tunnel for protection. The men resumed their efforts, encouraged by the added elements of charcoal and sealant.
Burrowing another 10 feet, the team encountered something they would have never thought possible. Atop another platform of timbers were scattered the fibers of coconut shells (Harris and MacPhie, 2005). To the men, this development seemed to underscore the importance of their efforts. Although the coconut fibers themselves held no commercial value, there were two reasons the Onslow Company crew considered the debris reassuring. First, as could be assumed, coconuts are not native to Canada. The most likely source of this tropical fiber would have been somewhere in the Caribbean. Secondly, the reason the material probably came from the Caribbean, was that, in a time of long voyages on the high seas, coconut fibers were used to secure and protect valuable cargo. The matted brown fiber could mean a hoard of precious goods was stashed deeper within the pit.
The men wasted no time in dispatching the floor to claim their bounty. To their dismay, the pit was not yet ready to reward the anxious treasure hunters. From the 60-foot depth where the coconut fiber was found, it would take the men another 30 feet of digging and the removal of two additional timber barriers before they would make a significant discovery.
There, at a depth of 90 feet beneath the surface of the tiny Canadian island, the weary team of fortune seekers uncovered their first precious stone. What the men found was not a diamond or any type of gem, but a large square-cut stone tablet. On the face of the heavy stone was an inscription of strange symbols. Each character of the mysterious text consisted of a unique combination of lines, arrows and dots. Despite its significant weight, the crew hoisted the rock from the pit for further examination (Lamb, 2006).
For decades, the encoded message on the face of the rock was thought to be indecipherable. During this time it was rumored that Smith used it as a fireback in his fireplace, while others claim it was used as a doorstep to a Halifax bookbinder's shop or possibly even displayed in the window as an enticement to potential expedition financiers.
It was not until the 1860s that an academic was able to examine the symbols and provide a credible translation. Although this fact, like many involving Oak Island, remains disputed, many believe that Dalhousie University Professor of Languages James Leitchi successfully decoded the tablet's inscription. Borrowing a page from Edgar Allen Poe's "The Gold Bug," Leitchi employed a technique termed simple substitution cipher whereby unique symbols correlate to specific letters in a given alphabet. For example three vertical lines similar to this "|||" might substitute for the letter "E." Once a rational scheme is set for the symbols present in the code, a context for each letter can be constructed and meaning is extracted from the text. Applying this approach to cryptography, Leitchi resolved that the stone from the Money Pit read (Lamb, 2006):
"Forty Feet Below, Two Million Pounds Are Buried."
Since the tablet was discovered 90 feet below ground, excavators subscribing to Leitchi's translation set their sights on a depth of 130 feet. Given the verbiage used in the text, members of this school also believed the treasure to have been buried by someone of British origin with a flair for the eccentric. To those who hold dearly to legends of pirates and their tie to buried gold, Captain Kidd seemed a likely candidate to construct the elaborate pit and create the mysterious stone.
With the stone out of their path, the men of the Onslow Company resumed the excavation. Expecting to dig 10 more feet before hitting another timber structure, the team was surprised when, at a depth of 98 feet, they found their next wooden obstacle. At that point, the men were exhausted from a strenuous day. The workers decided to make one last cursory attempt before resting. Rather than go through the effort of removing the logs, one of the workers used a crowbar to probe between the timbers to ensure treasure was not immediately beneath their feet. The metal rod pierced a sealed seam between two of the timbers to feel for any potentially valuable objects (Crooker, 1993). With no evidence of impending fortune, the team retired for the day.
When the members of the Onslow Company returned to the site, they found themselves confronted by another unexpected challenge. It turns out that while the team took time to rest, much of the cavernous pit had filled with water. Now, the prospect of retrieving any sort of riches lay nearly 63 feet beneath a watery chamber. The startled crew desperately began filling buckets to drain the pit. Feverishly, they scooped away the cloudy water without success. It soon occurred to the hapless crew that every time water was removed from the well, it was somehow instantly replaced. Colonel Robert Archibald noted this peculiar situation and temporarily seized operations at the site (Lamb, 2006). The Onslow Company promptly realized that the sophistication of the pit would require more than mere brute force to burrow past levels of dirt and timber. Somehow, the tunnel had been engineered to toy with men as they sought her fortune.
Staring into a well that could hold unfathomable fortunes, the members of the Onslow Company refused to admit defeat. Instead, in autumn of 1804, the group decided to employ technology to overcome the pit's defiance. To this end, they hired Mr. Carl Mosher and his mechanical pump to clear the tunnel and allow the men to resume their work. Immediately after Mosher installed and operated the pump, the company appeared to have finally earned a streak of luck. The water level slowly began to recede down the clay wall. Perhaps the water was a minor stumbling block that would only serve to rinse the gold coins before their retrieval (Crooker, 1993). Then, at a depth of approximately 90 feet, just eight feet shy of where they had previously left off, Mosher's water pump failed along with the excavators' short-lived fortune. Without the pump functioning, water steadily returned to the pit, dissolving the crew's hopes of a hasty solution. The team decided to retreat and regroup.
The following year, the Onslow Company returned to the pit with a new idea to capture the treasure. Despite the first two attempts depleting much of company's financial resources, the men believed this new approach would more than pay for past failures. Rather than concentrate on the pit itself, in 1805 the Onslow Company determined that they could bypass all of the tunnel's snares by simply avoiding the pit altogether (Lamb, 2006).
Their revised strategy included excavating a shaft parallel to the pit. At about 110 feet, once the men were beneath the supposed water trap, they would tunnel over towards the pit to collect the treasure and return to the surface. The crew would be back on the mainland, celebrating their newfound wealth in a matter of weeks. The site of the auxiliary tunnel was situated 14 feet southeast of the original hole (Harris and MacPhie, 2005). Eagerly, the men set to work, their shovels flinging dirt from the promising new shaft. It was not long, however, before the promise faded to disillusionment. At a depth of just 12 feet, water found its way into the new tunnel. With dampened spirits and drained finances, the Onslow Company finally was forced to accept defeat.
The Truro Company
F ollowing the Onslow Expedition, the strange site on Oak Island lay undisturbed and submerged beneath volumes of water for nearly 40 years. Then, in 1845, fervor for the entombed mystery was reawakened. That year a member of the original dig, Anthony Vaughan, helped form the Truro Company. Together with John Gammell, Adams Tupper, Robert Creelmand, Esq., Jotham McCully and James Pitblado, the treasure-seeking Vaughan anticipated success. Also joining the Truro Company efforts was the brother of the Onslow Company's Simeon Lynds, Dr. David Barnes Lynds (Harris, 1967). With this team, the Truro syndicate represented an impressive collection of qualified and respected individuals.
In spite of the ambition surrounding the newly formed Truro Company, the men did not start further exploration until 1849. With improved funding and organization, the Truro Company began the fourth attempt at solving the Oak Island mystery. In the summer of 1849, the team arrived at the site and continued where the Onslow Company left off removing water from the pit. After two weeks of laboring against the debris and water of the pit, the crew achieved a depth of 86 feet. These gains, however, did not last. The next day, workers were perplexed to find that the surface of the water had returned to 60 feet (Crooker, 1993).
Decidedly more prepared than their predecessors, the Truro Company was determined to reveal the tunnel's contents, even if human hands did not make the initial discovery. Seeing that the water had returned, the men fashioned a wood platform that they mounted over the mouth of the pit. Through an opening in the floor of the structure, the men plunged a hand-operated auger into the waters below. They hoped this contraption would give them an idea of what was buried beyond the 98-foot deep timber floor. The results of the remote probing could not have been anticipated by even the most optimistic among them (Harris and MacPhie, 2005).
According to Crooker, the auger initially only confirmed information the men already knew (1993). At a depth of about 98 feet, the auger came in contact with a layer of spruce approximately 6 inches deep. Following the log surface, the auger sunk through one foot absent of any material. This was consistent with Vaughan's past experiences with the pit. After every wooden platform, the excavators found a pocket of air from dirt that had settled below. To Vaughan and the others, it would follow that after another nine feet the auger would again reach a wood surface and repeat the process. Surprisingly, the hand-powered drill delivered very different results.
Beneath the layer of settled dirt, the Truro Company noticed that the auger then penetrated a series of strata consisting of 4 inches of oak, followed by 6 inches of spruce, before entering seven feet of clay. To the crew, the oak and spruce represented more than just a new configuration of wood platforms. After so many failed attempts, this could finally be a chest containing the riches they sought. When the operators withdrew their probe from the pit, they were given even more reason for excitement. Attached to the auger, the men of the Truro Company found three small links of gold chain (Lamb, 2006). Between the wooden object buried beneath the timbers and the metal retrieved by the auger, the men were certain of their victory.
Bolstered by the success of their initial drilling, the Truro Company sent the auger down for another attempt. This time the probe was cast to 114 feet beneath the surface. At this depth, the auger hit another platform of timbers. Although no additional gold was retrieved from this drilling, the device did produce further confirmation of oak and coconut fibers. With the exception of gold coins, the drilling had produced convincing proof that some sort of cache lie buried below.
Perhaps the most convincing evidence that treasure was close at hand was furnished by human behavior amongst the team. According to Lamb, Truro Company foreman James Pitblado did something very peculiar following the fourth drilling (2006). As the auger brought materials to the surface, other crewmembers witnessed Pitblado wipe dirt off an object before discreetly slipping the item into his pocket. Several accounts of the event indicate that immediately after this episode, Pitblado left the island and relinquished all ties to the Truro Company expedition.
Although Pitblado disappeared that day, he would not be absent from the narrative for long. Whatever Pitblado pocketed from the drilling debris had inspired him to petition the provincial authorities for a license to conduct his own excavation on the island. To help back his venture, Pitblado convinced lawyer and recognized businessman Charles Dickson Archibald to join him. Unfortunately for the two, the only official privilege they were granted by the government was the right to continue their search on "ungranted and unoccupied" lands. Essentially, the splinter group of fortune hunters could only seek treasure on property not already deeded to a private owner (Crooker, 1993). This restriction barred the men from exploring the enigmatic Money Pit. After a rejected attempt to purchase the lot containing the pit, Pitblado and Archibald were forced to leave finding the potential riches to the Truro Company. Archibald eventually retired to England while the duplicitous Pitblado and his unknown trophy disappeared into the fog of history.
Despite the promising developments in 1849, the men of the Truro Company left the site for the season. When they returned in the summer of 1850, the team brought with them a renewed sense of purpose and a refined strategy to extract their wealth. Similar to the Onslow Company's second effort, the members of the Truro Company devised a plan that would descend a shaft parallel to the original tunnel. At a depth of 109 feet, the new tunnel would burrow horizontally, thereby entering the Money Pit (Harris and MacPhie, 2005). A daring spelunker would then collect the coffers and return to the surface to celebrate. As could be expected, the island would not succumb so easily.
Similar to previous attempts, before the adjacent access shaft could reach the intended depth, the new tunnel filled with water. While not the result the crew had intended, this episode did offer an important discovery. As the team worked to drain the deluge, the laborers made two valuable observations. First, the water present in the shaft was salty. Second, the level of the water rose and fell with the tide. Although simple, these observations had profound implications. Previously the company thought that the Money Pit was being inundated with water as either part of a complicated trap or as a result of the natural water table. Now the team knew that somehow it was the surrounding sea that flooded their excavations.
Equipped with this new knowledge, the Truro Company investigated the area for more clues. As though a veil had been lifted, the men discovered that a southern portion of the island's shore was actually manmade (Crooker, 1993). The company decided to build a temporary rock dam in Smith's Cove to see if the key to the mystery could be found outside the actual tunnel.
With the water held behind the cofferdam, the crew uncovered remnants of a previous dam as well as five peculiar vent openings. Tracing the vents back to shore, the investigators tried to determine whether the shafts converged into one before continuing inland toward the pit. Here, their suspicions were confirmed. In order to drain the Money Pit, the team would either have to empty the Atlantic Ocean or obstruct the feeder vent that connected the five shafts to the tunnel. They chose the latter. After two attempts to find the feeder vent, the crew succeeded and wedged wood pilings into the shaft to prevent further flooding. Thinking they could now remove the water and claim any treasure, the men were puzzled to find that, despite their best efforts, the water level refused to lower. The confused Truro Company ultimately broke camp and left empty-handed from the 1850 expedition. Deflated and destitute, the company disbanded the following year (Harris, 1967).
The Oak Island Association
I n spring of 1861, the next group of hopeful treasure hunters was formed. They were named the Oak Island Association. Under the agreement to give the property owner, Anthony Graves, one third of all findings, the group began work at the Money Pit (Crooker, 1993). At first, the men of the new expedition found the task to be an easier challenge than expected. They soon had cleared the main tunnel down to 88 feet, and had excavated two parallel tunnels to 118 and 120 feet all with no sign of flooding. The 118-foot shaft was dug 18 feet west of the Money Pit. The plan was, at that depth, the excavators would begin tunneling east to access the entombed loot. However, just one foot from penetrating the Money Pit, water flooded the access tunnel (Harris and MacPhie, 2005).
With so little earth between them and the promise of treasure, the Oak Island Association utilized a pumping gin to clear their watery path. After three desperate days of trying to drain the shaft with no results, the company turned their efforts towards the other access tunnel 25 feet from the Money Pit. Already at a depth of 120 feet with no sign of water, the crew determined to burrow horizontally from this new direction. Here again, with the main chamber just feet away, the second access tunnel was inundated with water (Crooker, 1993). For two days, the 63 men of the company struggled to dredge the shaft to no avail.
Down but not out, the team decided to send surveyors into one of the access tunnels in an effort to assess the cause of the flooding. As two men labored in the shaft, those aboveground heard a loud crash. The thankful surveyors made it out alive as water began rushing into the tunnel. With everyone safely at the surface, the crew heard another startling sound. This time it was the Money Pit causing the commotion. According to Harris, beneath the weight of the oncoming water, the timbering installed to support the sides of the Money Pit collapsed everywhere below 30 feet from the opening (1967). Along with the partial wall collapse, further inspection revealed that the bottom of the tunnel had also given way. The depth of the hole now stood at approximately 112 feet.
Although startling, no one was injured during the event. On the contrary, this episode may have helped heal the concerns of the team. As it turned out, when the floor of the Money Pit failed during the flood, pieces of debris from below washed upward through the murky water. When the men inspected the scene, they discovered several curious items including the bottom of a yellow dish, a piece of Juniper worked at either end of the wood, an oak timber, and a spruce slab scarred by the hole left by a drilling auger (Crooker, 1993).
First Island Tragedy
A s the 1861 digging season moved forward, the Oak Island Association remained steadfast in their efforts. Perhaps encouraged by the debris, the men installed a cast iron pump and steam engine to dispatch the water in the pit. Although pumping operations on Oak Island had become a standard practice for teams of treasure hunters, this particular attempt would have a lasting impression on the hopeful crew. In fall of 1861, as the company struggled to drain the tunnel, a boiler exploded fatally scalding one operator and injuring several others. This fatality represented the first death inflicted by the Money Pit (Harris and MacPhie, 2005). To the regret of many, it would not be the last.
Despite the tragedy, the men of the Oak Island Association returned to the site over the next four years. Following the incident, much of the group's efforts involved locating and obstructing the feeder tunnels from Smith Cove thought to be responsible for the flooding. Although these attempts also failed to produce results, there was no further loss of life among the ranks of the Oak Island Association. In 1866, the company relinquished its rights to search for treasure at the site, ending a costly and tragic campaign in the Oak Island narrative.
Oak Island Treasure Company
I neffective attempts by misbegotten treasure hunters persisted for much of the 19th century, with little more than mounting debt and sinking hopes to show for the investment. Then, in 1890, excitement for the enigmatic tunnel was reignited when a one and a half ounce copper coin was discovered on the island (Harris and MacPhie, 1999). Although the copper piece was found outside of the Money Pit, to many observers, it served as yet another testament to the wealth buried below.
Energized by the new potential, in 1893 Frederick Blair and S.C. Fraser incorporated the Oak Island Treasure Company in the state of Maine. Under a $30,000 lease agreement, the organization secured exclusive rights to all treasure discovered on the property for a period of three years (Crooker, 1993).
Despite the enthusiasm of the Oak Island Treasure Company, the organization's efforts proved despairing even from the start. Initially, when the fledgling association met in Truro to appoint officer positions and generate revenue, the group was unable to raise enough capital to cover the purchase of a pump (Harris, 1967). Without this essential piece of equipment, the company would scarcely be able to move forward with the expedition. Regardless, the group decided to take aggressive action and began a deliberate excavation in 1895. Unfortunately for the crew, they had unknowingly been laboring within one of the auxiliary access tunnels 10 feet northwest of the Money Pit itself. To make matters worse, the team had dug down to 55 feet before the chamber was inundated with water and work was interrupted (Harris and MacPhie, 2005).
Several months later, the Oak Island Treasure Company was confronted by additional difficulties. In September of 1895, the Attorney General of Nova Scotia informed Frederick Blair that, in spite of the lease agreement, any treasure acquired as a result of their expedition belonged to the Queen, represented by the provincial government. To encourage continued digging, officials of Nova Scotia agreed to claim only a portion of the riches recovered from the island (Harris, 1967).
The following year, with the assistance of a new pump, the company returned to Oak Island. However, this attempt proved uneventful when, at a depth of 70 feet, the pump failed to keep up with the water flow and work was suspended (Crooker, 1993). However, the trend toward the mundane was abandoned in 1897 when tragedy again visited the island. On March 26th of that year, a man named Maynard Kaiser was working in one of the many shafts drilled into the terrain. As he was being hoisted to the surface, the ascension rope carrying Kaiser slipped from the pulley, casting him back into the shaft to his death (Fanthorpe, 1995). Following the accident, several crewmembers felt convinced that the treasure was either cursed or protected by a malevolent spirit and refused to descend into the Money Pit.
Whether or not they were confronting a paranormal guardian, in June of 1897 the Oak Island Treasure Company again tried their luck at acquiring the presumed fortune. After only moderate success in draining the Money Pit, the team followed the lead of their predecessors and relied on drilling to uncover whatever was buried below. Unbeknownst to the company, their findings that day would taunt innumerable imaginations for years to come.
According to Lamb, the team first drilled down 126 feet, encountering a five-inch layer of oak before hitting an impenetrable iron surface (2006). The men moved their drill one foot from the initial hole and executed a second attempt. Here, the auger passed through layers of soft stone, oak and a deposit that seemed to consist of loose pieces of metal. Encouraged by the results, the team sent the drill back down the same borehole. At a depth of approximately 153 feet, the drill again came in contact with what the team perceived to be loose metal. Beneath the supposed metal the auger encountered the same iron barrier and could not descend further.
When the drill returned to the surface and the team examined the boring extracted from the pit, excitement soon faded. Despite the layer thought to be loose metal, the men only found pieces of coconut fiber, oak splinters and loose debris. At first, this appeared to be no different than previous attempts. However, upon closer examination, the debris pulled from the tunnel that day would ultimately invite theories once considered outlandish.
While the men continued drilling at the site, the extracted debris was transported to a courthouse in Amherst, Nova Scotia. There Dr. A.E. Porter subjected the materials to closer examination. After scrutinizing the Oak Island debris, Dr. Porter made an alarming discovering. Amongst the dirt and rubble, he found an unmistakable piece of parchment. Further distinguishing the fragment was what appeared to be the letters "VI" written on one side of the material (Crooker, 1993). Eventually the tiny script was inspected by Harvard University specialists who verified its authenticity (Harris, 1967).
Another discovery made during that excavation only came to light many years following the summer of 1897. As indicated by Lamb, during that fateful excavation, drill operator William Chappell found traces of gold sediment on the auger after drilling into the Money Pit (2006). Similar to James Pitblado, formerly of the Truro Company, Chappell hid his valuable discovery from fellow crewmembers. It was not until 1931 that Chappell's findings would come to light.
Discovery of Flood Tunnels
T he next year, a less lucrative yet equally significant discovery was made. Given the amount of flooding in the Money Pits and surrounding auxiliary holes, excavators believed the tunnels were somehow interconnected, forming a sophisticated labyrinth. To test their theory, members of the Oak Island Treasure Company decided to pour colored dye into the Money Pit. The crew reasoned that by tracing the path of the pigment, they could determine the locations of the various flood channels and ultimately obstruct them once and for all. When the team set their plan into motion, they were astonished to find the dye streaming out from the shoreline at distant points around the island's perimeter. Perhaps most astonishing was that the coloring did not appear in Smith Bay where structures thought to be flood tunnels were located in 1862 (Harris, 1967). Further perplexing the crew was that, after multiple attempts to dynamite the feeder channels, they seemed unable to clog the pathways and prevent further flooding.
For decades, the company continued its efforts on Oak Island, transitioning from the Oak Island Treasure Company to the Old Gold Salvage and Wrecking Company in 1909. Despite the increase in capital and experience the excavators received from the acquisition, success eluded the teams throughout the early 1900s.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt
T o claim that all of the treasure hunters were somehow misguided would undermine the credibility of even an acclaimed United States president. In 1909, at the age of 27, Franklin Delano Roosevelt joined the ranks of the Old Gold Salvage and Wrecking Company. The affluent, Harvard-educated Roosevelt spent that summer off the shores of Nova Scotia, as hopeful to find the treasure as any who had preceded him. According to written correspondence, Roosevelt nurtured an interest in the Oak Island mystery well into his presidency. In a letter to a friend, the president intimated his intentions to return to the island on Mahone Bay, but was prevented from doing so by the outbreak of war in Europe (University Archives, 1939).
O riginally part of the Oak Island Treasure Company, William Chappell was noted to have found traces of gold on an auger during an 1897 excavation. Although he initially kept his discovery a secret, many years later Chappell confided the details of what he had found to Frederick Blair. In 1931, founder of the Oak Island Treasure Company, Frederick Blair maintained the lease on the Money Pit property. In an effort to garner Blair's support as well as his permission to drill at the site, Chappell described his encounter with the gold dust. Convinced of their impending fortune, Blair signed on with the new expedition under Chappells Limited of Sydney, Nova Scotia (Crooker, 1993).
The two men along with Chappell's brother Renerick, son Melbourne and nephew Claude, began work in 1931. Like many before them, the group found themselves with far more enthusiasm than solutions. The first problem they faced was discerning exactly which hole in the ground was actually the Money Pit. By that year, the site had undergone nearly a century and a half of excavation efforts, marring the island's surface with shaft openings. Mistakenly, the team ended up drilling approximately six feet south of the Money Pit (Harris, 1967).
The duration of the Chappell expedition was short-lived only active for one digging season. However, the team was able to make several astonishing discoveries during their brief stay. All between 115 and 130 feet deep in their new shaft, the men recovered an anchor flute sunk into the side of the tunnel, an implement resembling a 250 year-old Acadian axe, a miner's pick and the remnants of an oil lamp with seal oil (Crooker, 1993). Adding to the intrigue of the site, Mel Chappell also located a triangular formation of stones situated along the south shore of the island. Individually, each of these findings would be significant, but together, perhaps they provided more insight into the mystery of the island. Unfortunately for Chappells Limited, with $40,000 invested in the project, the team lost its lease to excavate the site and was forced to suspend operations in 1932.
A man named Gilbert Hedden initiated the next significant effort at Oak Island. While several of his predecessors were qualified and even intellectual men, Hedden had perhaps the best combination of resources to be successful at extracting the fabled treasure. Prior to his interest in the Money Pit, Hedden was Vice-President and General Manager of the Hedden Iron Construction Company of Hillside, New Jersey. In this capacity, Hedden grew increasingly familiar with the application of structural steel in engineering. His career also provided Hedden with the financial means to pursue the promise of the Money Pit when his company was purchased by the Bethlehem Steel Company in 1931.
According to author Mark Finnan, Hedden became interested in the Money Pit in 1928 after reading an article on the topic in the New York Times (2002). The steel magnate was convinced that the tunnel contained the fabled treasure of pirate captain William Kidd. By 1935, his interest had heated to a passion. That year the affluent Hedden purchased the eastern portion of Oak Island and had arrived at an agreement with Frederick Blair securing access to the Money Pit (Crooker, 1993). To undertake the pumping and excavation, Hedden hired Sprague and Henwood, Inc. of Pennsylvania. Having obtained legal access to the property and the means to excavate the buried treasure, Hedden began his expedition in 1936.
The results of his team's first digging season were unimpressive. Sprague and Henwood, Inc. used electric turbine pumps to remove seeping water as they re-excavated and reinforced Chappell's shaft just south of the Money Pit. Similar to Chappell, the shaft only produced disappointment as the 1936 attempt ended with Hedden leaving empty-handed (Harris and MacPhie, 2005).
In 1937, Hedden and his contractors returned to Oak Island. This time the company would encounter intriguing findings. Burrowing down one of the many auxiliary tunnels pock marking the island, the team stumbled upon a number of fascinating items including a miner's oil lamp with whale oil and unexploded dynamite at 65 feet. At a depth of 93 feet, they unearthed clay putty not previously found on the island. Slightly further down in the tunnel the men made an even more encouraging discovery. At a depth of 114 feet, Hedden's team came across an intersecting tunnel measuring 3 feet and 10 inches wide by 6 feet and 4 inches tall. Remarkably this chamber was lined with hemlock timbers and may have served as one of the original flood tunnels (Harris and MacPhie, 2005).
Although promising, the elements discovered in 1937 did nothing to offset the increasing expense of the excavation. At the close of that year's dig, Hedden's operation had reached a cost of $50,000, an exorbitant amount even for the most endowed financier. However, following the publication of Harold Wilkins' Captain Kidd and His Skeleton Island, Hedden felt his investment in the search was vindicated. Along with a treasure map resembling Oak Island, the work of fiction provoked readers with irrefutable similarities to the Money Pit narrative. Captivated, Hedden traveled to London to learn the source of the author's information. To Hedden's dismay, Wilkins was surprised to hear of any parallels between his tale and the site in Nova Scotia (Crooker, 1993).
While Hedden maintained his interest in what he believed was pirate treasure, in 1938 he halted his drilling campaign to concentrate on business matters (Harris, 1967). Despite abandoning excavation efforts, Hedden felt that the clues he uncovered during his investigation deserved the attention of British royal and fellow Freemason, King George VI. According to author Mark Finnan, in 1939 Chappell drafted correspondence to his majesty, highlighting the unique importance of the Money Pit on Oak Island (2002).
The Restall Family Tragedy
S ince its discovery in 1795, the Money Pit has elicited a number of legends and tales to help explain the mystery of Oak Island. Among the stories created by those grappling with the enigma is that the treasure will evade discovery until seven people die trying to capture it. If this folklore holds any truth, the Restall expedition of the 1960s did the most to fulfill the tragic prophecy.
Prior to arriving on Oak Island, Robert Restall had become well acquainted with adventure. In fact, not long after meeting and marrying his young wife, Mildred, Restall enlisted his bride in a spectacular traveling show. The act was called the "Globe of Death" and involved the couple whipping around a large steel sphere on motorcycles at speeds up to 65 miles per hour. The daredevils performed throughout Europe in the 1930s before moving their act to Canada. By 1955, the couple had settled in Hamilton, Ontario and was raising two sons and a daughter (Restall, 1965).
As Mildred Restall described in 1965, once Robert had heard about the Money Pit mystery, it became his pursuit. He set out collecting articles and information on the site, determined to learn everything about the island including the reasons others had failed. After years of building enthusiasm, Restall negotiated a deal with owner Mel Chappell in 1959. In exchange for 50 percent of any recovered treasure, Restall was given full rights to operate at the pit. Within the month, Restall relocated him and his eldest son to the modest island (Restall, 1965).
The former stunt drive turned plumber began his excavation supported by $8,000 of capital and equipment. Some of this had been borrowed from outside investors while the remainder of it represented the family's own savings. Immediately, Restall and his son set to work. By July of 1960, the two managed to remove water from the main shaft to a level not seen in decades (Lamb, 2006). That year the rest of Restall's family moved to Oak Island to help in the excavation.
Over the next five years, the Restalls dedicated their lives to Oak Island and the pursuit of the fabled riches. The family lived in two primitive cabins void of running water. Their fresh water was gathered from snowmelt and rain collected in a depression left by a dynamite blast many years before. At times they would visit the mainland for supplies, but would always return to Oak Island driven by Robert Restall's constitution and certainty that he would capture the pirate's bounty (Restall, 1965).
Sadly for Mildred, this unique chapter in her family's history ended abruptly on Tuesday, August 17th, 1965. As she recalled, her husband intended to visit Halifax that afternoon. Restall and his son had been working on digging a new shaft on one of the beaches. Sometime after 2:00 PM, as Restall peered over the edge of the tunnel to inspect his work, he succumbed to noxious gas emanating from the pit (Restall, 1965). Restall then lost consciousness and fell into the watery shaft. When his son, Bobbie, witnessed this episode, he dashed in after his father only to be claimed by the toxic fumes as well. Unaware of what was unfolding, two nearby workers, Karl Graeser and Cyril Hiltz, also rushed in to help. Both suffered the same fate as the Restall men (Lamb, 2006). At the close of this fateful day, Oak Island had claimed a total of six people since the mystery began.
J ust over one month before the tragedy that claimed the lives of four men, Robert Restall signed an agreement with investor and Geologist Robert Dunfield. After Restall passed away, Dunfield assumed control of operations at the island. Rather than make small incisions at strategic locations, Dunfield's approach involved a much more dramatic approach. In fact, Dunfield's first order of business as project manager included using two bulldozers to clear 12 feet from the surface of the Money Pit and spread the removed clay over Smith's Cove as a way to clog any feeder tunnels that might be flooding the main chamber (Crooker, 1993).
In order to transport even larger excavation equipment to the site, Dunfield ordered a causeway be built connecting the west end of Oak Island to Crandall's Point on the mainland. Completed on October 16, 1965, the causeway stretched 600 feet and consisted of 1500 cubic yards of compacted fill (Crooker, 1993). With the land bridge in place, Dunfield could move operations beyond lightweight machinery. Within weeks, the geologist had brought a 70-ton digging crane to Oak Island and was preparing to excavate at a scale never before seen at the site.
The month following the crane's arrival, Dunfield and his crew dug in. Assisted by the modern equipment, the team removed a 140-foot deep by 100-foot wide crater from the Money Pit. The effort proved bitter sweet as the team uncovered small shards of porcelain dishware but consistently struggled against the tunnel's collapse as a result of heavy rains (Harris, 1967). When Dunfield suspended work for the season in November of 1965, the expedition had already accrued an expense of $60,000.
Immediately after New Year's Day of 1966, Dunfield returned to Oak Island. Despite having spent countless hours and dollars excavating the main tunnel, he demanded that the Money Pit be refilled to create a base for a drilling campaign. Once his men had finished filling the gaping cavity, Dunfield began taking core samples at greater depths. He drilled four separate 6-inch holes to a depth of 190 feet into the Money Pit. From this investigation, he concluded that at approximately 140 feet a wooden platform obstructed the tunnel. Below the timbers was a 40-foot chamber void of any material. This empty space was followed by bedrock. Intrigued by these findings, Dunfield sent the core samples to the University of Southern California to undergo chemical analysis. Although he kept the results confidential, they encouraged Dunfield to announce his intentions for further large-scale drilling operations in the main tunnel (Harris and MacPhie, 1999).
The next several months were perhaps more frustrating than fruitful for Dunfield and his team. After excavating several promising locations across the island, he was unable to find anything more than the previous shards of porcelain and core samples. Further complicating matters, treasure-seeker and Oak Island property owner, Fred Nolan, bought lots immediately adjacent to Crandall's Point. Frustrated that Dunfield would not allow him use of the causeway to the island, Nolan barred its entrance from the mainland, essentially prohibiting both parties from the costly land bridge (Crooker, 1993). Whether a result of the $130,000 price tag or the feud with Nolan, in April of 1966, Dunfield left the project and returned to California.
The Triton Alliance
P rior to the formation of the Triton Alliance, key partners Daniel Blankenship and David Tobias had been investigating the plausibility of the Oak Island narrative. In 1967, the men had made their assessment and decided to actively pursue the alleged treasure by purchasing the majority of the island. Given the recent tension between Dunfield and Nolan, the two investors knew that their undertaking would need to be political as well as technical. Taking conciliatory measures, Blankenship and Tobias initially enlisted both Dunfield and Nolan to assist in their expedition (Harris, 1967). This move ensured their access to the valuable causeway and Dunfield's knowledge of the island.
Under the tentative truce between the treasure hunters, Blankenship and Tobias began an ambitious drilling campaign. Throughout 1967, the men bored over 60 holes into the surface near the Money Pit. From their drillings, the two ascertain that bedrock began at a depth of 160 to 170 feet. They also found that, at certain locations, there was a wooden level 40 feet beneath the bedrock. As they continued their coring, Blankenship and Tobias retrieved a piece of brass from a site they termed Drill Hole 21. From similar test holes, they found pieces of porcelain, wood, clay and charcoal (Harris and MacPhie, 2005).
In 1969, the expedition began in earnest when Blankenship and Tobias formed the Triton Alliance Limited. The new company wasted no time in their efforts to retrieve the mysterious fortune. Selecting strategic locations outside of the Money Pit, the Triton Alliance employed a calculated approach to their expedition. That year, in a test pit 180 feet northeast of the main tunnel, the Triton crew noted finding a small amount of metal at a depth of 160 feet. Additional metal samples were found in 1970 at various depths northeast of the Money Pit. Also in 1970, during an excavation attempt in Smith Cove, workers uncovered a U-shaped formation of logs marked with Roman numerals. The construction was thought to be the remnants of an ancient dam or harbor (Crooker, 1993). Adding to the excitement of the Smith Cove investigation, the Triton Alliance team discovered a pair of wrought-iron scissors, a wooden sled, a portion of an iron ruler and other iron artifacts including nails and spikes. When sent to the Steel Company of Canada for testing, these materials were determined to predate 1790 (Harris and MacPhie, 2005). The Triton Alliance now had its own evidence of human activity prior to the first Money Pit excavation.
The developments in 1971 only furthered the team's convictions in chasing the alleged riches. In January of that year, one of the most promising boreholes termed 10X was widened to fit a 27-inch diameter casing and deepened to 165 feet. During the process, the crew recovered fragments of broken concrete as well as pieces of metal chain and wire from the flooded tunnel (Crooker, 1993). Several months later, after the men had satisfactorily prepared the site, the team lowered a video camera into the watery shaft. The lens relayed grainy yet dramatic images back to observers at the surface. According to authors Graham Harris and Les MacPhie, Borehole 10X terminated in a cavity carved out of bedrock. Within the stone chamber were what appeared to be a severed hand, a corpse and several treasure chests (2005). Prompted by the video images, the Triton Alliance initiated approximately 10 diving excursions into the subterranean cavern. No treasure was extracted as a result of the divers' investigations.
Dismayed by the results of the Borehole 10X dives, the group spent the following years excavating locations across Oak Island. Then, perhaps spurred by the frustration of their circumstances, legal conflict erupted between the various interests. The first unraveling came in 1983 when the Triton Alliance brought a suit against Fred Nolan contesting his ownership of seven lots on the island and claiming their right to access the causeway extending from Crandall's Point. In 1987, after losing an appeal, the Triton Alliance was forced to pay Nolan $500 dollars while Nolan was ordered to remove an Oak Island Museum he built to obstruct entrance to the land bridge (Crooker, 1993). The strain of these legal battles combined with the stock market volatility of 1987 caused much of the activity surrounding the Money Pit to halt.
The Treasure Trove Act
L egal issues again undermined Oak Island's stakeholders in 1989. Since 1954, the Treasure Trove Act served as the standard for regulating treasure-hunting activities. Under the provisions of the initial Treasure Trove Act, hopeful individuals were granted a Treasure Trove License. The terms of the license guaranteed 10 percent of any recovered wealth went to the provincial government. Then, in 1989, the legislation revised the original act, tightening regulations and limiting license issuance (Lewis, 2013).
With large-scale excavations stalled due to imposing financial constraints, many of those possessing interests in Oak Island turned to tourism as both a source of revenue and public promotion. Unfortunately, this type of commercial activity also required a license. Despite the additional limitations governing treasure hunting, the main players on Oak Island, including the Triton Alliance, all managed to secure Treasure Trove Licenses.
Oak Island Tourism
A s early as the 1980s, Blankenship and Tobias were operating a tourism arm of their expedition. This entity was termed the Oak Island Exploration Company. Supported by the prominent Oak Island land holdings of the Triton Alliance, the organization enjoyed nearly exclusive access for tourism. However, members of the public interested in the island's history also began organizing their own groups. Among them was the Oak Island Tourism Society. In the late 1990s, when Tobias moved to sell his shares of the property, the Oak Island Tourism Society fervently petitioned the Canadian government to purchase the land and open it to the public. Despite the organization's protest, in 2006 the majority of the island was sold to brothers Marty Lagina (a succesful energy businessman) & Rick Lagina from Kingsford, Michigan, who along with Blankenship, formed Oak Island Tourism Inc. (Proctor, 2003).
Unfortunately for Oak Island enthusiasts, several developments around the turn of the 21st century created further complications. First, in 2009, the Oak Island Tourism Society voted to dissolve the organization, citing their inability to open an interpretive center dedicated to the Money Pit narrative. Then, in 2010, the Canadian government revisited the Treasure Trove Act. This time, rather than tightening restrictions in the legislation, officials replaced the bill with the Oak Island Treasure Act. The new law aimed to discourage exploiting Nova Scotia's cultural resources for commercial gain. As a result, "[a]nyone who wants to search for and recover in Oak Island Nova Scotia precious stones or metals in a state other than their natural state, and to keep them," would face a cumbersome licensing process with the Department of Natural Resources and would be heavily taxed on any findings (Department of Natural Resources, 2013). Since its enactment, the measure has discouraged many potential treasure seekers and has inhibited activity on the once spirited Oak Island.
The Curse of Oak Island
I n early 2014, The History Channel debuted a reality television series that documents the efforts and financial outlays of the current island owners Marty Lagina & Rick Lagina in their attempt to use modern technology to discover unknown treasure or historical artifacts, believed to perhaps be buried at Oak Island. The show details the island history, famous treasure-hunting events and discoveries, and works to solve the mystery which has been in place for hundreds of years. As seen on the show, Marty & Rick have engaged the assistance of father and son team Dan and David Blankenship, who have likewise been searching for the treasure since the 1960s, and who now live on the island.
O ne might like to dismiss these forlorn teams of excavators as just ignorant but optimistic wayfarers bent on imaginary riches. However, this perspective would cast such respected actors as Errol Flynn and John Wayne in the role of delusional fortune hunters. Both prominent men sought the buried mystery in the 1940s (Ricketts, 2012). Unfortunately for Flynn, a company owned by Wayne held the rights to seek treasure on the island, barring Flynn from pursuing the prize.
A s with any spectacular mystery, skeptical observers have tried to degrade the Money Pit down to natural processes. Under this theory, critics maintain that Oak Island is fewer than 500 yards from the mainland of Nova Scotia. Due to its proximity, it is assumed that the two landmasses share in certain geologic characteristics. Individuals who subscribe to this school of thought point to the multitude of sinkholes littering Nova Scotia's subsurface. To these onlookers, the Money Pit is little more than a profound sinkhole worn through a susceptible limestone substrate. According to critics of the Treasure Island hypothesis, all of the artifacts recovered from the pit can be credited to debris washing into a naturally occurring subterranean cavity. This approach to the Canadian site reduces the site to a matter of geo-fluvial activity, with snowmelt and rainwater contributing the mysterious artifacts and features.
T he most common theory as to what's at the bottom of the Money Pit on Oak Island is that Captain Kidd buried his vast fortune there just prior to his capture in Boston in 1699. However, others believe that Kidd might have conspired with Henry Every to use Oak Island as a type of community bank between the two. Some even believe that notorious pirate Blackbeard (Edward Teach) buried his treasure there due to him boasting that his treasure was hidden "where none but Satan and myself can find it.".
G iven the international volatility present since the discovery of the New World, it should come as no surprise that the otherwise inexplicable Oak Island would come to symbolize a hidden cache of royal treasures. Two of the most favorable explanations in this category originate with either the British or French military forces.
The explanation largely hinges on British aggression against French holdings at Fort Louisbourg. Here, it is thought that at some point during the French and Indian War and subsequent Seven Years War, the Franco treasure held at the fortification was transferred to the sophisticated vault on Oak Island. There are two opposing viewpoints to this line of reasoning. Some believe that, at some point during the six-week siege of 1758, the French slipped transportation of their riches past the invading British vessels, depositing the Fort Louisbourg coffers in the aptly named Money Pit. Others deem that the successful 1758 British attack on Fort Louisbourg, ultimately led to the construction of the Money Pit for safekeeping. Under this hypothesis, British forces were ordered to systematically dismember the fallen French stronghold, pillaging its riches before depositing them beneath the island off the coast of Nova Scotia (O'Connor, 2004).
True Identity of William Shakespeare
I n June of 1897, the Truro Company managed to recover a mysterious shroud of parchment from the depths of the main tunnel. Written on the face of the fragment was what appeared to be the letters "VI." Although the text adds an interesting dimension to the intriguing Money Pit saga, it does not bring the hoards of explorers any closer to wealth or prestige. So why then, do so many observers feel that two letters on parchment are more significant than even gold coins? According to one theory, the answer can be found in a 16th century English playhouse. William Shakespeare was born in 1564 in Stratford-upon-Avon in the English countryside. Although his early schooling remains debated, records indicate that Shakespeare never attended college. Instead, as a young man, he joined an acting troop and pursued theater as a profession. Through his remarkable ability as a playwright and unique talent to captivate his audiences, Shakespeare eventually earned a reputation as a literary genius. His canon of work includes 37 plays attributed to the distinguished author (Ackroyd, 2005).
However, some critics believe that the unparalleled literature of William Shakespeare is part of a real-life narrative far more cunning. To one group of observers, Shakespeare's brilliance was not in his writing, but in his ability to deceive. Citing his lack of education, travel or general experience in the world, critics believe that Shakespeare never authored any of the cherished plays. Instead, they offer that he merely claimed the works as his own to conceal the identity of the true author, Sir Francis Bacon. The theory follows that Bacon, a recognized scientist, scholar, philosopher, statesman and contemporary of Shakespeare, was responsible for penning the literature. To avoid being labeled a lowly playwright, the aristocratic Bacon secretly transferred credit to Shakespeare. According to some, Bacon embedded clues in many of the plays suggesting this arrangement (McKaig, 1985).
When the parchment containing India ink lettering was retrieve from the Money Pit, a group of onlookers were convinced of its connection to the Shakespearean conspiracy. To them, the parchment represented a fragment of the documents contained in the pit that would finally prove Bacon's authorship. Bolstering this opinion is Sir Francis Bacon's book "Sylva Sylvarum" in which he details his design of a perpetual spring. The self-flooding tunnel described in the text has many theorists convinced that in the depths of the Oak Island Money Pit lies proof of Sir Francis Bacon's true literary achievements (McKaig, 1985).
Ancient Christian Site
N ot everyone is convinced of Professor Leitchi's decryption of the inscribed stone. Another group holds that the symbols written on the tablet date to a much earlier time. Some believe that the actual meaning of the symbols found on the rock face is as follows (Finnan, 2002):
"The people shall not forget the lord, to offset the hardships of winter, and the onset of plague the Arif, he shall pray to the lord."
A Harvard Zoology professor and the founder of the Epigraphic Society of America named Dr. Barry Fell was responsible for this translation. Born in 1917, Fell eventually studied ancient and foreign languages alongside his formal training as a zoologist. Through his work, Fell determined that seemingly disparate cultures, previously thought to have no contact with one another, actually shared a number of similarities between their languages and symbols. Ultimately Dr. Fell formulated a controversial hypothesis claiming that the ancient civilizations of Africa, Asia and Europe had regular contact with the Americas long before Columbus made his famed discovery.
To Fell and his followers, the Money Pit stone tablet had been created by the Coptic Christians, a numinous group of Christians rooted in Egypt. The zealous Egyptian worshippers have been credited by some as the descendants of pharaohs and the builders of the great pyramids. According to Fell, the mystical stone found on Oak Island was left by an early Coptic settlement as a warning to prevent divine wrath by adhering to strict religious practices (Finnan, 2002).
Whether the work of a pirate's hand or proof that North African Christians were active in the pre-Columbian New World remains debated. Undermining either argument is the unfortunate fact that both translations were based on depictions of the symbols on the stone rather than the stone itself. Neither Leitchi nor Fell ever actually saw the unearthed tablet with their own eyes. Instead, they relied on interpretations of the cipher relayed to them by others. Further complicating matters is that the object disappeared around 1930 and, as of this writing, remains lost.
Knights Templar & Freemasonry
I nterestingly, many observers of the Oak Island mystery believe the inscribed stone together with a grouping of other stones on the island indicate the people actually responsible for engineering the Money Pit. While the carved tablet naturally invites interest, some feel that the cipher is merely one of a collection of uniquely compelling rocks. This explanation for the Money Pit is as sophisticated as the tunnel itself and has its beginnings in 12th century Europe.
Along with many details of the Money Pit story, what follows is anchored in as much folklore as fact. As the story goes, around 1114 A.D. a small collection of devout Christians formed a group determined to safeguard pilgrims' passage to the holy land. With their devotion to protect the sacred Temple of Solomon, the group was termed the Knights Templar. The church-affiliated Catholic Encyclopedia provides, "[i]n 1118, during the reign of Baldwin II, Hugues de Payens, a knight of Champagne, and eight companions bound themselves by a perpetual vow, taken in the presence of the Patriarch of Jerusalem, to defend the Christian kingdom" (New Advent, 1997).
The original nine men of the Knights Templar who swore to protect their faith eventually influenced a legend that would persist throughout the centuries. Through their efforts to secure Jerusalem for the Christian faithful, the Knights Templar garnered a reputation as a pious and capable military force. More importantly, some believe that, during their time in Jerusalem, the small band of monastic warriors uncovered the legendary Holy Grail. While this cannot be verified, the Knights Templar did acquire an elevated status following their victorious crusades. At their height, the Knights Templar represented nothing short of an elite sect, with the wealthy houses of Europe clamoring to enlist their sons and donate their riches. In spite of this prestige, the men of the Knights Templar eventually found themselves political targets.
Following nearly two centuries of patronage to the church, on Friday the 13th, 1307, King Phillipe IV of France and Pope Clement V resolved to abolish the Order of the Knights Templar in France and arrested hundreds of its members. The action was taken as a measure to seize the vast wealth the Knights Templar were known to have acquired. Many were tortured, executed for heresy or forced to formally relinquish their loyalty to the Order (Sora, 1999). Despite the threat of death or punishment, the affiliation thrived in the shadow of royal authority.
Some observers hold that on that fateful Friday in 1307, while religious warriors were being incarcerated and ultimately burned at the cross, the mysterious wealth held by the Knights of France was simultaneously being loaded aboard a sea-faring ship. The destination of the vessel has yet to be known. One belief is that the Knights traveled to Scotland where efforts to relinquish the Order were not pursued. To evade further persecution and, perhaps, protect the Holy Grail, the Knights formed a secret society. Similar to their previous affiliation, the new faction was imbued with religious rites and symbolism. Although active for centuries, this group did not officially make their presence known to the public until the early 18th century. According to their official history, "[t]he first Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons was established in 1717 in London" (Freemasons.org).
If it is to be believed that the Freemasons are the reincarnation of the fabled Knights Templar, than one important question persist. What happened to the Templar's treasure? According to a handful of scholars, explorers and investors, the ultimate destination for the Holy Grail and other priceless objects belonging to the Knights Templar was the famed Money Pit on Nova Scotia's Oak Island. Supporting this theory is the discovery of several peculiar stones found across the island. According to researcher Mark Finnan, throughout the years, various expeditions admitted finding an array of stones containing odd symbols. Among the unnatural shapes discovered were numerous crosses, a circle with one central dot, deliberate triangular rock formations and the letter "H" thought to be an alteration representing the Hebrew term "Jehovah." Each of these symbols is deeply rooted in Masonic traditions (Finnan, 2002). Combining the meaning of the stones with the engineered sophistication of the tunnel, many rational investigators are convinced that the Money Pit is not simply the treasure chest of a pirate. Instead, they believe it may be the site of the Holy Grail or Ark of the Covenant.
I t appears far too simple to dismiss the efforts of respected lawyers, businessmen, doctors, actors and even an esteemed president. Then, it stands to reason that, if at least a handful of the countless men who visited the pit were rational and intelligent people, perhaps there is more to the story. Digging deeper into the history surrounding the site can help uncover what may lie deeper in the Money Pit. Although certainly relevant, it seems pirate treasure is not the sole explanation for the attraction of Oak Island.
Today, the Canadian site is marked by two centuries of attempts to drill for treasure. The unknown contents of the pit continue to draw speculation and seduce the imaginations of fortune seekers. Whether it holds Captain Kidd's treasure, Sir Francis Bacon's plays or even the Holy Grail remains uncertain. The one detail that is known and widely agreed upon is that the Oak Island Money Pit remains one of the greatest mysteries on the planet.
Early Celtic Art Hallstatt and La Tene
A feature of the fifth century BCE was the number of contacts between the Mediterranean world, more especially northern Italy, and the Celtic peoples who lived in an area north of the Alps, which stretched from the Atlantic to the western edge of the Carpathian Basin. One of the consequences of these contacts was the emergence of a new form of artistic expression, very different from the geometrical art known until then in these regions and which distinguished itself not only by its repertory of ornamental motifs but also by the development of wholly original formal procedures. Celtic art in the fifth century BCE borrowed a number of elements from the Etruscan repertory - a plant world consisting of palmettes and lotus flowers, peopled by human figures with animal attributes (Silenus masks with pointed ears) and monsters such as griffins, sphinxes and chimeras.
THE ANCIENT CELTS
For a guide to the historical
connections between Ireland
and the civilization, culture
and heritage of the ancient
keltoi traditions, see:
La Tene Culture
Celtic Art: Waldalgesheim Style
Celtic Art: Coins/Coinage
Celtic Art: Late European
Celtic craftsmen plundered Etruscan art for its oriental elements, which in the fifth century BCE were confined almost exclusively to a decorative function. Not only did the Celts adopt other motifs, likewise of remote oriental ancestry, from the art of the Italic peoples which was more strongly imbued with this mythological repertory, but also they perhaps borrowed directly from the East itself.
For instance, very ancient themes such as the "Tree of Life" guarded by monsters or birds, or the Lord of the Beasts, appear in the art of the Celts. This imagery, probably appropriated by them because it could be adapted fairly easily to their own religious universe - of which, unfortunately, little is known - was to remain with them, either transformed beyond recognition or in a form scarcely differing from the models, for almost 500 years on the Continent, and for far longer in the British Isles.
ARTISTRY OF THE CELTS
For facts about the craftsmanship,
artistry and artisanship for which
the Celts were justly famous, see:
Celtic Weapons Art
Celtic Jewellery Art
ART IN IRELAND
For facts and information about the
evolution of painting & sculpture
in Munster, Leinster, Connacht and
Ulster, see: History of Irish art.
Another novelty of Celtic art in the fifth century BCE was the use of the compass, either to engrave a pattern directly or to prepare a working drawing for elaborate and refined compositions. The predilection, engendered by the compass, for the geometrical interplay of curvilinear forms and volumes, remained from then on one of the basic features of Celtic culture. The works that have come down to us are chiefly small metal objects, since monumental sculpture was rare and architecture, in wood, is known only through the traces left in the ground. These surviving items consist almost exclusively of objects which accompanied important persons when they were buried, e.g. personal ornaments made of precious metals or bronze, decorated weapons, harness-trappings, metal decorations from chariots used in battle or for ceremonial purposes, and vessels from drinking-services.
Among the latter, the richly decorated wine-flagons are particularly interesting as they show clearly the originality of the Celtic products when compared with the Etruscan models from which they derive. Although few in number, the stone sculptures are of great importance for they can only be interpreted as belonging to a religious context. The association of human faces in stone sculpture with similar elements found on metal objects confirms the probability that they were deities, unfortunately unidentified, of the Celtic pantheon.
The objects which mark the beginning of Celtic art appear in the second quarter of the fifth century BCE at the earliest, and over a period of fifty years or so the new form of visual expression attained remarkable maturity. By the last quarter of the century some of the processes on which the specific character is based are already discernible in the more original works of Celtic art and it is those processes which enabled it at all times to assimilate its various borrowings and confer on them the stamp of unity.
Among the most significant of these processes is the transformation of natural shapes into abstract elements of definitive character and the juxtaposition - and in some cases the fusion in the same composition - of human, animal, plant and abstract forms. Two other features are remarkable, first the determination to avoid all narrative and dramatic representation, using only indirect and partial allusion and second, the affinity for ambiguity, which led Celtic artists to create works that could be "read" or interpreted in many ways.
Examples of Early Style Celtic Art
Here is a selected list of artifacts, functional and decorative artworks from the early stage of European Celtic art.
Object: Bronze Belt-Clasp 5th century BCE
Location: Weiskirchen, Saarland Federal Republic of Germany
Museum: Slovenska Narodne Muzeum, Bratislava
This find-spot was located on the eastern limit of the zone in which Celtic art emerged. The composition of the belt-clasp is similar to that of the Weiskirchen piece, where a face in the centre is executed in relief and is flanked by a pair of griffins engraved on the plate.
Object: Bronze Belt-Clasp, 5th century BCE
Location: Stupava, Slovakia
Museum: Rheinisches Landesmuseum, Trier
This grave find clearly illustrates the ways in which the Celts transformed themes of remote oriental derivation. The central palmette, symbol of the Tree of Life, is replaced by a human face crowned by a pair of opposed S-motifs, a very frequent attribute enabling the observer to identify the deity. On each side of the central motif is a pair of winged sphinxes. The whole piece is enhanced by inset areas of coral, a substance valued for its magical properties.
Object: Bronze Fibula, 5th century BCE
Location: Parsberg, Federal Republic of Germany
Museum: Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg
A central face, with animal ears and a "tiara" surmounted by a palmette, forms the end of the fibula, the part above the spring is lost. A pair of griffins decorate the openwork plate which concealed the spring. An expressive head without noticeable animal features constitutes the other end of the fibula. This object illustrates remarkably well the tendency of Celtic art to reduce natural forms into well-defined geometrical shape almost always with curvilinear contours.
Object: Gold Mount, 5th/4th century BCE
Location: Eigenbilzen, Belgium
Museum: Musees Royaux d' Art et d'Histoire, Brussels
Grave find. The object is in embossed, openwork form and probably was used for decorating a drinking horn from the wine service deposited in the burial. The Mediterranean origin of the motif on the central strip-a row of palmettes alternating with lotus flowers-is easily recognized. However, the parts are arranged in such a manner that the lotus flowers may be interpreted in two ways-either as such, or as pairs of leaves framing the trifoliate palmette.
Object: Openwork Sheet-Gold Mounting, 5th century BCE
Location: Schwarzenbach, Rheinpfalz, Federal Republic of Germany
Museum: Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Staatliches Museum, Berlin
Found in a grave, this mount probably decorated a wooden bowl. More elaborate than the combination of lotus flowers and palmettes encountered in the previous item, here the artist has recomposed the motifs, making as much use of the field as of the pattern. In the lower part of the principal strip, full trifoliate palmettes alternate with openwork lotus flowers. The motif has been divided up an transformed in such a way as to reduce it to a limited number of elements, the main one being a kind of dissymmetrical leaf (or in some cases in a half-palmette) terminating in a spiral scroll.
Object: Openwork Bronze Disc, 5th century BCE
Location: Somme-Bionne, Marne, France
Museum: British Museum, London
Found in a chariot burial, the object, a phalera, was probably a harness decoration. One of the innovations of Celtic art in the fifth century BCE was the use of the compass, often very skilfully employed, and this bronze disc is one of the finest specimens of compass work in Celtic art of the period. The patterns are based on a working drawing prepared with a compass. The result is not, however, an abstract construction of curves and counter-curves, for the compass is used in such a way as to bring out specific forms - in this case, the lotus flowers - to which symbolic value was attached.
Object: Engraved Bronze Scabbard Plate, mid-5th century BCE
Location: Bouy, Marne, France
Museum: Musee des Antiquites Nationales, Saint-Germain-en-Laye
The motif of the encircled palmette, symbol of the Tree of Life, here is transformed into a form evocative of a fan, which was to be used throughout the whole of Celtic art. This simple decoration was constructed with the help of a compass and the marks left by its point are still visible. The motif was then engraved by hand, which is why it is irregular and conceals the working drawing on which it was based.
Object: Bronze Wine Flagon, 5th/4th century BCE
Location: Borsch, Thuringia, German Democratic Republic
Museum: Vorgeschichtliches Museum, Friedrich-Schiller-Universitat, Jena
A grave find, this wine flagon with a handle in feline form of Celtic manufacture but derived from Etruscan models is distinctly original. Only Celtic artists associated animals with foliage motifs and with abstract motifs in this way, probably for symbolic reasons. Here the palmette is displayed on the animal's hind-quarters and spiral scrolls occur on the haunches and hindleg joints while S-motifs decorate the shoulders and frame the open jaws. Even the animal's coat is stylized with an unusual chequered pattern.
Object: Four-sided Stone Pillar, 5th century BCE
Location: Pfalzfeld, Rheinland-Pfalz, Federal Republic of Germany
Museum: Rheinisches Landesmuseum, Bonn
This is the most important of the Celtic works in stone which can be assigned to the fifth century BCE. Surrounded by S-motifs, a stylized human head in the centre of each side is decorated with two foliage motifs - the trifoliate palmette under the chin and on the forehead, and a large pair of mistletoe leaves which form a type of headdress. The latter was a peculiarly Celtic motif, which undoubtedly possessed considerable symbolic significance and was probably the attribute of a much venerated deity.
Object: Bronze Plaque, Gold Foil in repousse Relief, 5th century BCE
Location: Weiskirchen, Saarland, Germany
Museum: Rheinisches Landesmuseum, Trier
Originally, this grave find was inset with amber or coral studs. Once again the human face motif is encoutered, in association with the trifoliate palmette is arranged as a sort of headgear framing the face, while a pair of mistletoe leaves frame the top of the head. That the foliage motifs play the role of attributes in fifth centry BCE Celtic art is very apparent here.
Object: Bronze Wine Flagon, 5th/4th century BCE
Location: Reinheim, Saarland, Federal Republic of Germany
Museum: Museum fur Vor-und-Fruhgeschichte, Saarbrucken
This bronze wine flagon, found in the grave of a woman of high rank, is undoubtedly one of the earliest examples of this type of utensil entirely designed and executed by the Celts. The series of motifs was either borrowed from the Etruscan repertory and adapted, or newly created. The most striking of these motifs invented by the Celts is unquestionably the human-headed horse which appears on the lid of the vessel and is represented again on Gaulish coins in the first century BCE. The horse's head is crowned with a pair of mistletoe leaves.
Object: Iron and Bronze Phalerae, 5th century BCE
Location: Horovicky, Western Bohemia, Czech Republic
Museum: Narodne Muzeum, Prague
The repousse decoration on these phalerae consists of a repetitive series of human faces, each of which is framed by a headdress formed of a pair of mistletoe leaves organized in two concentric zones. The faces were probably divine and therefore endowed with magical virtues.
Object: Amber-stud, Bronze Anthropomorphic Fibula, 5th Century BCE
Location: Manetin, Western Bohemia, Czech Republic
Museum: Narodni Muzeum, Prague
The figure on this object probably represents some deity or legendary hero rather than an ordinary individual. The clothes are similar to those seen on the Hallstatt scabbard.
Object: 4 Torcs and 3 Bracelets, 5th/4th century BCE
Location: Erstfeld, Uri, Switzerland
Museum: Schweizerisches Landesmuseum, Zurich
Discovered accidentally in 1962, these objects constitute an exceptional hoard illustrating the high quality of Celtic workmanship in gold. Although the rich decoration may be paralleled by that found on many contemporary objects discovered in the Rhineland or in central Europe, none equals it in exuberance.
Object: Engraved Bronze Scabbard, 5th century BCE
Location: Hallstatt, Austria
Museum: Naturhistorisches Museum, Vienna
This is an exceptional work, not only because of its high quality, but also because of the importance assumed by the human element. The artist who designed and executed it undoubtedly was strongly influenced by the orientalizing art of the "situla" art of northern Italy and the eastern Alpine territories and probably, the only novelty in the decoration of the scabbard is that the human figures represent scenes from the (unfortunately unknown) mythology of the early Celts.
Object: Bronze Fibula, 5th century BCE
Location: Ostheim, Rhon-Grabfeld Federal Republic of Germany
Museum: Vorgeschichtliches Museum, Friedrich-Schiller-Universitat, Jena
This fibula is entirely decorated with a type of dissymmetrical leaf with a narrow tip forming a scroll. The symbolic significance of the motif is emphasized by its repetition at either end of the fibula in three different abstract compositions, which may also represent griffins' heads. The object illustrates with remarkable virtuosity one of the fundamental principles underlying the Celts' transformation of Mediterranean prototypes - the reconstitution of the image in terms of signs which were filled with meaning.
Object: Bronze Wine-Flagon, 5th/4th century BCE
Location: Durnberg, Hallein, Austria
Museum: Museum Carolino-Augusteum, Salzburg
Found in a chariot grave, this flagon is a good example of the perfect assimilation of elements chosen from the Mediterranean repertory and used in the expression of Celtic mythological concepts. On the handle attachment, a human head surrounded by a trifoliate palmette and S-motifs is crowned with "leaves" (similar to the decoration of the Ostheim fibula). Additional elements include strange monsters with long muzzles ending in scrolls (on the rim) and a grotesque animal leaning its chin on a human head with open eyes (on top of the handle).
Object: 2 Bronze Flagons, Early 4th century BCE
Location: Basse-Yutz (Moselle), France
Museum: British Museum, London
These bronze flagons are decorated with red champlevé enamel and coral insets. Practically all the iconography developed by the Celts before the fifth century BCE is represented here. For example, the palmette either is engraved and studded with coral (under the spout) or is emphasized by enamel insets and is associated with animals (on the handle) or is combined with the human face (on the handle base). Other motifs include a duck in high relief (on the spout), interlaced S-motifs (at the bottom of the vessel) and chequer-work (under the beak).
For more about the history of Irish culture, see: Ireland Visual Arts.
For more about painters and sculptors, see: Famous Irish Artists.
For information about the pre-Christian cultural history of Ireland, see: Irish Art Guide.
For more on the history of Celtic Hallstatt culture, see: Homepage.
Here We Go Again!
A story or show that employs an infinite-loop motif, ending in the very way it was put into motion. The circumstances need not be exact.
The idea is that the events that led to the story are going to lead to a very similar story. If the story ends up back in the same place but the situation has changed, that's Where It All Began. If the story starts and ends with similar scenes for dramatic irony or resolution, then that's Bookends.
Differs from Oh, No. Not Again!, which refers to a repeating event in the middle of a story.
A form of Status Quo Is God. See also Yo Yo Plot Point, for individual plot points or concepts, rather than whole episodes, arcs, seasons, or series. If the next iteration of the story happens to the next generation we have Generation Xerox.
Compare with And the Adventure Continues, The End. Or Is It?, and Eternal Recurrence, which does this to the entire 'verse. Opposite of We Are Not Going Through That Again, where the hero refuses to set off on another adventure. Can inspire an "Oh, No. Not Again!" from an exasperated character. If a particularly negative Here We Go Again moment is subverted, that's a type of Shock-and-Switch Ending.
Not to be confused with the Ray Charles song or a "Groundhog Day" Loop, where time itself is repeating as a plot device within the story.
Remembering a legend: Marine correspondent, first to cover Vietnam War for Stars and Stripes, dies at 84
Posted On September 23, 2020 07:42:06
News of Gunnery Sgt. Steve Stibbens’ passing on Saturday spread fast through the ranks of current and former military journalists and war correspondents for whom Stibbens was a legend, friend, and role model.
“The retired ranks of the Marine Corps and the Marine Corps Combat Correspondents Association have lost a fighter, and I have lost a friend,” wrote former Marine combat correspondent and retired Capt. Robert “Bob” Bowen in a remembrance posted on Facebook. “Gunnery Sgt. Steve Stibbens hung up his award-winning camera this afternoon, September , in Dallas, Texas. His heart gave out on him after 84 years.”
Stibbens, who enlisted in the Marines in 1953, forged a legacy as a trailblazing storyteller and award-winning photojournalist when he was sent to Vietnam in 1962 and 1963 as the first Stars and Stripes reporter to cover the conflict, years before the US committed large numbers of conventional forces to the war.
Stibbens as an AP correspondent in Vietnam in 1967 and at top right in 1962 — along with his friend Paul Brinkley-Rogers — spending time with Philippine freedom fighter Emilio Aguinaldo and his wife, Maria Agoncillo Aguinaldo, at the Aguinaldos’ home in Cavite. In 1899, after the fall of Spanish colonial power in the Philippines, Aguinaldo was elected that nation’s first president. Photos courtesy of Steve Stibbens’ Facebook page.
“Steve roamed the Mekong Delta and the Central Highlands with Army Special Forces ‘A teams’ and advisers until the Marines arrived in 1965,” Stars and Stripes reported Tuesday.
Bowen said Stibbens was awarded the Bronze Star Medal with “V” device for his time covering the war for Stripes. From Stripes, Stibbens went on to cover the war for Leatherneck Magazine.
“When the Marines landed in Da Nang in March 1965, Steve was quick to follow,” Bowen wrote in his remembrance.
Stibbens’ work in Vietnam earned him the National Press Photographer Association’s coveted title of Military Photographer of the Year in 1964 and again in 1965.
No Marine would earn the prestigious title for another 28 years, until retired Gunnery Sgt. Earnie Grafton won in 1993 while assigned to Stars and Stripes Pacific.
“Steve Stibbens is a legend in our community,” Grafton told Coffee or Die Magazine. “He was a trailblazer for all Marine photojournalists, and he set the standard for all of us to follow.”
A Steve Stibbens photo from Vietnam, June 12, 1965: “The strain of battle for Dong Xoai is shown on the face of U. S. Army Sgt. Philip Fink, an advisor to the 52nd Vietnamese Ranger battalion, which bore the brunt of recapturing the jungle outpost from the Viet Cong.” Photo from Joseph Galloway’s Facebook page.
President Lyndon Johnson selected Stibbens’ photo of a weary, unshaven Special Forces soldier as “The President’s Choice.”
Stibbens left active duty in 1966 and returned to Vietnam as a reporter for The Associated Press. He later reenlisted in the Marine Reserves and retired from the Corps as a gunnery sergeant after 20 years of service.
“Steve was one of a handful of Vietnam-era Marine combat correspondents that my later generation of military journalists looked to emulate,” said retired Capt. Chas Henry, a former Marine combat correspondent who served from 1976 to 1996. “He was the complete, dashing package: a writer who could grasp and succinctly describe human aspects of warfighting, a superb photographer, and a genuinely nice guy.”
Vietnam War correspondent Joseph Galloway, who co-authored We Were Soldiers Once … and Young — the bestselling account of the 1965 Battle of the Ia Drang Valley — posted his own remembrance on Facebook Saturday, calling Stibbens “a good friend and a fine photographer.”
Galloway honored his friend’s memory Monday, posting several old photos on Facebook, including one of Stibbens in 1962 with Filipino freedom fighter Emilio Aguinaldo, the country’s first president, and another showing “the strain of battle” on an Army sergeant in 1965.
This Stibbens photo from 1963 shows the agony of an Army of the Republic of Vietnam Ranger after he lost his hand to a grenade booby trap in the Mekong Delta. Photo courtesy of Steve Stibbens’ Facebook page.
“Steve was fine company in a foxhole or a watering hole, and we will miss him greatly,” Galloway wrote on Facebook.
Stibbens’ daughter, Suzanne Stibbens, told Stars and Stripes that her father was not as well known as Galloway and some of his other contemporaries, but that didn’t bother him.
“In Saigon, he and Peter Arnett would go get coffee every morning,” she said, describing Stibbens’ friendship with the Pulitzer Prize-winning AP reporter. “My dad would ask for ‘café au lait with milk.’ They laughed and told him ‘au lait’ means with milk.”
Suzanne also told Stripes that Stibbens’ real name was Cecil and that he picked up the nickname “Steve” at boot camp after visiting a buddy’s Russian mother who couldn’t pronounce his name.
Stars and Stripes‘ Seth Robson called Stibbens’ early Vietnam reporting “hardcore combat journalism from the tip of the spear.” In a 1964 dispatch for the newspaper headlined, “Special Forces sergeant has nerve-wracking job,” Stibbens profiled Staff Sgt. Howard Stevens, a Special Forces soldier whose mission was to make soldiers of primitive Koho and Montagnard tribesmen in the mountains of Vietnam.
Steve Stibbens. Photo courtesy of Steve Stibbens’ Facebook page.
“To say the least,” Stevens told Stibbens after a firefight between the tribesmen and Viet Cong fighters, “it’s a rewarding experience to take a man out of his loin cloth and train him to use modern weapons when the nearest thing to a machine he’d ever seen was an ax.”
Henry, who enlisted in the Marines as a private in 1976 and rose through the ranks, remembered Stibbens on Tuesday as more than just a gifted journalist.
“As a young Marine, I’d heard stories about Steve from my bosses, who had known him in Vietnam. I finally met him at a combat correspondent conference in Dallas, his hometown,” Henry said. “Steve was a larger-than-life kind of presence, but he was a character with character. Some guys who’d made names for themselves liked to talk about themselves. Steve made a point to get to know those of us newer to the field. And when we talked, he mentioned having been impressed with something I’d produced. And he described whatever it was with enough detail that I could tell he had actually seen or heard or read it. Those words, coming from someone whose work set such a standard, meant the world to me.”
Stibbens had a long career in journalism that included assignments as the AP’s photo editor in Dallas, a bureau chief at Gannett’s Florida Today in Vero Beach, Florida, and as a reporter at the San Diego Union, the Dallas Times Herald, Newsweek magazine, and Texas Business magazine, according to Stars and Stripes.
This article originally appeared on Coffee or Die. Follow @CoffeeOrDieMag on Twitter.
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