The following is a plot summary and analysis of Season 10, Episode 1 of ‘The Curse of Oak Island’, entitled ‘On Their Marks’.
The War Room Meeting
Season 10, Episode 1 of The Curse of Oak Island opens with a shot of brothers Rick and Marty Lagina; Marty’s son, Alex Lagina; the Laginas’ business partner, Craig Tester; and Tester’s stepson, Jack Begley, driving through the town of Western Shore, Nova Scotia. “Gentlemen,” says Marty, “we’re on our way back. I want to get to the bottom of it this year. I’ve said it before, but this year I mean it, okay?”
As the five men drive across the causeway to Oak Island, the narrator explains that, during the previous two seasons of treasure hunting, the Laginas and their team identified traces of both gold and silver in water deep in the notorious Money Pit on the island’s eastern end, supporting the long-held suspicion that some sort of treasure lies buried in the area.
The five men head to the so-called War Room, their Oak Island headquarters, where the rest of their team is waiting for them. After exchanging pleasantries, the treasure hunters discuss the game plan for the upcoming season. Marty suggests that they prioritize locating the source of the aqueous gold they found in the Money Pit area the previous year. We then learn that the team plans to drill fifty new boreholes in the Money Pit area, in each of which geoscientist Dr. Ian Spooner will use a device called a Levelogger to determine the direction of the subterranean water flow. This, the team hopes, will allow them to pinpoint the epicentre of the mysterious gold source.
Next, we learn that the team has already placed muon tomography devices in fourteen boreholes across the Money Pit area, the South Shore, and the southern border of the Oak Island swamp, muon tomography being a technique in which electron-like particles called muons are used to generate three-dimensional images of whatever media they pass through. Craig Tester explains that it will take months before the devices collect enough data to produce a useful model of the Money Pit’s subterranean makeup.
We then learn that the treasure hunters are in the process of obtaining permission from the Nova Scotian government to excavate the southeastern corner of the Oak Island swamp, where archaeologist Laird Niven found ancient Mi’kmaq pottery the previous year, resulting in a ban on excavation.
Next, we are reminded of several interesting discoveries made the previous year at the Church of Fontarcada in the town of Povoa de Lanhoso, Portugal.
While touring the 13th Century church, members of the Oak Island team found a graffito carved into the wall of the nave which bears great resemblance to one of the symbols allegedly inscribed on the 90-foot stone, the latter being a flat rock with strange markings said to have been found at a depth of 90 feet in the Money Pit by an early Oak Island treasure hunting syndicate. Another carving on the church’s exterior bears a symbol found on the mysterious H/O stone, a fragment of a boulder inscribed with strange symbols which once stood on Oak Island Joudrey’s Cove. The narrator then reminds us of a 2,000 year-old Roman road which the treasure hunters examined in Portugal, which bears remarkable resemblance to the stone path unearthed in the Oak Island swamp in previous seasons.
Finally, the treasure hunters agree that they ought to continue metal detecting operations on Oak Island Lot 8, where treasure hunter Gary Drayton made some interesting discoveries in previous seasons, including the rhodolite garnet brooch found in Season 5, Episode 16. With that, the War Room meeting is concluded.
The next scene takes place at the Money Pit, where a contracting company called Choice Drilling is busy sinking Borehole K15.5, one of the fifty core drilling operations the team hopes to conduct this season. Later in the episode, historian Charles Barkhouse discovers fragments of wood contained within K15.5 core samples taken from depth of 103.5 and 111 feet below the surface, respectively. The wood appears to have been artificially cut, indicating that the treasure hunters may have drilled into some sort of underground structure. Driller Mike Tedford adds weight to this theory by explaining to Barkhouse, Rick Lagina, geologist Terry Matheson, and treasure hunter Scott Barlow that the drill dropped about eight inches after going through the wood at 103 feet. “Between this and that,” Tedford says, gesturing to the two wood samples, “there’s a void down there.” Barlow then proposes that they may have drilled through a tunnel.
The treasure hunters examine the wood fragments contained within the core samples and find evidence of what they suspect might be adze marks – an indication that the timbers are not modern. The narrator then reminds us that Gary Drayton and Rick Lagina discovered an old adze head on Oak Island’s Lot 4 the previous year. Blacksmith Carmen Legge later dated this artifact to around 1620. The treasure hunters agree that they ought to have the K15.5 wood carbon dated.
The results of the wood’s carbon dating are revealed by Craig Tester in a War Room meeting near the end of the episode. One of the wood fragments was dated to 1731-1806 with a 48.1% degree of accuracy; and from 1640-1687 with a 35.5% degree of accuracy. “So 70-80%,” Tester concludes, “is from 1640-1810,” this date range straddling the 1795 discovery of the Money Pit. Rick Lagina summarizes his reaction to the results in a later interview, stating, “The carbon dates are pre-discovery and post-discovery of the Money Pit. That’s what makes this endeavor so difficult… We don’t know what to make of it.”
In another scene, Terry Matheson and historian Paul Troutman oversee the drilling of Borehole M16.25, located about 11 feet south of K15.5, hoping to find more evidence of a 103-foot-deep tunnel. As anticipated, drillers Mike Tedford and Colton Robinson encounter a wood-bounded void from 103-107 feet below the surface.
Scott Barlow and surveyor Steve Guptill proceed to lower an underwater camera down Borehole M16.25. The camera enters the void at a depth of 32.06 metres, or 105 feet, and captures footage of what appear to be broken timbers.
The following morning, members of the Oak Island team convene in the War Room, Marty Lagina in attendance via video conference. The treasure hunters review the footage they took of the void intersected by M16.25, which they have enhanced using ProHawk Technology software, and discuss whether they or not they believe the tunnel predates the 1795 discovery of the Money Pit. Scott Barlow proposes that they conduct a sonar scan in the tunnel.
In the next scene, members of the team follow Barlow’s recommendation and conduct a sonar scan in the M16.25 void. The scan results verify that the treasure hunters have indeed intersected an underground tunnel. One end of the tunnel ends abruptly, while the other tapers sharply, implying deformation resultant of a collapse.
The treasure hunters discuss the results of the sonar scan in a later War Room meeting. Steve Guptill explains that the tunnel, which appears to have a crook in it, “heads off in a northwest direction, and comes from a south-southeast direction.”
“Based on early projections,” Guptill continues, “and we still have quite a bit of work to do – it does point just a few feet west of the Garden Shaft.” The narrator explains that the Garden Shaft is a structure discovered in Season 5, which the Oak Island team suspected was a 19th Century searcher shaft. “After constructing a rock garden around it three years ago,” the narrator explains, “they affectionately dubbed it the Garden Shaft.”
Later in the episode, Charles Barkhouse and Terry Matheson oversee a third core drilling operation at a site called DN12.5, located 20 feet west of the Garden Shaft. No information on the results of this operation are presented in this episode.
Lot 8 Metal Detecting
Meanwhile, Marty Lagina and Gary Drayton go metal detecting on Lot 8. The pair quickly uncover an ox shoe, evoking a similar discovery made on Lot 15 back in Season 8, Episode 3. Noting that there are no historical records of Lot 8’s having been used as farmland, Marty suggests the ox shoe might be evidence of a bygone path through the area.
The pair continue their hunt and unearth an oddly-shaped lump of metal, which Gary calls a “mystery find”. Both treasure hunters express their hope that the item might be linked to a flintlock mechanism from a musket or pistol which they found on Lot 8 the previous year.
Later in the episode, Rick Lagina, Craig Tester, and Jack Begley meet with blacksmithing expert Carmen Legge at the Oak Island Research Centre and ask his opinion of the mysterious metal lump pulled from Lot 8. The narrator reveals that, prior to the meeting, the Oak Island team’s newest member, archaeologist Emma Culligan, subjected the object to a CT scan, revealing an elegantly-crafted artifact beneath inches of encrustation. Legge analyzes the image generated by the CT scan and concludes that the object is a “heavy bunk hook,” which he describes as “a type of hook that goes on the end of a chain,” used for hauling, pulling, and lifting heavy cargo. Legge says that bunk hooks of this particular design “came in vogue in the late 1500s”.
Lot 7 Metal Detecting
Later in the episode, Gary Drayton and Jack Begley go metal detecting on Oak Island’s Lot 7. The pair quickly uncovers a musket ball. Shortly thereafter, they find a small square of silver-coloured metal which appears bear markings, which Drayton tentatively identifies as an old coin. The treasure hunters agree to subject the artifact to a CT scan.
In a later scene, Rick Lagina, Jack Begley, and Gary Drayton meet with archaeologists Laird Niven and Emma Culligan in the Oak Island Interpretive Centre. The archaeologists, we learn, conducted a CT scan of the square piece of metal found on Lot 7 off-camera, and determined that it is composed of bronze with a high concentration of arsenic. “It is not a modern metal by any means,” Culligan explains. “16th Century onwards it’s non-existent.” She then states that she suspects the object is probably a bronze coin.
Gold in the Water
Late in the episode, the Oak Island team meets in the War Room with geoscientist Dr. Ian Spooner and hydrogeologist Dr. Fred Michel, the latter in attendance via video conference. Dr. Michel explains that Leveloggers which Dr. Spooner placed in boreholes near the Garden Shaft determined that underground water is moving through the area in a southerly direction, presumably through the tunnel which the crew discovered via Boreholes K15.5 and M16.25. Dr. Spooner then reveals that samples of water which he extracted from the Garden Shaft contain traces of gold. On the advice of Drs. Spooner and Michel, the treasure hunters agree to take more water samples and Levelogger readings around the Garden Shaft in order to verify their findings.
Marty expresses his enthusiasm about the results, declaring that the Garden Shaft project is, in his opinion, “the most exciting thing [the team has] going for them this year.”
Gretchen Cornwall Returns
In a final War Room meeting at the end of the episode, the Oak Island team speaks with author and researcher Gretchen Cornwall via video conference. Cornwall has appeared on The Curse of Oak Island in the past, namely in Season 6, Episode 6, in which she outlined her theory that the Money Pit treasure was deposited by members of the Knights Templar. In this episode, Cornwall tells the treasure hunters about Royston Cave, an artificial cave beneath the town of Royston, England, which some theorists believe was used as a secret meeting place by members of the Knights Templar prior to their downfall in 1307. She explains that medieval Templar symbols are carved into the walls of Royston Cave, and that some of them resemble symbols found on Oak Island, presumably on artifacts like the 90-foot-stone and the H/O stone. “The iconography you can find on Oak Island,” she concludes, “you can find at Royston Cave. The carvings are religious, political, to mark events. I think that the same individuals that were in Royston Cave were aware of Oak Island. This cave actually proves the narrative that the Templars came to the New World, specifically to Oak Island, to protect their information and their treasures… for the future.” Cornwall concludes her presentation by inviting members of the Oak Island team to come to England and tour Royston Cave for themselves. Marty accepts the invitation and declares that he will travel to England with his son, Alex, both of them being skeptical of the Templar theory.