The Curse of Oak Island: Season 6, Episode 4- A Legacy Revealed
The following is a Plot Summary and Analysis of Season 6, Episode 4 of the History Channel’s TV series The Curse of Oak Island.
The Fellowship of the Dig meets in the War Room, where Gary Drayton displays the supposed crossbow bolt which he and Mike West discovered on Lot 26 the previous episode. Laird Niven opines that the artifact is hand-crafted and “really finely made”. Craig Tester remarks that the artifact’s good condition is not necessarily indicative of modernity, as “the quality of iron back then just doesn’t rust very fast.” Gary Drayton echoes Tester’s statement, saying, “the older the iron, the better condition it’s in.” Rick Lagina concludes the meeting by stating that the artifact ought to be analyzed, and that Gary Drayton ought to get himself a shirt with a deeper “top pocket”.
The next day, Rick Lagina, Craig Tester, and Charles Barkhouse stand by as the men of Choice Drilling continue the exploration drilling operation in the Money Pit area (which commenced the previous episode). Drillhole DE6 encounters an impenetrable object at a depth of around 204 feet. The driller in charge of the operation suspects that this obstacle is bedrock and recommends that they withdraw from this particular hole. Having failed to locate the anticipated H8 Cavern, which is supposed to lie at a depth of around 160 feet, the treasure hunters express some disappointment and prepare to move on to the next target.
The next day, Marty Lagina, Alex Lagina, and Craig Tester drive to Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. There, they present Dr. Christa Brosseau with the crossbow bolt from Lot 26. The associate professor of Chemistry, assisted by Dr. Xiang Yang, proceeds to shave some metal from the surface of the artifact and examine these shavings with a scanning electron microscope (SEM). The scientists determine that the artifact is composed of iron, and contains traces of manganese. The narrator then explains that “manganese became used in the production of steel and iron beginning in the 9th Century B.C.”, and suggests that its presence is consistent with the possibility that the artifact is ancient.
Next, Craig Tester heads to Smith’s Cove, where the men of Irving Equipment Ltd. are busy constructing the cofferdam. The operation appears to progressing as expected.
Later, the Oak Island crew meets in the War Room, where Rick Lagina mournfully announces the passing of 88-year-old researcher Zena Halpern. The narrator reminds us that Halpern introduced the crew to three mysterious documents in Season 4, Episode 1, which appeared to bolster the theory that members of the Knights Templar were responsible for the Oak Island mystery. Rick then reads a touching eulogy for Halpern, which was written by her friend and colleague, Richard Moats.
Three days later, Rick Lagina and Peter Fornetti drive a U-Haul van to Zena Halpern’s former home in Long Island, New York. In an interview, Rick reveals that Zena bequeathed him all of her research, and that he is heading to New York to retrieve it.
At the door to Zena’s home, Rick and Peter are greeted by Zena’s son, Davin Halpern, and by Davin’s son, Jason. The Halperns welcome the treasure hunters into the home and show them Zena’s research, which includes mountains of books, sticky notes, and folders.
While Peter begins to box up Zena’s files, Rick picks out a particular book from a shelf. Inside, he finds copies of the three documents which Zena introduced to the Oak Island crew in the Season 4 premiere. Shortly thereafter, he finds a paper booklet on a shelf, which he calls the “Cremona Document”.
“This,” Rick says to Davin, “is at the core of your mother’s research.” The narrator then explains that the Cremona Document was discovered in the 1970s in a church in Cremona, Italy, and that it constitutes “a collection of maps, ciphers, and journal entries which are believed to have been authored, in part, by the 12th Century Templar knight Ralph de Sudeley.” These documents, the narrator claims, describe de Sudeley’s discovery of priceless religions artifacts at Temple Mount in Jerusalem, and of a trans-Atlantic voyage he and fellow Templars made to North America. The narrator concludes by stating that, although many mainstream historians doubt the authenticity Cremona Document, Rick Lagina suspects that “much of the information contained within it is most likely true”.
The next day, members of the Oak Island crew meet at the Money Pit area, where Choice Sonic Drilling has started to bore a second hole, called “H7.5”. In an interview, Rick Lagina explains that H7.5 is in close proximity to Borehole H8, which yielded fragments of leather, parchment, and human bone the previous season.
A ten-foot-long core sample is taken from H7.5 at a depth of 170 feet. While examining this sample, Craig Tester picks out a strand of some sort of hair-like substance which he tentatively identifies as a coconut fibre. Charles Barkhouse explains that this find is congruent with historic records, which indicate that coconut fibre was found in the Money Pit by both the co-discoverers and the Onslow Company. Geophysicist Terry Matheson then picks out a fragment of wood from the 170-foot section of the core sample which appears to have been cut with an axe.
That night, the Oak Island crew meets in the War Room. There, Doug Crowell explains that he sent the Lot 26 crossbow bolt to Gabriel Vandervort, a California-based antiquity expert, for analysis, and that the specialist is ready to share his findings.
The crew members proceed to call up Vandervort on Skype. The antiquities expert claims that he initially believed the Lot 26 artifact to be medieval. He further explains that the artifact’s “pyramidal tip” is a common feature in medieval crossbow bolts, but that its “long neck” is not.
“I went through… dozens of references,” Vandervort continues, “but… couldn’t nail it down to the medieval period, so I started going back in time. And what it appears to be is Roman.” He further explains that this particular variety of weapon was used from the 1st Century B.C. to the 5th Century A.D., and that it constitutes the tip of a pilum, or javelin, rather than a crossbow bolt. The narrator then gives us a brief lesson on the history of the pilum and its role in the armies of Ancient Rome.
The Cremona Document
In this episode, Rick Lagina, accompanied by Peter Fornetti, drove to the home of the late Zena Halpern in Long Island, New York. There, he took possession of the research files which Zena had bequeathed them.
While browsing the files, Rick came across a booklet called the “Cremona Document”, which he claimed was “at the core” of Zena’s research. The narrator proceeded to explain that this document was discovered in the 1970s in a church in Cremona, Italy, and constitutes documents authored, in part, by 12th Century Templar knight Ralph de Sudeley. Specifically, these documents describe treasures discovered beneath Jerusalem’s Temple Mount and a medieval trans-Atlantic voyage to North America.
The Cremona Document was first introduced to the general public in Zena Halpern’s 2017 book The Templar Mission to Oak Island and Beyond: The Search for Ancient Secrets: The Shocking Revelations of a 12th Century Manuscript.
The first half of Zena’s book chronicles the adventures of a mysterious character named Dr. William D. Jackson- an American researcher with purported connections to a covert, off-the-books U.S. intelligence agency. William Jackson’s tale reads like a Dan Brown novel, replete with secret societies, cryptic warnings, lost journals, and coded messages written in invisible ink.
Jackson’s story begins on a summer day in 1968, when he and three friends went fishing off Bannerman Island in the Hudson River, about 50 miles north of New York City. Bannerman Island is dominated by Bannerman’s Castle, a Scottish-style fortress commissioned by Scottish-American arms merchant Francis Bannerman VI in the early 1900s. During the fishing trip, Jackson decided to steal a stone ornament from Bannerman’s Castle for his wife’s garden.
A year later, Jackson’s son, Mark, while playing in said garden, broke the top off the stone ornament, revealing a hidden container inside. Within this container was a mysterious brass object engraved with strange symbols. This discovery prompted Jackson to follow a string of clues which ultimately led to the city of Cremona, Italy. Fortuitously, Jackson arrived in Cremona just in time to purchase a collection of manuscripts scheduled for transfer to the Vatican Library in Rome. Together, these manuscripts make up the Cremona Document.
According to Zena Halpern, the Cremona Document is essentially a collection of journals written by various members of the Knights Templar. All of these manuscripts are written in the Latin language with the Theban alphabet, the latter being a writing system used by Renaissance alchemists (but which Zena suggests might actually be several thousand years old).
The first group of documents purport to be the lost writings of the founders of the Knights Templar. These manuscripts describe a 12th Century exploration of Jewish catacombs beneath Temple Mount in Jerusalem. This exploration becomes an excavation once one of the knights nearly succumbs to a booby trap, revealing a vast hidden chamber beneath the floor. Inside this chamber, the knights discover a lost Gnostic gospel, the bones of John the Baptist, and the legendary lost gold of King Solomon. Also in the chamber are scrolls describing a 1st Century voyage across the Atlantic Ocean to the “Land of Onteora”, as well as a number of navigational devices.
The bulk of the Cremona Document is comprised of a manuscript entitled “A Year We Remember”, which Zena sometimes refers to as the “Onteora Document”. This manuscript purports to be the lost journal of Ralph de Sudeley, an English knight who joined the Knights Templar in the late 12th Century. In this journal, de Sudeley describes making a voyage across the Atlantic with the help of King Valdemar I of Denmark in 1178. Upon reaching the New World, de Sudeley discovers a matriarchal tribe of goddess-worshipping Welshmen who initiate him into their cult. After completing the initiation rite, a priestess presents the knight with a thousand-year-old clay cylinder containing 1st Century Christian documents, which had been stored in a cave in what is now Hunter Mountain, New York. One of these documents prompts de Sudeley to return to the Old World, where he discovers the Ark of the Covenant and other treasures hidden beneath the ancient city of Petra, in present-day Jordan.
In her book, Halpern explains that the Knights Templar kept the Cremona Document in the library of a Cistercian abbey called Castrum Sepulchri, located on the coast of northern Italy in the Principality of Seborga. When the Knights Templar were suppressed in 1307, Templar knights hid the Document in the city of Cremona, located about 200 miles to the northeast. Eventually, the Document found its way into the archives of the monastery of San Sigismondo, located just outside Cremona’s historic centre. It remained in San Sigismondo for five centuries.
In 1971, the monastery’s Custodian of Records, named Gustaveste Benvenuto, arranged to donate San Sigismondo’s documents to the Vatican. Just before the donation was completed, however, Dr. William Jackson offered to buy the Cremona Document off Benvenuto. With the permission of the Vatican, the custodian agreed. According to a letter from one of Jackson’s associates to Zena Halpern, Jackson managed to purchase the Document for 15,000 Italian lire (about $12 CAD).
In her book, Halper contends that the genuineness of the Cremona Document is supported by the fact that, according to a letter written to her by one of William Jackson’s associates, a Vatican librarian “verified its authenticity and that of the signature of Ralp de Sedeley [sic]” which appends the Onteora Document. Unfortunately, the veracity of this assertion is called into question when one considers that wax seals were the chief form of personal authentication in the Middle Ages, and that written signatures were uncommon in the Christian world until the 16th Century. Furthermore, the Cremona Document, or at least the English translation of it which appears in Zena’s book, is riddled with historic and linguistic anachronisms- including modern English idioms, phonetic renderings of modern words, and descriptions of armaments incongruent with the period in which the narrative is set- which seriously diminish its credibility. In the opinion of this author, at least, the Cremona Document appears to be a hoax.
Zena Halpern’s Theory
Zena Halpern’s Oak Island theory, as outlined in her book The Templar Mission to Oak Island and Beyond, hinges heavily upon information that Zena received from the mysterious William Jackson and his even more enigmatic associates. The theory which this information seems to suggest (and which at least one historian has dismissed as pure fantasy) goes something like this:
Thousands of years before Christ, the Phoenicians of present-day Lebanon began making voyages across the Atlantic Ocean to the New World. Knowledge of this distant land on the other side of the world spread to the Israelites- citizens of the Kingdom of Israel, which was Phoenicia’s neighbour and closest ally.
At the time of the first Phoenician trans-Atlantic voyages, Israel was ruled by King Solomon, a wise monarch who acquired a vast treasure of gold and silver. Solomon kept his treasure, along with the Ark of the Covenant and other Jewish religious artifacts, in an enormous temple he built atop Mount Moriah (known today as Temple Mount) in Jerusalem. This building became known as the Temple of Solomon.
In the centuries that ensued, Israel was conquered by a succession of empires, including Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Macedon, and Rome. Despite this, the Jews managed keep some of their most sacred treasures, including scrolls containing knowledge of the New World, hidden in a number of secret locations.
Before the Babylonian conquest in 587 B.C., which saw the destruction of the Temple of Solomon, a group of Israelites managed to transport the Ark of the Covenant and other treasures down Mount Moriah and overland to the city of Petra, in present-day Jordan. They buried these treasures nearby, in a subterranean aqueduct beneath a mountain called Jebel al-Madhbah. The gold of King Solomon and scrolls containing knowledge of the New World, however, remained on Mount Moriah, hidden in secret chambers carved from the living rock.
At the time of Christ’s crucifixion, which took place during the Roman occupation of Israel, a number of Christ’s disciples also worshipped an ancient Canaanite goddess called Asherah. In 70 A.D., when the Romans besieged Jerusalem in the aftermath of a Jewish revolt, members of this Christian sect hid their gospel, along with the bones of John the Baptist, in the secret chamber that held King Solomon’s treasure. That accomplished, they fled Israel with other important Christian documents and the scrolls describing the treasure beneath Jebel al-Madhbah and followed the ancient Phoenician route to the New World.
A thousand years later, following the First Crusade, nine Frankish knights formed a monastic military order called the Knights Templar. These knights established their headquarters atop Temple Mount and began exploring Jewish catacombs deep beneath the mountain. During their explorations, they stumbled upon the secret chamber containing King Solomon’s treasure and relics of the aforementioned Christian sect. The Templars adopted the goddess-worshipping doctrine espoused by this cult and appropriated the gold of King Solomon.
In 1178, an English Templar knight named Ralph de Sudeley decided to search for the New World described in the scrolls beneath Temple Mount. With the help of King Valdemar I of Denmark, he followed old Viking routes to the New World and followed the coast south to what is now the State of New York. There, he discovered tribes of Jews, Welsh Celts, and Norsemen who had been living there for centuries, worshipping the goddess Asherah and living in a matriarchal society. These Old World peoples served as guardians of the scrolls brought from the Holy Land during the 1st Century A.D. (i.e. important Christian documents and the scrolls describing the treasure beneath Jebel al-Madhbah), which they kept in a cave on Hunter Mountain, New York.
After being initiated into the cult, Ralph de Sudeley was gifted the aforementioned scrolls by a Celtic priestess. Using the information contained therein, he returned to the Holy Land and discovered the Ark of the Covenant beneath Jebel al-Madhbah. Centuries later, in 1307, members of the freshly-outlawed Knights Templar took the Ark to Scotland, where they assisted the Scots in defeating the English army of King Edward II at the Battle of Bannockburn. In 1397, one of the Templars’ successors- Henry Sinclair, Earl of Orkney– sailed to the New World with the Ark of the Covenant and buried the sacred artifact on Oak Island.
The Pilum, the Roman Theory, and Swordgate
In this episode, a California-based antiquity expert named Gabriel Vandervort declared that the supposed crossbow bolt discovered on Lot 26 the previous episode is actually the tip of a Roman pilum.
The pilum is a javelin used by Roman legionaries from the days of the Roman Republic (509-25 B.C.) to the twilight of the Roman Empire (27 B.C. to 476 A.D.). It typically consisted of a pyramid-tipped iron shank measuring 2-3 feet in length, which was adhered to a wooden shaft.
Vandervort’s assertion seems to echo the theory that some ancient Roman army is behind the Oak Island mystery- a theory which was introduced by alternative historian J. Hutton Pulitzer in Season 3, Episode 10 of The Curse of Oak Island.
Pulitzer’s theory was conceived in the winter of 2015, when a long-time friend of the Blankenship family brought a corroded, intricately-designed bronze short sword to the attention of the Lagina brothers. The man claimed that his father-in-law and grandfather-in-law discovered the sword in Mahone Bay in the 1940s while scalloping off Oak Island. Out of fear that they might be penalized by the Nova Scotian government for treasure hunting without a licence, the family purportedly neglected to reveal their find for more than half a century. Oak Island Tours Inc. decided to reveal the existence of this sword to the general public in Season 3, Episode 10.
Pulitzer claimed, on his personal blog and podcast, that the sword is a genuine ceremonial votive gladius, or Roman short sword, forged in the 3rd Century A.D. on the orders of the Roman Emperor Commodus. He claimed that this sword was one among many presented by the Emperor to secutor gladiators, and that the intricate sculpture on the pommel depicts Commodus himself, dressed in a lion’s skin so as to resemble contemporary depictions of the mythological Greek hero Hercules. Pulitzer suggested that the sword was retrieved from Mahone Bay at the site of an ancient Roman shipwreck, the existence of which would verify his other theory (presented back in Season 2, Episode 2) that trans-Atlantic trading routes between the Old World and the New existed as far back as Classical Antiquity.
Pulitzer further claimed that this purportedly-Roman sword was but one of fifty pieces of evidence supporting his sub-theory that ancient Roman merchants made regular trade voyages to the New World. Pulitzer and his team revealed that they planned to present these fifty pieces of evidence in a peer-reviewed report, along with a complimentary book entitled Commodus’s Secret, sometime in 2016. To date, neither of these works has been published.
In Season 3, Episode 11, the Oak Island crew submitted the sword for analysis at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax. Dr. Myles McCallum, an associate professor in SMU’s Department of Modern Languages and Classics, informed the team that the sword appeared to have been cast in a bivalve mould (and not a single lost-wax mould, as most functional swords of Ancient Rome were). McCullum stated his belief that the sword is likely an 18th, 19th, or early 20th Century copy of a Roman sword, and informed the Oak Island team that they would need to chemically analyse the artifact in order to determine its age.
Later in the episode, the sword was analyzed by Dr. Christa Brosseau, who informed the crew that the artifact is composed of brass, and not bronze as previously believed. She also revealed that the sword has a fairly high zinc content, indicating that it is a fairly modern creation, and suggested that it was forged sometime after 1880. The Oak Island crewmembers agreed that these findings “put to bed” the Roman theory.
This dead horse was further flogged by historian Jason Colavito and archaeologist Andy White, who discovered a number of other ‘Roman swords’ bearing striking resemblance to the sword featured on The Curse of Oak Island, most of which were modern souvenirs sold in flea markets around Rome and Pompeii. Colavito and White styled the scandal they believed their findings to have engendered “Swordgate”.
Considering the story of the ‘Roman sword’, one cannot help but wonder whether the pilum from Lot 26 will suffer fate similar to that of its gladial predecessor.
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