A SOLUTION TO THE MYSTERY OF THE OAK ISLAND FIVE FINGER DRAINS
By Dennis J King ©2010
Short excerpts may be quoted from this Article without prior permission so long as due acknowledgment is given
One of the most intriguing and beguiling components of the Oak Island Money Pit Mystery is the purpose of the five finger drains under the beach at Smiths Cove at the eastern end of the island, also called the five box drains.
They were discovered by the Truro Syndicate around 1849-1850, who excavated the beach and found under the sand an area evidently artificially constructed as follows:
· The so-called “artificial beach” occupied an area between the high and low tide marks and extended for about 154 feet [47 metres] along the beach.
· Under the surface layer of sand and gravel, was a layer of coconut fibre of about 2 inches [5 centimetres] atop a layer of eel grass of about 4-5 inches [10-12 centimetres] under which was a layer of beach rocks free of sand or gravel.
· Underneath the beach rocks were five drains which converged like the five fingers of a hand towards a common point not far beyond the high tide mark. The five finger drains thus formed a rough arrow shape, pointing approximately in the direction of the Money Pit. The drains each consisted of two parallel lines of rocks about 8 inches [20 centimetres] apart, with a layer of flat stones on top.
The Truro Syndicate and all the subsequent treasure hunters concluded the five drains were the feeders for a hypothesised “flood tunnel”, connecting the drains to the Money Pit itself, and which acted as a cunning booby trap which would flood the Money Pit with seawater if unauthorised persons attempted to excavate the Money Pit and recover its treasure. At the time, this seemed plausible, because all attempts to excavate the Money Pit to recover its alleged treasure had been defeated by seawater flooding the pit when the diggers got down to around 90-100 feet depth [30 metres]. As all subsequent attempts to retrieve the treasure have met with the same fate, ie flooded out with seawater, it has become an article of faith among believers in the treasure that the flood tunnel exists and five finger drains feed seawater into it to protect the treasure.
The Demise of the Flood Tunnel Theory
The supposed ingenuity of the pirates or others in protecting their treasure by an artificial flood tunnel captured the imagination of many and propelled the Oak Island Money Pit to the forefront of famous world mysteries.
However, it has become apparent to objective researchers in the first decade of the 21st Century that the flood tunnel, in the sense of a manmade construct, is almost certainly a myth, and the flooding of the pit occurs by purely natural processes. I won’t traverse the arguments in favour of the artificial flood tunnel being a myth here, but refer the interested reader to Appendix A.
The demise of the flood tunnel does, however, raise an obvious query: If the artificial flood tunnel is a myth, what were the five finger drains for? They evidently exist, because Robert Restall in the early 1960s and the geologist Robert Dunfield in 1965-66 apparently re-excavated them or at least portions of them (3).
At one time I hypothesised the five finger drains were the remains of an early Oak Island colonist’s freshwater works, and my argument in favour of that theory is summarised in Appendix B. However, it became clear to me that my freshwater works theory just wasn't feasible for the reasons set out in Appendix C.
So what were the five box drains used for?
A New Theory of the Purpose of the Finger Drains
A plausible case can be made that the finger or box drains are the remains of an early salt works, for the manufacture of sodium chloride or common table salt. To understand why this is so, it is useful to understand the historic context, both as regards Oak Island itself and the salt industry as it existed at the time.
The Historic Context of Oak Island
European fishermen began sailing to the rich fisheries of the Grand Banks near the Atlantic coast of Canada in the late 1400s (4). By 1580, the Grand Banks were being visited by 300 fishing boats from Europe annually, and the Grand Banks Fishery was already becoming a major industry (5). The Spanish and Portuguese fishermen tended to fish the area and sail back to Europe without landing on the Canadian Coast, but the English and French fishermen usually landed on the Canadian Coast and preserved their fish by drying and salting before returning to England and France (6). While the English shore camps for fishermen were mostly on the coast of Newfoundland, it is certainly plausible some of them would have set up fish drying and salting camps on the coast of Nova Scotia and possibly even on Oak Island itself. With the establishment of the English colonies along the Atlantic coast of what is now the USA from the early 1600s onwards, American fishermen also began sailing to the rich fishing grounds of the Canadian Atlantic coast (5).
The first known persons to definitely take up land on Oak Island were the New York fish agents John Gifford and Richard Smith who were granted three islands in Mahone Bay in 1753, including the whole of Oak Island (7). There is evidence they used Oak Island as a base for their fishing operation off the coast of Nova Scotia in the 1750s (7).
They were followed by settlers who began farming Oak Island, and the 1791 poll tax records show the presence of five households on Oak Island (8). So we know Oak Island was permanently settled by colonists from the latter part of the 1700s onwards, and it had been settled and farmed for many years when the box drains were discovered in 1849-1850.
The Historic Context of the Salt Industry
As is well-known, salt is essential for human health. By way of one random example, it is known that thousands of Napoleon’s soldiers perished during the retreat from Moscow in 1812 because their wounds would not heal owing to their lack of salt (6).
Perhaps less well-known is that until the advent of refrigeration in the late 1800s, salt was also commonly used as a preservative for food. The only truly practicable way to preserve fish caught from the rich fishing grounds of Atlantic Canada before the late 1800s was salting and/or drying the fish (often a combination of both).
The Spanish and Portuguese fishermen sailing to those fisheries from the late 1400s onwards generally preserved their catch with salt and immediately returned to Europe without making landfall on Canada. The English and French fishermen, on the other hand, usually made landfall in Canada and preserved their catches onshore by salting or drying, or a combination of the two, before returning to England and France respectively (6).
Because in our own time, salt is plentiful and cheap, we tend to forget that until the 1800s salt was generally expensive and hard to come by. Because salt was both essential and scarce, it was an obvious target for taxes, and salt was usually heavily taxed until the 1800s. The very onerous French salt tax known as the Gabelle is credited as being a primary cause of the French Revolution in 1789 (6). The British Government likewise heavily taxed salt, only repealing its salt tax in 1835 (9).
Conclusion on the Historic Context
We see that the two New York fishing agents Gifford & Smith were the first known owners of Oak Island, at a time (1753) when the fisheries of the Atlantic Coast of Canada were an important industry, and when the only practicable methods of preserving fish were salting and drying them or a combination of both. We also see that at this time salt was heavily taxed.
The Technology of Salt Manufacture
Most salt has always been made by evaporating either seawater or the brine from natural brine springs. As seawater is common, but brine springs less so, the evaporation of seawater has always been the major source of salt supply.
While in naturally warm climates such as the Mediterranean, it is economically feasible to use only solar evaporation of seawater to produce salt, in the colder climates such as the United Kingdom and Canada salt cannot be economically manufactured by solar evaporation. Instead, in the colder climates most salt before the late 1800s was made by evaporating seawater in large open pans with fires burning underneath (6). This was a somewhat inefficient process, and the key to producing salt economically by this method was to concentrate the salt solution in the seawater as much as possible by some other process before boiling the concentrated salt solution by a fire (10). Salt usually comprises about 3.5% of seawater (11). It follows that if one can find a natural efficient way to get rid of 50% of the water before boiling, then the cost of fuel for boiling drops by 50%, and if one can find a natural efficient way to get rid of 80% of the water then the cost of fuel for boiling drops by 80% and so on. The salt industry in the colder northern climates was therefore based around concentrating the salt solution as much as possible before boiling to save costs and therefore to produce salt as cheaply as possible.
An old historic method of making salt from seawater is described by Professor Le Conte as “lixiviating saline sand and then boiling the brine” (10). He records that salt is made by this method on a small scale in Normandy (he published his work in 1862). The tide is allowed to cover beach sand, which dries after the tide recedes, leaving a mixture of salt and sand. The sand is then removed to sheds, then is transferred to pits where seawater is added. The seawater dissolves the salt in the sand, thus increasing the concentration of salt in the water. The concentrated salt solution is then boiled to extract the salt.
A very similar method has been used for hundreds of years in Japan (11A). In the Japanese variant of this technology known as the Channelled Salt Terrace Method (Irihamashiki-Enden), the salt works is laid out on the shore below the level of high tide, and the tide is kept off the salt works by a dyke. The salt works comprise a flat area known as a salt terrace, with a layer of sand over the terrace and with channels running through the terrace area. Seawater is allowed to periodically flow through the dyke and down the channels, where the seawater permeates through the sand by capillary action. The sun and wind then dries out the sand leaving a mixture of sand and salt. The process is repeated multiple times, with the amount of salt in the sand steadily increasing each time. Finally the mixture of sand and concentrated salt is scooped up and put into tanks where a final inundation by seawater from the dyke occurs, which dissolves the salt in the sand to form a very concentrated solution of salt, which can then be boiled relatively cheaply to extract the salt.
A similar methodology was also used to manufacture salt in medieval Holland (12). Eel grass (zostera marina) was harvested from shallow saltwater areas, dried, and burnt. The resulting ashes had, as one would expect, a high salt content. Seawater was then added to the ashes, dissolving the salt and so increasing the concentration of salt in the water. The concentrated salt solution could then be economically boiled to extract the salt.
How the Finger Drains Could Have Been Used to Manufacture Salt on Oak Island
It appears there was a natural saltwater spring on the beach at Smiths Cove, Oak Island, because near contemporary accounts record it (13). It seems that Daniel Blankenship rediscovered the saltwater spring in 1970 (14). I therefore hypothesise a salt works at Smiths Cove was planned, constructed, and operated in this manner:
(i) An early fishing enterprise (perhaps Gifford & Smith in the 1750s?) was based on Oak Island, to catch fish from the then rich fisheries of the Atlantic coast of Canada. The enterprise required salt to preserve its catches of fish. If salt could be clandestinely manufactured on Oak Island, where it would escape the then punitively high salt taxes, then so much the better.
(ii) Because of the relatively cold climate of maritime Canada, producing the salt by solar evaporation was not feasible. The only way to manufacture salt economically on Oak Island was to concentrate seawater by one of the known processes used before the 1800s, and then boil the concentrated salt solution.
(iii) The fishing enterprise could have created a salt works in this manner:
· Build a cofferdam (or “dyke”) on the beach at Smiths Cove, shielding the finger drains area from the sea.
· Excavate the area inside the cofferdam, lay the five finger dams from the cofferdam converging to a common point at around the high water mark, cover the drains with a layer of beach rocks, spread a layer of eel grass and then a layer of coconut husk over the rocks, and finally spread a two foot (60 centimetre) layer of sand over the coconut husk.
· A well would be constructed at or near the point of convergence of the five finger drains (and in fact such a well was excavated by Dunfield in the mid 1960s (3) and he found it to be about 25 feet [8 metres] deep – he found it was a dead end and did not lead to any kind of flood tunnel (15)(16)).
(iv) The natural saltwater spring, and/or controlled amounts of seawater through channels in the dyke, would be allowed to permeate the sand on the artificial beach by capillary action. Wind and sun would dry the sand leaving a mixture of salt and sand. The process would be repeated at regular intervals until there was a considerable quantity of salt in the sand. In the meantime the tides would be kept off the beach by the dyke. Once sufficient salt had accumulated in the sand on the artificial beach, a larger than usual but still controlled inundation of seawater at high tide would be allowed through the dyke, covering the beach and dissolving the salt in the sand as the water dripped through the coconut husk and eel grass layers down through the rocks and through the finger drains to the well. The purpose of the coconut husk and eel grass layers was to sieve out any sand and silt from the concentrated salt solution before it reached the well.
(v) The seawater collecting in the well would have a high salt concentration as it would have not only the natural salt concentration of ordinary seawater but also the accumulated salt from the artificial beach sand. This concentrated salt solution could then be boiled to extract its salt.
(vi) Where would the concentrated salt solution be boiled? It would seem the concentrated salt solution from the well was boiled at an unusual structure discovered by Dan Blankenship about 150 feet [50 metres] south of the centre of Smiths Cove Beach in 1969, at a depth of about 2 feet [60 centimetres] (17). It was a concrete U-shaped foundation buried in the soil. In Dan’s own words:
“This foundation was quite massive. It was roughly 12 feet [4 metres] wide and 25 feet [8 metres] long with the end towards the shore open. The width of the footing varied from 20 inches [50 centimetres] to 30 inches [75 centimetres] and averaged 3 feet [1 metre] deep. All the stones were cemented together in a mass.”
Why do I think this structure was where the concentrated salt solution was boiled? Dan states that the earth inside the foundation “showed evidence of extensive heat and was burnt deep red ..... pieces of charcoal and coal were found in this area”. Now, the historic sites where saltwater was boiled in East Anglia, England, to extract salt are to this day identified by the soil being burnt a deep red colour (18). I would hypothesise the horseshoe shaped foundation was a fire pit over which large metal pans of concentrated salt solution were boiled, the pans being supported by the structure.
I will now endeavour to answer some queries in relation to the hypothesis that the finger drains are an abandoned salt works, probably from the 1700s.
Why is it plausible the finger drains are the remains of an old salt works? The finger drains and artificial beach above them echo known technology from the 1800s and beforehand used in Normandy and Japan for salt extraction from sand beds on or adjacent to sea beaches. Such technology could be easily adapted to the finger drains complex for salt production as hypothesised above. In fact, in many ways, the Oak Island finger drains are arguably a more efficient means of producing concentrated salt solutions than the methods used in Normandy and Japan, because the Normandy and Japanese methods were quite labour intensive, using manual labour to shift the sand/salt mixture to pits or vats where it was treated with fresh seawater to produce a concentrated salt solution, in contra distinction to the hypothesised Oak Islands salt works where I believe the salt-sand mixture was not moved at all but instead left in situ with the concentrated salt solution being produced by allowing fresh seawater to drain through the salt-sand mixture (dissolving the salt therein on the way) and then through the finger drains to accumulate as a concentrated salt solution in the well.
Why are there no written records of an Oak Island salt works? It seems plausible the Oak Island salt works was kept secret to avoid paying the punitively high taxes levied on salt at the likely time of history.
While salt is accumulating in the sand, how would they stop water percolating through to the well? Our readers will have already noticed that if too much saltwater is allowed to percolate into the sand, either from a saltwater spring or from controlled inundations allowed through the dyke, some of the saltwater might pass right through the sand and then through the finger drains to the well where the saltwater would not be concentrated on this scenario. It seems likely that in fact the amount of saltwater percolating into the sand was carefully controlled by:
(A) If there was indeed a saltwater spring at Smiths Cove, then the area and depth of the artificial beach was deliberately chosen to be large enough to ensure saltwater from the spring would spread via capillary action over a sufficiently large volume of sand that natural evaporation of the saltwater would be complete before the water got through the layers of coconut husk and eel grass so no water would in fact get through to the well from this source.
(B) Whether or not there was a saltwater spring at Smiths Cove, then the inundations of seawater through the dyke would be sufficiently controlled to ensure that the seawater permeating the sand on the artificial beach via capillary action would be completely evaporated by the time it reached the layer of coconut husk and eel grass so again no water in fact would get through to the well from this source.
However, what about rainfall falling on the beach? The depth of the sand (about two feet or 60 centimetres) seems sufficient to ensure that the water from a light to medium shower would evaporate before reaching the coconut and eel grass layers, so no problems. But a heavy downpour would admittedly result in the rainwater seeping right through the artificial beach and into the finger drains and so into the well. I suggest there would be two ways of handling this problem:
(a) The first solution would be to simply accept that it would happen from time to time, with the result that the salt accumulated in the beach on these occasions would be lost, and the water accumulated in the well would have to be ladled out and discarded. In other words, the harvest of concentrated salt solution from the salt works would simply be lost on those occasions where there was a heavy rainfall.
(b) Alternatively, during heavy rain, tarpaulins could be spread out to shelter the beach. I wonder if the famous U-shaped wooden structure in the Smiths Cove just seaward of the finger drains is the remains of a wood scaffolding designed to support tarpaulins spread over the artificial beach for this purpose? Photographs of such U-shaped wooden structure are available online (19). Certainly old salt works from the 1800s and earlier were often covered by portable roofs which would be removed to allow solar evaporation when the sun was shining and replaced when it was raining (6).
What was in fact the purpose of the U-shaped wooden structure mentioned above? We have already mentioned the possibility the U-shaped wooden structure is the remains of a scaffolding to support tarpaulins spread over the beach during rainfalls, to increase the efficiency of the salt works. However, I personally incline to the view that the U-shaped structure is the remains of a treasure digger’s cofferdam (it is known treasure diggers have built at least two cofferdams at Smiths Cove in futile attempts to block off the alleged flood tunnel) or alternatively might have been a structure to dry fish, the drying and salting of fish having being the only practicable means of preserving fresh fish before the invention of refrigeration in the late 1800s.
Is the proposed saltwater works dependent on the presence of a saltwater spring? The answer is “no”. If there was in fact no saltwater spring on the beach at Smiths Cove, then all it means is that the controlled inundations of seawater through the dyke would have had to have been somewhat larger.
Everything that is known about the Smiths Cove finger drains on Oak Island and other artefacts in that vicinity appears consistent with them being the remains of an early salt works to produce salt for the preservation of fish.
The case in favour of the flood tunnel, in the sense of a manmade construct, being a myth.
1. Dunfield’s conclusions. The Californian geologist Robert Dunfield carried out extensive excavations in search of the treasure on Oak Island in 1965-66. He did not find any treasure, but as one would expect from an experienced and qualified geologist he did carry out an extensive scientific appraisal of the island. His findings, which did not generally become publicly available until the year 2003, have effectively destroyed the flood tunnel myth. To summarise his findings relating to the flood tunnel:
· The Windsor limestone layer intersects the bedrock surface of Nova Scotia along a “strike line” which passes through Oak Island. The Windsor layer is not parallel to the surface, and is instead inclined at an angle to the horizontal. The strike line is the line along which the Windsor layer intersects the surface of the bedrock, and it passes under the Oak Island Money Pit at a depth of about 140 feet [45 metres] (20) (21).
· As is common with limestone formations throughout the world, the Windsor is honeycombed with natural cavities and natural water courses, and they are the source of the water which floods the Money Pit. The flooding of the pit is thus a purely natural phenomenon (22) (23).
· He was unable to find any artificial flood tunnels despite extensive dragline excavations at the Money Pit itself and at the so-called Cave-in Pit which lies on the line linking the Money Pit to the finger drains at Smiths Cove and which is the line of the theorised artificial flood tunnel (22), (23), (24).
· He showed nearly all of the water flooding the Money Pit came from the ocean about three quarters of a mile [1 kilometre] east of Oak Island where seawater enters the Windsor and flows through its natural cavities and fissures to enter the Money Pit from below. He demonstrated this by spectroscopic tests showing most of the water entering the Money Pit was from the ocean rather than from the sea immediately adjacent to Oak Island (22), (23), (25).
It is apposite at this point to allow Robert Dunfield to express his conclusions in his own words:
“We resolved the water problem completely beyond a shadow of a doubt. Water enters through a natural water course and caves typical to the limestone and gypsum of the Windsor formation...... it would be impractical if not impossible to dig a flood tunnel 562 feet from the beach to the Money Pit. The Windsor would have flooded them out.” (22)
“As you understand from the sketch I sent to you flood tunnels to the Money Pit are ruled out owing to the presence of the Windsor formation at 140 feet in depth”. (23).
“We did not see evidence of any drains or tunnels.” (24).
2. The Heddon Shaft. The Heddon shaft was sunk to a depth of 125 feet [40 metres] in 1937, down the east side of the Money Pit, with dimensions of 12 feet [3 metres] on an east-west axis and 24 feet [8 metres] on a north-south axis. Note that the 24 foot axis would have been perpendicular to the axis of the alleged flood tunnel which supposedly leaves the Money Pit in an approximately easterly direction. Bearing in mind that the Heddon shaft went all the way down to 125 feet on the east side of the pit, and also recalling that the alleged flood tunnel exited the pit at about the 110 foot depth, then the Heddon shaft could not have missed the flood tunnel had it existed, and yet the Heddon shaft did not find the so-called flood tunnel! If the flood tunnel was there, then how did the Heddon shaft succeed in missing it? (26).
3. Oak Island Association Tunnelling of 1862. The Syndicate excavating at the Money Pit in 1862 was the Oak Island Association. They sank a shaft parallel to the Money Pit, to the east of the Money Pit, and then at 108 foot depth [35 metres] tunnelled into the Money Pit from the east. Now bear in mind that the alleged flood tunnel exited that pit in an easterly direction at about 110 feet down, and therefore if it truly existed, the Oak Island Association could not possibly have missed it. Yet there is no record that the Oak Island Association ever found the flood tunnel. (27).
4. Evidence of Geologist Gordon Fader. Richard Joltes’ “Critical Analysis” website on Oak Island cites the following passage from geologist Gordon Fader:
“I know the bedrock is filled with channels ....... .. the walls of the caverns are sculptured by flowing water – no question”.
In other words, geologist Fader is saying that there are channels underneath Oak Island but they are natural water courses and are not artificially excavated “tunnels”. (28).
5. Commonsense Argument. We must remember that the Money Pit is only about 70 yards from the south shore of Oak Island. Furthermore, the top of the Money Pit is only about 30 feet above sea level, and therefore when excavators get down to a depth of about 100 feet in the Money Pit then they are already 70 feet below sea level. As a matter of commonsense, hydrostatic pressure at a depth of say 70 feet only 70 yards from the sea is sufficient to explain the flooding of the Money Pit without any need to invoke alleged artificially constructed flood tunnels. There is plenty of evidence that the soil of Oak Island includes layers of sand and boulders as well as the much discussed “impervious clay soil” and as a matter of commonsense I suggest a hole dug that depth so close to the seashore will inevitably fill with seawater. At least several of the shafts sunk by the Oak Island Treasure Co in the late 1890s in the vicinity of the Money Pit filled naturally with water once they got down deep enough, and therefore if those shafts filled naturally with water, then why should the Money Pit also not fill naturally with water? (29) (30).
6. Testimony of Other Experts. The Canadian geologist Faribault in about 1911 concluded that the flooding of the Money Pit was probably natural. In about the same year, Captain Bowdoin, who was himself a former treasure digger on Oak Island, wrote an article in Colliers’ magazine that concluded that the flood tunnels were imaginary and the flooding of the pit occurred by natural percolation of water through the ground. I have not managed to trace a copy of Bowdoin’s article, but I understand that he also concluded that the alleged treasure was a myth, and that the three links of chain found by the Truro Syndicate in 1849/50 was a “plant” designed to inspire further investment in the Truro Syndicate which was running short of funds at the time. (31).
7. What were the alleged flood tunnels discovered in 1867 and 1897? Both the Halifax Syndicate in 1867 and the Oak Island Treasure Company in 1897 allegedly found an entrance to the flood tunnel at about the 110 foot depth in the Money Pit. Sceptics are not at all impressed by this information for the following reasons:
Neither the Halifax Syndicate nor the Oak Island Treasure Co were able to enter the alleged “flood tunnel” because it was supposedly blocked with rocks. They could therefore not tell whether the so-called flood tunnel only went a few feet or whether it went all the way to Smiths Cove.
In actual fact, both the Onslow Syndicate in 1804 and the Oak Island Association in 1862 tunnelled into the Money Pit from the east at about the same depth, ie about 110 feet down, and it was the remains of one or both of those tunnels that was undoubtedly found by the Halifax Syndicate in 1867 and by the Oak Island Treasure Co in 1897. (32).
8. Attempts to Intercept the Flood Tunnel. Over the years, numerous attempts have been made to intercept the alleged flood tunnel so it could be blocked off for all time. In fact, nobody has ever succeeded in intercepting it, which in itself raises the very distinct possibility that it never existed in the first place. If it truly existed, then at least one of the numerous attempts to intercept it would have succeeded by now. It is believed, for example, that the Halifax Syndicate in particular made extensive tunnels underneath the surface of Oak Island in an attempt to locate the flood tunnel but never succeeded in finding it. Their tunnelling efforts were so extensive that it is believed they tunnelled all the way to Smiths Cove. Readers will also be aware that the so-called Cave-in Pit lies over the supposed line of the flood tunnel, between the Money Pit and Smiths Cove. Dunfield Senior excavated the Cave-in Pit to bedrock, and he did not find the flood tunnel, although he did find the “1850 or 1866 tunnel which cut through the pit at a depth of about 100 feet” – Dunfield Senior is here referring probably to the Halifax Syndicate’s tunnel of about 1866 or possibly to a tunnelling effort of the Truro Syndicate of about 1850. If the flood tunnel truly existed, Dunfield Senior would have been unlikely to have missed it when he excavated to bedrock at the Cave-in Pit site. We should also bear in mind that his excavation at the Cave-in Pit was a large hole many yards across. (33).
9. Side Scan Sonar Studies. The prestigious Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute carried out tests on Oak Island in about 1995. They conducted side scan sonar studies of the area between the Money Pit and Smiths Cove, and found that there were no indications of any sort of channel or drain linking the pit to the shoreline. (34).
10. Wouldn’t an artificial flood tunnel silt up solid? If the somewhat meagre reports of the Halifax Syndicate and the Oak Island Treasure Co are to be believed, the flood tunnel at its exit into the Money Pit was an unlined tunnel, ie was cut through the bare earth. While it appeared filled with beach rocks, it seems the sides were not lined at all. If the flood tunnel theory is accepted at face value, the flood tunnel has been permanently inundated with seawater since the 1700s or some earlier date. Surely seawater percolating in an unlined tunnel at that depth would cause the tunnel to silt up solid within a few years at most?
11. Tidal Behaviour in the Money Pit. Seawater in the Money Pit reportedly rose and fell with the tides, and this was suggested to indicate a free connection between the Money Pit and the sea via a flood tunnel. However, the rise and fall in water level was only about 18 inches [45 centimetres] (2), whereas the difference between high and low tide at Oak Island is about 9 feet [3 metres] (35). Surely the water level in the Money Pit would rise and fall 9 feet if there was free communication with the sea via a flood tunnel? Surely the Money Pit water rising and falling only 18 inches with the tides indicates a natural percolation of water through the limestone bedrock as found by Robert Dunfield?
My earlier freshwater works hypothesis to explain the five finger drains at Smiths Cove.
I should emphasise I no longer support my earlier freshwater works hypothesis of the five finger drains for the reasons set out in Appendix C. However, I reproduce in this Appendix B an edited version of the freshwater works theory, by way of background and context, and so that the interested reader can understand my explanation in Appendix C as to why I now consider the freshwater works hypothesis to be unlikely. My original posting on the freshwater works possibility can still be found online (36).
The Freshwater Works Hypothesis
Oak Island was colonised by early settlers, certainly no later than about 1790 and possibly as early as the 1760’s. As we all know, Oak Island is a very small island, being no more than about 140 acres in area. It has no natural streams. The early colonists would therefore have faced the problem of securing adequate supplies of fresh water for themselves and their livestock. No early settler on the island would have wanted to row to the mainland every day just to obtain supplies of fresh water. It is unlikely the early settlers would have wanted to rely on the fresh water swamp for their supplies of potable water, because swamp water has long been distrusted by farmers as a source of water for their livestock for well known reasons, and swamp water is even less acceptable as a source of drinking water for humans. There is apparently one small spring on Oak Island, but spring water, especially on small islands, is generally regarded to be an unreliable source of fresh water because, as is well known, springs tend to dry up in summer and to freeze solid in winter in cold climates such as that of Nova Scotia.
It is therefore likely the early colonists dug a number of wells on the island to secure supplies of fresh water, and there were probably also other engineering works associated with securing fresh water supplies. This raises the question: what has become of the wells and other water works that we could reasonably expect to have been constructed by the first settlers on the island? The remains of those wells and water works should still exist in some form.
I note that fresh water springs on beaches are not uncommon, and even fresh water springs emerging into the sea from the ocean floor are relatively common. The finger drains or box drains under the beach at Smiths Cove were originally located by the Truro Company in 1849/50 because at low tide the beach "gulched water like a sponge being squeezed". They interpreted this as the Money Pit emptying itself of water at low tide via the flood tunnel, then they dug down, found the finger drains, and then jumped to the plausible but factually incorrect assumption that the finger drains feed into the hypothesised flood tunnel running from Smiths Cove to the Money Pit. But what if the water "gulching" out of the beach at low tide at Smiths Cove in fact had nothing to do with the Money Pit, but was in fact a fresh water spring on the beach just above the low tide mark, so that it was only apparent at low tide? Now it needs to be noted that a spring on a beach between high and low tide marks would have a very great advantage over an inland fresh water spring: the sea freezes over only very rarely in Nova Scotia (I may stand to be corrected here) and therefore a fresh water spring on a beach in Nova Scotia between the high and low tide marks would rarely, if ever, freeze over, making it a much better source of fresh water than an inland spring which would often freeze over in winter rendering it useless as a source of fresh water when frozen. If I may be permitted to speculate without any evidence, it is conceivable that one of the early settlers on the island noticed the fresh water spring on the beach at Smiths Cove and set about trying to capture that source of fresh water for himself and his family and his livestock. Bearing in mind that he does not want his supply of fresh water to be contaminated by salt water, then his logical starting point would be to attempt to intercept the fresh water spring by digging a well just inland from where the fresh water spring emerged at Smiths Cove, and so he dug a well about 60 yards inland from the Smiths Cove beach. After digging down to a certain depth, his well flooded with sea water. That first well is now known as the Cave-in Pit. So what does our enterprising colonist do now? The logical thing would be to try again with another well, but further inland to escape the sea water. He therefore tries again with another well at the site of what is now the Money Pit. That is a logical place to dig a well to capture the fresh water emerging at Smiths Cove for the following reasons:
(a) The Money Pit site is on a line which is approximately perpendicular to the shore line at Smiths Cove where the spring emerged on the beach (being the site of the finger drains later discovered by the Truro Company).
(b) Further, that perpendicular line from the Smiths Cove beach reaches its approximate highest elevation at the site of the Money Pit, and that is a logical place to dig a well because the fresh water lens would be deepest at that point, ie the colonist maximises his chances of striking fresh water at that point.
To avoid doubt and confusion, note that I do not claim that the Money Pit is on the highest point on the island - what I in fact claim is that the Money Pit site is approximately the highest point on the perpendicular line drawn from the beach at Smiths Cove where the fresh water spring emerged. Anyway, our colonist makes his second attempt at a well at the Money Pit site, gets down to about 90 feet, and strikes sea water once again (same as all subsequent excavators at the Money Pit site). Our settler therefore does some lateral thinking, and to secure his fresh water supplies, now proceeds thus: he builds a dyke to keep the sea off the beach at Smiths Cove, and that dyke included the logs with the famous Roman numerals, etc. He then constructed the finger drains to convey the fresh water from where it emerged in springs on the beach to a sump, being the 25 feet deep sump later identified by Robert Dunfield Senior, and from which the colonist could draw supplies of fresh water for himself and family and livestock. To prevent salt spray contaminating his supply of fresh water running into the sump, he covered over the finger drains with beach stones. At this point, the colonist has secured a supply of fresh water for himself and family and livestock, which does not freeze over in winter as it emerges from the beach, and at the same time is kept free from salt water contamination by the dyke and by the covering of beach stones. Eventually, our enterprising colonist leaves the island, and his ingenious fresh water works are forgotten and lost. His dyke washes away in a storm, and perhaps a particularly severe storm leaves a deposit of eel grass all over the beach where his fresh water works were. Subsequent colonists unloading cargo at the beach leave coconut husks, used as ships dunnage in those days, scattered over the beach. Eventually the eel grass and coconut husk get covered by layers of sand and gravel deposited by subsequent storms, and the spring starts flowing freely out of the beach once again at low tide. One day, the members of the Truro Company go looking for the hypothesised entrance from the sea to the posited flood tunnel, find the spring emerging from the beach at Smiths Cove, leap to the plausible but incorrect inference that the spring is the pit emptying itself out at low tide via the flood tunnel, dig down and find the finger drains, jump to the further plausible but incorrect assumption that the finger drains feed the alleged flood tunnel going down into the Money Pit and suddenly the Oak Island Money Pit legend was born.
I fully appreciate I have no evidence, when it comes down to it, to back up the above scenario. However, it does tie together a number of disparate matters:
It explains the existence of the box drains all converging on a common sump, which sump does not appear to be linked to any flood tunnel or other channel.
It explains why the water was gulching out of the beach at low tide.
It explains the remains of the original dyke or coffer dam.
It explains why the Cave in Pit and the Money Pit exist where they do in fact exist.
It answers the question of where the early colonists got their fresh water from on Oak Island.
The above speculation also provides an answer to the question of what was the purpose of the finger drains at Smiths Cove, if they were not the feeder drains for the alleged flood tunnel. Now that the flood tunnel appears to have been thoroughly discredited, and now that it is known that the flooding of the Money Pit is natural, we do need to explain why the finger drains exist at Smiths Cove, and the foregoing speculation is one possible answer to that question. I have no doubt that there are other possible answers to the purpose of the finger drains at Smiths Cove, but I put forward the above hypothesis as a working hypothesis.
Why the freshwater works explanation of the five finger drains is unlikely.
There are four main reasons why I eventually decided the freshwater works theory just wasn't feasible, and they are:
1. I subsequently discovered that the water spring near the low tide mark on Smiths Cove Beach was probably a saltwater spring, because that is what near contemporary accounts recorded (13) and because Daniel Blankenship apparently rediscovered the saltwater spring there in 1970 (14).
2. I also subsequently discovered that freshwater is readily obtainable by wells on Oak Island, and in fact the only two permanent households on Oak Island (those of Dan Blankenship and his son) are both supplied with freshwater via wells on the island (37).
3. Additionally, the amount of work that obviously went into creating the artificial beach and the five box drains and the dyke must have been considerable, and one does wonder if that kind of work could be justified just to obtain freshwater. (Wouldn’t it be easier for a colonist to simply move closer to a freshwater supply?) However, the then scarce and valuable commodity salt would justify considerable work to obtain the means of extracting it.
4. The proposed freshwater works doesn’t explain other associated artefacts such as the U-shaped log structure on the beach or the U-shaped concrete structure discovered by Dan Blankenship about 150 feet [50 metres] south of Smiths Cove Beach.
NOTES & REFERENCES
(1) Readers Digest, January 1965, page 137, “Oak Island’s Mysterious Money Pit”, condensed from article in the Rotarian by David MacDonald. Copy on web at http://www.oakislandtreasure.co.uk/archive/readersdigest/readersdigest.pdf.
Last accessed 23 January 2010.
(2) Prospectus of the Oak Island Treasure Company, issued in 1893.
(3) Field sketch of drain system, July 25, 1965, by Robert R Dunfield. This field sketch was at one time available on the internet, but no longer appears to be – or at least I was unable to find it when I recently looked for it.
(4) “Got Salt” by Mike Crowe, Fisherman’s Voice, volume 9, number 1, January 2009, online at http://www.fishermensvoice.com/archives/jan04.html.
Last accessed 30 January 2010.
(5) “Curing and Canning of Fishery Products: A History”,
Marine Fisheries Review, Fall 1998 by N D Jarvis. Online at http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m3089/is_n4_v50/ai_9102707/?tag=content;col1
Last accessed on 25 January 2010.
(6) Article by Detroit Salt Company, online at http://www.detroitsalt.com/salt-history.html
Last accessed 25 January 2010.
(7) General History [of Oak Island] – 1753-1800, by “Administrator”, online at http://www.oakislandtheories.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=98:general-history-1753-to-1800&catid=39:local-history&Itemid=59
Last accessed January 30, 2010.
(8) Article for the Money Pit Discovery pre-1791, by n4n224ccw, online at http://forum.oakislandtreasure.co.uk/viewtopic.php?f=16&t=3778&start=0
Last accessed January 30, 2010
(9) “The Rise and Fall of English Pressed Glass” by Rod Crowshaw, online at http://www.glassfairs.co.uk/Articles/rise-fall.html
Last accessed January 30, 2010
(10) How to Make Salt from Seawater: Electronic Edition by John Le Conte 1818-1891. Online at http://docsouth.unc.edu/imls/lecontej/leconte.html
Last accessed January 25, 2010
(11) The Chemical Composition of Seawater by Doctor J Floor Anthoni (2000, 2006), online at http://www.seafriends.org.nz/oceano/seawater.html
Last accessed January 25, 2010
(11A) Major Salt Concentrate Production Methods, by Salt Industry Centre of Japan, online at http://www.shiojigyo.com/english/method/concentrate.html
Last accessed January 25, 2010.
(12) Evidence for Medieval Salt Making by Burning Eel Grass in the Netherlands, by Van Geel and Borger, Netherlands Journal of Geosciences/84-1/2005, online at http://www.njgonline.nl/publish/articles/000193/article.pdf
Last accessed January 30, 2010
(13) An Original Sketch: History of the Oak Island Enterprise by a “member”, published in the Colonist on 2, 7, and 14 January 1864.
(14) Summary of work performed at Smiths Cove, August 31 - September 18, 1970, by Daniel C Blankenship, dated September 21, 1970.
(15) Post by Dunfield’s son (RRDII) on Oak Island Treasure internet forum on 14 March 2006 in thread called “Smiths Cove” in section titled “Oak Island Research Group”, quoting from Robert Dunfield’s “entry” of February 8, 1967. Online at http://forum.oakislandtreasure.co.uk/viewtopic.php?f=16&t=1416&start=0
Last accessed February 3, 2010.
(16) Letter from Dunfield to RV Harris dated November 7, 1966 where he states: “It is my findings that the drainage system at Smiths Cove and a very short flood tunnel is restricted to that area...”. Copy available online at http://www.oakislandtreasure.co.uk/archive/dunfield/dunfieldnov66.pdf
Last accessed February 3, 2010.
(17) Results of digging done in Smiths Cove, November 1969, by Daniel C Blankenship.
(18) Article entitled “Redhill (Saltmaking)” in Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_Hill_(salt_making)
Last accessed January 25, 2010.
(19) Page 30 of D’Arcy O’Connors Lecture to MIT, online at http://www.oakislandtreasure.co.uk/imagesforforum/MIT_darcy_jan08.pdf
Last accessed February 3, 2010. See also photographs 6-8 in “Oak Island and Its Lost Treasure” by Harris & McPhie, published by Formac Publishing Co Limited, Halifax, 1999.
(20) Sketch by Robert Dunfield, untitled, but with prominent label “Suq strike of Windsor Fm”. Formerly available online at http://www.msnusers.com.oakisland/Documents/Windsor
Last accessed March 25, 2006. Does not appear to be available on internet anymore.
(21) Sketch by Robert Dunfield, dated April 3, 1966, showing cross-sections A-A and B-B of subsurface geology of Oak Island and surrounding areas, cross-sections refer to sketch in (20). Copy available online as Image 1 at http://www.oakislandtreasure.co.uk/content/view/250/176/
Last accessed February 8, 2010.
(22) Memorandum of Robert Dunfield, dated February 8, 1967, quoted by his son Robert Dunfield Junior (RRDII) on August 8, 2005, in “flood tunnels...” in thread in general discussion section of Oak Island Treasure Forum at http://forum.oakislandtreasure.co.uk/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=1038st=0&sk=t&sd=a&start=20
Last accessed February 7, 2010.
(23) Letter from R Dunfield to RV Harris dated November 7, 1966, copy online at http://www.oakislandtreasure.co.uk/archive/dunfield/dunfieldnov66.pdf
Last accessed February 7, 2010.
(24) Letter from R Dunfield to D’Arcy O’Connor dated October 21, 1976, copy online at http://www.oakislandtreasure.co.uk/archive/dunfield/dunfieldoct76.pdf
Last accessed February 7, 2010.
(25) Posting by RDII (Dunfield’s son) on October 29, 2003 on Oak Island Treasure forum in thread entitled “The Diary of Simeon Perkins 1763-1780” in general discussion thread. Last accessed December 14, 2003; this post appears to have been deleted from the internet.
(26) Oak Island and its Lost Treasure, Harris & McPhie, Formac Publishing Co Limited, Halifax 1999. Figure 18.
(27) Harris & McPhie (Supra), page 47.
(28) RE Joltes’ website “History Hoax & Hype: The Oak Island Legend”, Appendix by John Bartram “On the Claim for a Flood Tunnel” online at http://www.criticalenquiry.org/oakisland/floodtunnel.shtml
Last accessed February 7, 2010
(29) Evidence that the soil of Oak Island includes layers of sand and boulders can be found at page 17 of Les McPhie’s Lecture online at http://www.oakislandtreasure.co.uk/imagesforforum/MIT_les_jan08.pdf
Last accessed February 7, 2010. McPhie notes that at depths between about 100 feet [30 metres] and 130 feet [40 metres] below the surface at the Money Pit is a layer labeled “interglacial deposits” and which he notes includes “hard grey, grey/brown and brown stratified clayey silt and sandy silt (till)”.
(30) Evidence that other pits dug in the vicinity of the Money Pit in the 1890s also spontaneously filled with seawater is given in Harris & McPhie (Supra) at pages 68 and 69.
(31) The Secrets of Oak Island, by Joe Nickell, March/April 2000 issue of Skeptical Inquirer. Online at http://www.csicop.org/si/show/secrets_of_oak_island/
Last accessed February 6, 2010.
(32) Harris & McPhie, Supra, page 47 and Appendix page 187.
(33) Post by Dunfield’s son (RRDII) on July 28, 2005 in “Flood Tunnels…” thread of general discussion section of Oak Island Treasure forum online at http://forum.oakislandtreasure.co.uk/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=1038st=0&sk=t&sd=a&start=20
Last accessed February 7, 2010.
(34) RE Joltes’ website (Supra), Appendix entitled “The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute Report”, Section entitled “The Box Drains Refuted” online at http://www.criticalenquiry.org/oakisland/whoi.shtml
Last accessed February 7, 2010.
(35) Letter from Gilbert Heddon to Richard Byrd dated December 8, 1936, ex-Admiral Byrd Archives, Ohio State University.
(36) Posting by Dennis King on Oak Island Treasure Forum on 3 July 2005, on thread entitled “Freshwater Supplies for Early Colonists on Oak Island” in “general discussion” section, online at http://forum.oakislandtreasure.co.uk/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=1000&p=13135#p13135
Last accessed February 6, 2010.
(37) Posting by “Tank” on Oak Island Treasure Forum, on 4 July 2005, on thread entitled “Freshwater Supplies for Early Colonists on Oak Island” in “general discussion” section, online at http://forum.oakislandtreasure.co.uk/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=1000&p=13135#p13135
Last accessed February 6, 2010.