“The Curse of Oak Island” is must see TV!

A curse. Pirates. A treasure. Booby traps.

It has all the trappings of the next “Indiana Jones” or “National Treasure” movie. The main difference? This is for real.

Oak Island, Nova Scotia. Three boys discover a pit (“the Money Pit”) on and begin to dig. As they get deeper, strange artifacts begin to pop up. Flagstones. Wooden platforms. Small metal artifacts. And then, at around 27 metres (that’s more than 80 feet), they find a stone cipher that when translated says, “Forty feet below, two million pounds are buried.” The boys dig a little more, and then leave for the night. When they return, the shaft is underwater. They conclude a booby trap has been triggered by their digging, which flooded the shaft to protect the treasure from plunderers (oakislandtreasure).

In modern times, Dan Blankenship and his associates dig a shaft parallel to the Money Pit (called 10X), fortifying it with steel. He takes some video in which he insists he can see a body, a treasure chest, and other buried  items. 10X eventually floods as well. Due to disagreements over land ownership, digging on the island ceases until brothers Rick and Marty Lagina buy a controlling stake in the island’s tourism company and are able to resume excavations.

I saw the first episode of History’s “The Curse of Oak Island” yesterday; I haven’t been that excited since seeing “In Search of Noah’s Ark” when I was a kid. The premiere episode explains the history of the Money Pit and 10X and documents the Lagina brothers’ excavation of the pits as they search for the fabled treasure. Viewers get to see the Blankenship video and meet Dan Blankenship (now 80 and just as obsessed as ever) and his son who are active members of the Laginas’ team. The first thing they do is send a camera into the Money Pit, but the footage comes back inconclusive and the files mysteriously disappear from the computer midway through the viewing. Perhaps this is part of the curse, they wonder.

Next, the team drills into the hole while one of the brothers searches the fill. They find bits of blue transfer ceramic, but not much else. Lastly, air is pumped into the shaft in an effort to remove the water. They jerry-rig a sediment holding tank and use a shovel to start mucking about, but turn up only a single metal artifact. Later, the team takes a boat ride to see the island from the water. They hypothesize the presence of five box-drains, used to draw sea water into the shafts and plan to dive at a later date to confirm or debunk their existence.

In “The Curse of Oak Island,” the Laginas and the Blankenships document their real-life adventure as they search for pirate treasure. The curse promises that seven will die before the secret of the Money Pit is revealed, which only serves to bolster the excitement which makes this an hour of tv worth watching. What I like about “The Curse of Oak Island” is that, unlike other salvaging shows, the Laginas do things legally. They let us know the credentials of the team members, as well as the permits needed and the legalities and cost of the dig and that the task they have undertaken is dangerous, with the implicit message not to try this at home.

“The Curse of Oak Island” is not only exciting television, it’s also responsible television. And that’s good archaeology.

Did you see “The Curse of Oak Island”? What did you think?

(Former) Archaeologist’s Lament

imageZero Hour, another adventure/thriller television series with archaeological roots was cancelled last week after only three episodes. The pilot episode saw Anthony Edwards (of ER fame) as the editor of a sceptics magazine whose wife is kidnapped after she purchases a historic clock. When he takes the clock apart, Edwards finds a diamond upon which a map has been etched. He follows the map to a buried German submarine in the arctic, where he is pursued by a man who was somehow genetically engineered by Nazi scientists.

Though all of this sounds spectacularly interesting as a series concept, the idea was poorly executed as it suffered from less than believable dialogue and unusual casting. In spite of this, though Zero Hour had potential, it was more than likely doomed by its affiliation with archaeology.

Movies with archaeological ties generally do well at the box office.  Consider Stargate, Indiana Jones,Tomb Raider, The Mummy, and National Treasure. The same cannot be said for television shows of the same genre which are few and far between. Two of these are Veritas: the Quest, and  the British Bonekickers. In Veritas, a team of people search the globe for artifacts that piece together Earth’s great mystery, though what that may be is not revealed in the show’s short run. All that is known is that it somehow involves the group’s leader, and his son and deceased wife. In Bonekickers, archaeologists participate in episodic digs, some with ties to popular legends or high profile historical eras. The only other archaeology-types around are those on Bones, and that’s more forensic anthropology than archaeology per se. I dreamed of seeing the Primeval cast hunker down to an archaeological dig when they found modern artifacts in a dinosaurian era, or modern people digging up the remains of the Terra Nova settlement (though that apparently took place in a different timeline than ours) but, alas, that was never to come to pass.

Many play fast and loose with the term “archaeology”, such as in “Antique Archaeology”, the shop ran  by the American Pickers, for example.  Even worse is the Savage Family Diggers/ American Diggers franchise which sees ex-wrestler Rick Savage knock on people’s doors asking to dig on their properties for a percentage of the profit. While they may “save” artifacts from being destroyed or remaining forever buried and decomposing, they are, in effect, destroying archaeological sites. And while I readily acknowledge that laws in The States differ from those in Canada, the fact that they do they painstaking research to find the sites then do nothing to save the subtleties of the sites’ historic occupation, does little to elevate them from pot-hunting status. Yet they have been awarded their own series of shows which creates the illusion that what they are doing is lucrative and not at all deplete of morals.

Archaeology as a discipline is in danger of extinction. Even when I practiced it, the threat of satellite imagery and ground penetrating radar to document sites threatened to render those of us who saw it as a noble pursuit, obsolete. In his article entitled “Archaeology Is Not a Strong Brand”, Martin Rundkvist takes the profusion of available archaeology-named domains  to indicate that the word no longer packs significant punch. He avers that the “little regional bits of the past and archaeological practice” have rendered the word, and the discipline by default, unexciting. I maintain the reason for this could be the dearth of local archaeological projects in North America (certainly in central Ontario). I got out of the discipline because, though I loved it dearly and could imagine doing nothing else with my life, I could not make a living at it. I began my career making enough money to live comfortably, had the position remained opened twelve months of the year. Each year I returned to the field being offered fewer and fewer dollars per hour until I was earning little more than minimum wage 6 months a year (if I were lucky) and UIC was breathing down my back to get re-trained in order to dump my hard-earned degree and get a year-round office job. I chose, instead, to go back to school and complete teacher training. It took some time, but I have come to terms with perpetuating archaeology through my writing. I always fancied returning to the discipline in retirement, but I doubt I will be able to tote buckets of wet dirt at that advanced age. No, I must remain content with fanaticizing about fantastical archaeology, rather than practicing actual archaeology, barring my winning the lottery, that is.

About the Author

Elise Abram, English teacher and former archaeologist, has been writing for as long as she can remember, but it wasn’t until she was asked to teach Writer’s Craft in 2001 that she began to write seriously. Her first novel, THE GUARDIAN was partially published as a Twitter novel a few summers back (and may be accessed at @RKLOGYprof). Nearly ten years after its inception Abram decided it was time to stop shopping around with traditional publication houses and publish PHASE SHIFT on her own.

Download PHASE SHIFT for the price of a tweet. Visit http://www.eliseabram.com, click on the button, tweet or Facebook about my novel and download it for FREE!

Works Cited

Rundkvist, Martin. Archaeology Is Not a Strong Brand. Aardvarchaeology. 2 Mar 2013. < http://scienceblogs.com/aardvarchaeology/2013/03/02/archaeology-is-not-a-strong-brand/>. 12 Mar 13.