I’ve grown up in Nova Scotia, so the lore of Oak Island was familiar to me long before they turned it into a series. There are plenty of theories of what might be buried on the small island off the coast of Nova Scotia, but honestly, no one knows, and no one has presented any convincing theories. Right now the narrative of the television series leans heavily on the constructed storyline of the Knights Templar burying treasure there. Another query that pops up from time to time has been whether or not vikings could have buried the Oak Island Treasure. This is also unlikely.
However, I am going to walk you through the finds that have occurred on Oak Island and talk about which finds could plausibly have a viking connection. The purpose is not to really argue that it is viking treasure located on the island. The purpose is more-so to say that it’s almost certainly not connected to the Knights Templar. The only claim I can make is that there are loose connections to the vikings in this area of Nova Scotia, and while it is extremely unlikely that there is a viking hoard buried in the money pit, I will walk you through a scenario that makes it plausible that the vikings were on Oak Island.
Layout of this Argument
To keep this coherent, I am going to start with a brief overview of the academic research conducted on the possibility of vikings having travelled to Oak Island. I will then touch briefly on academics who have posited that the Oak Island treasure could be related to vikings. From this information I will showcase the most likely connection, with examples from other viking colonies.
After that, I will go through the finds that occurred on the island from both archeological digs, and smaller finds from metal detecting. I will then categorise these finds into ones that definitely cannot have a connection to vikings, versus those that have some degree of plausibility.
Academic Research on the Vikings in Nova Scotia
Alright, so we know and generally accept that the vikings did come to North America circa 1000 CE. In the 1960s L’Anse Aux Meadows was discovered in Newfoundland and it has been proven to be a viking settlement. It’s pretty reasonable to understand the vikings presence in Newfoundland as part of an expansion of territory that had been occurring for centuries. So it isn’t a stretch to believe that they continued their journey beyond the shores of Newfoundland.
Where the vikings landed in North America is a huge topic with hundreds, or possibly thousands of academics weighing in with published articles. Most of their theories come from written sources from the viking era. We have the Greenlander’s Saga, and Erik’s Saga, which are well known large sagas in the collection of Family Sagas. There are also smaller mentions in Adam of Bremen’s Gesta Hammaburgensis (c. 1075), Olaf Tryggvason’s Saga in Heimskringla, and a thirteenth-century Icelandic geographical treatise, Kristni Saga, as well as Gripla, and encyclopedic work of uncertain date in the Greenland Annals.
They Came to Markland
We know from these sources, and from archaeological evidence unearthed, that the vikings came to North America. The problem is, while it is mentioned often, there is really no clear location given for Markland. Scholars kind of agree on the fact that it is probably Nova Scotia, or maybe New Brunswick. For the purpose of this investigation, let’s pretend that it was Nova Scotia. That at least places vikings in the vicinity of Oak Island.
But when it comes to scholars writing theories on whether or not they actually knew of, or buried treasure on Oak Island…well they are pretty silent. You will find a load of published books on the topic, but almost no evidence based research, or peer-reviewed articles. I’d venture to guess that that is because there is very little tangible evidence to suggest they did land there. Any evidence is circumstantial at best.
Dr. Doug Symons Publication on Vikings on Oak Island
I am going to post a link to one study right here. (Click here to read Dr. Doug Symons 2020 argument supporting the vikings connection to Oak Island). I have to mention that this article doesn’t appear to have been published by any academic peer-reviewed publishing house. It looks like independent research that Dr. Symons published on his own, that highlights some unsupported theories.
The Paved Area
So one thing that he mentions that caught my eye was the “paved” area. I’m a little surprised how difficult it is to find information about these finds online. I really expected to find a nice site that showcased lots of photos of this area for us to check out. Unfortunately that doesn’t seem to exist. So I am going to direct you to this quick YouTube video which shows a clip from the series of the paved area.
The Timeline Could Add Up
So a timeline on this paved area potentially puts it in line with the theory that vikings visited the island. Radiocarbon dating of some wood found beneath the paved area was dated to the 13th century. I’m going to direct you to a blog written by an archaeologist who expands on some possible theories about this paved area.
How Old Are The Paving Stones?
Keep in mind that they weren’t actually able to prove what year the road itself was from, so it could be more modern. But let’s say it is as old as the wood found beneath. The vikings were definitely be-bopping around North America in the 1200s, and it is extremely likely that if they stayed for any length of time in an area, you might find something like a paved floor, or a dock.
This doesn’t look like a paved area of a homestead to me. Now, I’m no expert in viking age paving, but I have actually seen some of it first hand when living in Iceland. The Settlement Exhibition in Reykjavik has an authentic dig site unearthed and on display at their museum. In the longhouse there is a “paved” section. This contained much larger, flatter rocks. It gave it more of a flagstone look. Certainly it was something that appeared to give the floor a stable appearance that a person could somewhat safely walk on.
Could it be a Dock?
There is evidence of upright timbers being placed around docking areas in the viking age, as an attempt to shore up a rivers edge. So I suppose 13th century timber fragments beneath what appears to be a wharf, or dry docking area for ships, makes some sense. Stones might have been placed in order to move a larger transport ships onto shore. Again, I am not an expert in dry-docking, or in viking ships. However, I am going to attach a link to a Masters Thesis which expands on viking age docking areas, and their suspected infrastructure. I think the consensus is that it really depended on the size of the ship. Smaller ships could pull right up onto shore with little issue, whereas large transport ships would need some kind of infrastructure.
Is it a Viking Road?
The vikings did travel over land, but because there was usually a lot of uncleared forest, waterways, or mountains in the way, they tried to stick to water. When they did use roads, they traversed difficult areas. There is evidence of wheel ruts on well used roadways, and in the rare instance there are some surviving “paved” roads.
I am going to direct you to two locations here. The first is Hurstwic’s Site, which shows a representation of Risby Viking Road in Denmark. You can find that here. The second source is a brief mention of the road from the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde, Denmark. Check that out here.
Canopy Red Oaks Used for Viking Ship Building
Now this is an appealing theory. Dr. Symons also posits that perhaps the vikings could have stopped there because there was an abundance of Oak trees, which they used for ship building. This would have been a rare occurrence, and a quick search of Google Scholar didn’t immediately bring up any studies done on the flora of Oak Island. I am unable to confirm that the island was indeed full of Oak trees. Throughout this research, I have read some sources that claim there are old photos of the oaks, and that carpenter ants destroyed them during an infestation.
Vikings Ships were made of Oak for sure, and sometimes Pine. I will link two articles below talking more about viking ships and materials that have been found in archaeological digs.
An Imagined Scenario
So I do think it’s foolish to think that the Vikings came as far as L’Anse Aux meadows and then were just like “Yup, cool…we don’t need to see anymore”. That’s a bit naive. I wholeheartedly believe they travelled further. The Saga literature supports this theory as well. They were expanding an empire and I think it would have been advantageous for them to continue moving South. We also know that Iceland suffered deforestation pretty soon after the vikings landed there during the settlement period. Greenland also suffered from deforestation.
A good source to learn more about this is Jared Diamond’s book “Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed”. This means that if they did discover an island off the coast (where they could maybe evade the locals) it would actually be a really great site for them to return to annually to retrieve wood. This would also support their need for larger ships, ergo more infrastructure to pull ships shore for the summer while they worked. This would connect the paved section to a plausible viking scenario.
The 90 Foot Stone Cipher
Now this one is just upsetting. Essentially they claim to have found a stone around the 90 foot level of the money pit way back in the day. In 1803 the first known group of treasure hunters apparently found a large stone that had two lines of ciphers on it. There is absolutely no proof of what the ciphers looked like…so yeah, they could have been runes. This could have been a rune stone, and it’s perfectly natural to assume that a bunch of Nova Scotia locals in 1803 would have no knowledge of the runic alphabet, and they absolutely would have looked like symbols and nonsensical ciphers.
I am going to link two articles which discuss this stone more in depth. Essentially all you need to know is that no image was ever made from the original, so what we see today is nothing more than an imagined copy which seemed to pop up around 1945 ish. So a historian would never really count this as fact. It just isn’t. So let’s put that one to bed for now.
What You Might Expect to Find in a Viking Camp
If the vikings did travel back and forth to Oak Island, like they did L’Anse Aux Meadows, you’d expect to see some evidence of their presence.
This is decidedly lacking thus far.
One indication that an early population inhabited an area of North America would be the presence of slag. Slag is the waste product that is produced during the smelting of ore. The First Nations people didn’t smelt iron. Well, not until after Europeans “discovered” the already inhabited land. So in the time of the viking expansion period, we can identify viking camps by the presence of slag material in camps. This would probably also be accompanied by a stone hearth used for working iron.
Fabrics wouldn’t have really survived in this area. Perhaps fragments could have been preserved in the swamps, but typically they would have disintegrated by now. In Greenland a wealth of viking clothing survived and was excellently preserved. Their garments were made of wadmal, which is a coarse wool fabric used throughout Scandinavia. Any evidence of wadmal on Oak Island would be a huge clue. The clothing of Greenland also suggested that the colony was well-to-do, so if Oak Island was the landing place of the Greenland vikings who disappeared in the 15th century then finding some gold, treasure, and gems would be expected.
Finds on the Island that could be Related to Vikings
Let’s take a look at the finds they have unearthed on the show, and focus on those items that could be linked to the vikings.
Some iron tools were found on the show that were identified as iron swages. They were estimated to be from the 15th century. This of course would line up with the viking age, and especially the exodus of the Greenland Vikings. Iron wasn’t local to the First Nations people at this period, so they were definitely brought there by someone. Of course, most of Europe had experienced the Iron Age at the same time (long before the First Nations people of North America) and therefore they are not specifically related to the Vikings.
I am going to link a YouTube Video and an old webpage (because there are very few resources for this find).
The Mastermyr Find
The video is a book review of The Mastermyr Find, which was a Viking Age tool chest, or blacksmithing chest. I think you’ll see that right on the cover there are many items that look like items found on Oak Island. The slegdes are of interest, as well as the chain, which of course looks very similar to the large, but flimsy metal chain found on Oak Island. While that chian piece only had two links, I think it does resemble closely the links seen on the cover of this book which is being reviewed. They were certainly able to make the chain, the nail that was also found, and these swages or sledges, or whatever they might be.
The Templar Coin
The coin found on Oak Island that is being heralded as a Templar coin is in such rough shape. That makes it difficult to attribute to anything. However, we are creating deniable plausibility here for the Templar narrative. I am going to link a YouTube video to a clip from the show for us to examine.
Now, I do kind of agree with their interpretation of the symbol on top being a cross. But I want to throw into the mix just two coins from the viking era. These looked shockingly similar to a Templar coin and could be as credible a contender as anything else.
Viking Coins that have Crosses
The vikings have been minting coins since roughly 995 CE. One of the earliest was under the Danish King Sweyn Forkbeard.
If you aren’t convinced then I offer you a second option. King Olaf Tryggvarson of Norway had a similar coin as well.
Small Lead Cross and Decorative Keyhole
These items were thought to be pre-1500s. While they fit within the timeline there is really no striking information to link them to the vikings.
This is plausible, since garnets were one of the most popular gemstones coveted during the Viking Age. The brooch found on the show was dated roughly to the 1500s or 1600s. This put it in the realm of the possible.
There is also a non-semi-precious gemstone brooch made of gold plated leaded glass with a threaded technique. The jewellery was dated to the 14th century or earlier. This certainly puts it within the Viking period of craft making, and trading.
The Metal Ring
The ring definitely looks like something that would have been found in a viking hoard. I have a ring I actually purchased on Ebay from a viking find. They were able to make decorative pieces and it looks to be in similar shape to my own.
This turned out to be far longer than I anticipated. It was my intention to just add some plausibility to the idea that vikings could have spent some time on Oak Island. I ended up with more evidence that I thought. I still do not think that they spent any meaningful time on Oak Island. They certainly didn’t set up a seasonal camp there the way they did L’Anse Aux Meadows. However, I do think that vikings are far more plausible than Knights Templar.
It makes sense that during their sea-faring they would absolutely visit Nova Scotia. If they discovered Oaks on the island and wanted to harvest them during their own period of deforestation it would also make sense for them to drag a ship up on shore for a summer and clear the land of trees.
I Need More Evidence to be Convinced
Maybe they did that really quickly and then pulled up anchor and moved on? I think to be convinced further I would need to find more evidence of people summering on the island. There is very little evidence of structures, hearths, tools for fishing or killing wild animals. We would expect to see more signs of life if people had spent any amount of time on the island.
Some of this could be lost to the sea. Water levels have risen quite a bit in the last 1000 years. Soil deposits would place any artefacts from 1000 years ago quite a bit deeper. They don’t dig deep enough on the show.
My final thought is that the vikings definitely buried treasure. They typically didn’t bury it 100 feet deep, nor did they dig elaborate tunnels. But I can imagine a scenario where perhaps some fleeing Greenland Vikings landed there. They might have repaired their ships for a summer, buried some treasure until they found out where they were settling. Perhaps they planned to come back for it. Or like a lot of viking hoards, left it in the ground to be found a millennia later.
For more information on where the Vikings came from check out this post on the Vikings in Iceland.