Right off the shores of Nova Scotia, there are over 300 islands sprinkled around the Atlantic coast of Canada. One among them, however, has captured the world imagination for hundreds of years with such gusto that it’s led some to obsession or even death. The small 140-acre landmass is none other than Oak Island which has become the host of one of the greatest unsolved mysteries in modern history.

Oak Island’s first treasure hunters

The world’s fascination with Oak Island dates all the way back to 1795 when a teenage boy named Daniel McGinnis noticed some strange lights out on Oaks Island. So, just as any adventurously minded boy would do, young Daniel went on over to check things out. While exploring the island, he came across a strange depression in the island’s surface where a group of large trees looked to have been removed. The large circular depression appeared to be about 13 feet in circumference and, according to legend, had a block and tackle hanging over a tree limb directly over the sunken earth. Convinced he might have stumbled onto an interesting find, Daniel went back home and got his two pals, John Smith and Anthony Vaughan, to come back out to the site with him the next day.

You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out what was probably going on in the three boys’ minds. Given that the golden age of piracy had taken place between 1640 and 1730, whose first thought wouldn’t have been that the strange depression might mark the site of buried treasure? Not to mention that the islands had been a popular stop for pirates back in the day, given that they were far enough out from civilization to provide plenty of privacy.

So, the guys began to dig. It wasn’t long before they were rewarded with evidence that the hole was no natural phenomenon. Just two feet below the surface, they discovered a layer of rock which they excitedly cleared away. A little deeper down, they discovered what were clearly the marks from old pickaxes along the walls of clay that seemed to form an underground tunnel. It wasn’t until they got to ten feet deep that the frustration began to set in. There they discovered a layer of wooden beams lodged into the sides of the tunnel that formed a sort of wooden platform. Awesome! Must be treasure right beneath, right? Wrongo. Beneath that, they found nothing but more dirt. So they dug another 10 feet, only to find another wooden platform beneath which there was more dirt. Well, this could only go on for so long before the treasure hunters were forced to admit that they were kids who lived in the 1700s and that they may not have the resources available to tackle such a tricky mystery.  None the less, the legend of the Oak Island money pit was born.

The adventure continues through the centuries

This gave rise to literally centuries worth of treasure hunters who have tried to unearth the treasure that’s still believed to lie at the bottom of the money pit. Along the way,  several interesting clues have been unearthed. In 1804, a group of men called The Oslow Company headed over to the island to try their luck with the mysterious hole. Picking up where the boys had left off, they confirmed the pattern that every 10 feet down or so, there was another wooden platform. When they got down to 60 feet, however, they did discover something rather curious. The platform they found there was lined with coconut shell fibers, which was significant because coconuts are not indigenous to the area. That gave them hope that whoever had constructed the tunnel had probably brought over coconuts from the Caribbean. Thanks to Johnny Depp, we all know that the Caribbean was a favorite hangout of pirates. So they kept on digging as platform after platform revealed itself. At 90 feet, they discovered a mysterious stone marked with strange carvings.

It wasn’t until nearly half a century later that someone would propose to have deciphered the strange message carved into the heavy stone that the treasure hunters brought home. In 1860, a language professor named James Leitchi used a cipher which he claimed revealed the hidden message. Apparently, the stone read, “Forty Feet Below, Two Million Pounds Are Buried.”

Well, of course, this set off a new whole interest in getting to 130 ft. beneath the island’s surface. The island, however, had even more surprises to offer. Not only was whatever was at the bottom of the hole protected by wooden beams and coconuts, but it was also guarded by the fact that the hole was rigged with underground tunnels that would flood it with water when diggers reached a certain point. Various pumps and dams were used over the following centuries to keep the obstinant hole from flooding but failed to do the job.

The curse of Oak Island

Death was soon to follow, as men resorted to machinery to unearth the island’s mystery. In 1861, an exploding boiler claimed the life of one treasure hunter and over a century later, in 1965, natural fumes emitting from the holes claimed the lives of four workers attempting to unearth its secrets. In 2014, the History Channel even released a reality series called The Curse of Oak Island, which details the attempts of a pair of brothers named Marty Lagina & Rick Lagina to finally solve the money pit’s mystery.

Though the motherload of treasure has yet to be unearthed, the money pit hasn’t been a total waste. Over the centuries, its given up small hints such as small pieces of gold, an ancient piece of parchment with the inscription “VI,” and a 17th-century Spanish copper coin. Theories about the mysterious money pit center around everyone from the Knights Templar to pirates to William Shakespeare. Hopefully, soon technology will catch up to the mystery and finally reveal what’s hiding at the bottom of Oak Island.