Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

Best Episodes Of The Curse Of Oak Island Ranked

What lies hidden on Oak Island, the tiny landmass off the coast of Nova Scotia? After eight seasons and counting of The History Channel's "The Curse of Oak Island," any number of theories have been put forward, expecting everything including gold from a wrecked Spanish galleon, to Marie Antoinette's lost jewels, to a stolen Knights Templar fortune, to even the Ark of the Covenant.

The search for fortune on Oak Island has consumed treasure hunters for over 200 years, and despite the best efforts of the show's ace team of excavators and historians, led by brothers Rick and Marty Lagina, most of its secrets remain in the dark. But what the show lacks in concrete evidence of Templars or Vikings or anything else, it makes up for with a fascinating look at the nitty-gritty of modern day treasure hunting and the men and women who have dedicated their lives to it.

From money pits to metal crosses, Spanish coins to Roman swords, here is a list of the top 14 episodes of "The Curse of Oak Island."

14. Signs of a Cross (Season 5 Episode 10)

The discovery of a small lead cross among the rocks of Smith's Cove is presented in this episode perhaps a bit too casually. Rick Lagina and metal detection expert Gary Drayton are taking an unexpected bit of free time to run the ol' metal detector over the cove at low tide. Rick narrates to the camera how so many of the previous treasure hunting teams had combed the area without much success. After a few minutes of strolling around the rocks, something beeps for Gary. Rick digs out a few shovels-worth of earth before they discover the find of the season — a metal pendant in the shape of a cross, with a square hole at the top.

This cross will fuel speculation and investigation for the rest of this season, and will prove to be one of the greatest and oldest discoveries in the show's history. Was its uncovering staged? Was it dumb luck? Providence? Who's to say?

13. Steel Trapped (Season 5 Episode 15)

The lead cross is shown to author and self-proclaimed Jesus descendant Kathleen McGowan, one of the show's leading proponents of the theory that the island was used by the Knights Templar to hide a vast treasure. She claims that the knights would often smuggle gold jewelry by encasing it in lead, which leads to a brief bout of gold fever in the team. McGowan then attempts to draw a dubious connection between the French town Sarlat-la-Caneda, a purported Templar hangout, and the nation of Canada, as if its very name were a clue pointing the way to Nova Scotian treasure. 

After McGowan tries this whopper out, narrator Robert Clotworthy points out that modern scholarship believes the name Canada to be derived from an Iroquois word meaning "village" or "settlement." As much fun as the show's wild theories can sometimes be, every so often a voice of reason, literally in this case, has to step in and reestablish some reality.

12. Slipway When Wet (Season 6 Episode 12)

Appropriate for an island covered in sinkholes and money pits, the metaphorical ground often falls out from under the Lagina brothers' feet, where supposed major finds turn out to be nothing special. It happens so often that one can't help but feel a little jerked around. So it goes in this mid-Season 6 episode which is full of possibilities, especially concerning a stone recovered in the previous episode and inscribed with what might by Viking runes. A runic expert visits the "war room" and informs the team that the carvings are not runes, but may be a gothic script. Later, she further deflates the team with her final judgment that the carvings are nothing more than an architectural flourish.

While excavating the episode's titular slipway, or boat ramp, in Smith's Cove, a mysterious concrete wall is discovered. Is this the clue that will blow the search for treasure wide open? To paraphrase Freud: sometimes a wall is just a wall.

11. The Silver Spooner (Season 8 Episode 25)

The money pit has a near mythological significance to "The Curse of Oak Island." The site at which treasure was first said to be found by three young settlers in 1799, the pit had partially caved in and its exact location was lost by the time the Laginas came to the island. After eight seasons of poking around the area, sediment samples are examined, and the team is informed that the money pit might hold a large silver deposit, in addition to whatever treasure had been left there centuries ago.

Cynical, longtime viewers may feel that this silver news, coming as it does at the very end of the season as winter sets in on Nova Scotia, is a cliffhanger meant to goose interest in yet another season of mostly fruitless treasure hunting. In the traditional season end wrap-up in the war room, Gary Drayton perhaps admits more than he means to in his hopes for the next year: "I'm really looking forward to getting back into the swamp, and I can't wait to get stuck in!"

10. Sword Play (Season 3 Episode 11)

Possibly the series' best example of massive hype followed by crushing disappointment is the saga of the Roman sword. Treasure hunter Charles Barkhouse presents the Lagina brothers with what appears to be a ceremonial sword from the time of Roman emperor Commodus, pulled from the waters off Oak Island in the 1940s. The find opens up entirely new vistas for the team, whose historians had already posited that the treasure had come from France via the Knights Templar, and could perhaps even be the Ark of the Covenant. The possibility that the Roman empire had somehow made first contact with the Western Hemisphere on Oak Island felt too good to be true.

Which, of course, it was. A visit to a local university proves that the sword was not of ancient Roman origin, but rather a reproduction dating from the late nineteenth century. But as these things go, a century-plus old intact replica sword is not a terrible find; the Laginas have certainly spun gold from worse straw than this. But there's an undeniable disappointment in closing the book on such a rich vein of alternate history, and it's a reminder how long people have been searching for treasure on Oak Island, and how much the odds are stacked against the Laginas to succeed where they all failed.

9. All That Glitters (Season 4 Episode 7)

The pursuit of gold stretches into the past as well as the present in this Season 4 episode, which finds the drilling team searching for it in the money pit while Charles Barkhouse and a journalist search the local archives and make a surprising find.

Of all the wild theories about Oak Island's treasure that the show has indulged over the years, the one that holds the most water is that the treasure was buried by the infamous Scottish pirate Captain William Kidd at some point in the 18th Century. That theory is given a major boost by Barkhouse's discovery in the archives of not only the deathbed confession of a seaman who allegedly sailed with Kidd and buried his treasure on Oak Island, but also an 1883 map of the island with "Kidd's Treasure" helpfully inscribed on it. Facts about Oak Island are still difficult to come by, of course, but compared to the wild ravings of Knights Templar and ancient Romans, buried pirate treasure seems like a sober, reasonable explanation.

8. Bone Dry (Season 5 Episode 5)

As the episode's punny title indicates, the crew opens up a new drilling location, designated H-8, and almost immediately finds a human bone fragment. When first pulled from H-8, Rick, Charles, and their geologist feel it and knock it against the table and take guesses at what it might or might not be. Not a stone, says the geologist. Could it be ironwood, the super-dense tropical wood used in shipbuilding? Yes, perhaps it could be.

The scene plays a bit too dumb for its own good, but the payoff comes quickly; when local archaeologist Laird Niven is presented with the curious artifact in the war room, he takes one look and calls it a bone. Everyone plays at being shocked, and perhaps this time they were. Bone — especially human bone — is a serious find, one they would have every right to be excited over. "We're gonna follow where the bone leads," Marty Lagina says, and for once that is the absolute right decision.

7. Forever Family (Season 5 Episode 1)

Season 5 begins with this two-hour premiere, as the team returns to an island ravaged by storms over the winter. Despite having to clear debris and rebuild the south shore road, the Lagina brothers are determined to pick up where they left off at the end of Season 4, but this time bigger, better, and metal detect-ier.

Gary Drayton and Laginas nephew Peter Fornetti head out to Isaac's Point and uncover what Gary immediately guesses is a Spanish or English coin from the mid-18th Century. The narrator reminds us that any find that might date to before the 1795 discovery of the money pit is important, as the island was virtually uninhabited.

A fragment of a metal ax head and a rosehead nail are the other significant finds of the episode, which is perhaps a little scant for two hours of broadcast. But the episode nonetheless earns its place on the list, for unexpectedly emotional reasons, as it's announced that treasure hunter Craig Tester's son Drake has passed away. The episode is dedicated to his memory, and later in the season one of the team's new boreholes will be named DMT in his memory.

6. Amazing Discoveries (Season 5 Episode 18)

The Season 5 finale takes stock of the artifacts uncovered during this momentous season: multiple iron spikes, suggesting that there really was a shipwreck on the island at some point; the ruby brooch that turns out to not be ruby, but may still be 400-500 years old; the lead cross found in the rocks of Smith's Cove; and the human bone fragments found in the new H-8 borehole. Any further progress into borehole DMT is flummoxed by the discovery that the steel plate the team believed to be down there is in fact a granite boulder.

As cold weather approaches, excavating shuts down for the season. There's a canned feeling to many of the show's finales, as each ends with the Laginas rededicating themselves to Oak Island and to each other, often with a tear-filled speech. For this season, though, the sentiment feels earned; the bone fragments alone would be enough to excite and confound even the most skeptical of viewers, and as the show has long established, these brothers are no skeptics.

5. Of Sticks and Stones (Season 4 Episode 14)

The episode's titular stones are the five granite boulders on the property of longtime Oak Island resident Fred Nolan, which when viewed from above appear to make the shape of a cross. Two stonemasons brought in to examine the boulders have made a discovery on what would be considered the "base" of the cross, an artificially smooth surface on its underside suggesting the boulder was dragged into position from somewhere else.

There's a goofy fun to the scene of five grown men staring intently at a large moss-covered rock. In many ways, this is the tone of the show whittled down to its essence. The willingness of "Oak Island" and its stars to risk looking ridiculous, fawning over a rock, taking it as gospel that this rock must have been manipulated by hand, is the base of its infectious appeal. Charles Barkhouse and Rick Lagina congratulate the stonemasons on their find with the line of the episode, if not the entire series: "Oak Island is a one-thousand piece puzzle, with five hundred pieces missing," says Charles. "And you just added one," Rick finishes.

4. The Lot Thickens (Season 5 Episode 7)

One of the maddening parts of any conspiracy theory when viewed from the outside is how the believer will use the absence of evidence as proof that the theory is correct. Take local researcher Paul Speed, who enters this episode with a doozy for the Lagina brothers: That the construction of the money pit and the island's flood tunnels is reminiscent of Cornish mining techniques, and British privateer Sir Francis Drake must have been responsible for them, choosing Oak Island to hide a cache of Incan gold stolen from Spain. The fact that there is no record of Drake sailing to the New World simply proves that this secret mission must have really happened.

There's an appeal to that line of thinking, and its self-justifying logic can be found across many of the other Oak Island theories. Paul Speed, to date, has not returned to the show, and the Drake theory would of course turn out to be something of a red herring — especially considering the real evidence of the episode: the bone fragments found in borehole H-8 are of European and Middle Eastern origin.

3. Seeing Red (Season 5 Episode 16)

As much as the show presents the Lagina brothers and their team as pioneers in the field of Oak Island treasure hunting, every so often it takes the long view and reminds us that holes have been dug across the island for over 200 years. Rick and Marty aren't the first men to excavate Oak Island, and likely won't be the last. Such fatalism, bordering on futility, is the unintended subtext of this episode's visit to the descendants of Harold Bishop, who worked on the island as a crane operator in the 1960s.

Bishop's family provides the Laginas with a piece of wood that he claims to have pulled from the money pit. When the wood is tested, it is estimated to be from the mid-17th century, older than the earliest stories of the money pit by nearly 150 years. History keeps its secrets on Oak Island and is in no hurry to reveal them — not even with a camera crew present.

2. The Big Reveal (Season 2 Episode 10)

Season 2 goes out with a bang, as the finale sees the Lagina brothers bring in a pair of deep sea divers to help explore borehole 10-X, the hole dug by Dan Blankenship in the early 1970s. Dan believed that there was a chamber at the end of the borehole with man-made objects inside. Though the diving team's efforts are ultimately futile due to low visibility, underground radar detects what certainly appears to be a rectangular open space some 235 feet below. Not only is Dan vindicated, but the nonagenarian treasure hunter is on hand to view the results himself, along with his treasure hunting son Dave. It's a big discovery, both in size and importance, rare for a show that so often contents itself with very small wins.

Also on hand to witness this "big reveal" is part-time treasure hunter and full-time internet scam artist J. Hutton Pulitzer, who arrives touting the theory that the island is the final resting place of the Ark of the Covenant. Though the Ark theory has made a few more appearances on the show over the years, Pulitzer has not; this is his one episode, and it is a fascinating look at the even more wild, unsubstantiated show that could have been.

1. Voices from Below (Season 3 Episode 12)

The dead speak on "The Curse of Oak Island," not just in the artifacts they leave behind to be dug up centuries later, but in the descendants who continue on after they are gone. The so-called curse of the show's title refers to the six men who died in the 19th and 20th centuries while attempting to find the treasure. In 1995, Dan Blankenship erected a memorial stone for those men; among the names is Maynard Kaiser, who fell to his death while working a pump in 1897.

The episode features two of Kaiser's elderly descendants visiting the island memorial, as Rick promises them he will do whatever he can to make sure their forebear did not die in vain, to make the "Oak Island quest" into the "Oak Island solution." The two women are very polite, but notably uninterested in this man who is making this memorial to their ancestor all about himself. 

Rick's sentiment is lovely, if self-involved, but the truth is that the treasure of Oak Island, if it even exists, has little bearing on these women's lives, nor on the lives of most people in the world. For a handful of men and women, this is a lifelong obsession — for the rest of us, it is a weekly show on The History Channel. Perhaps that is the true curse of Oak Island.