"Curse of Oak Island" Teases "Roman" Sword Find While Hutton Pulitzer Says He's Right Due to Volume Written
I haven’t really been keeping up with the Curse of Oak Island, mostly because every episode is the same: the cast digs a hole, speculates about what crazy theory they can prove with it, and then discover nothing. I tuned in to last night’s episode because it promised to cover the infamous “Roman” sword that history gadfly J. Hutton Pulitzer has been promoting as a “100% confirmed” Roman artifact. I still don’t get how this show has so many fans.
The first half of the episode involved watching a man descend into a water-filled hole and find nothing, followed by a bunch of old people speculating whether a boulder was intentionally carved into a human face or whether it’s just a natural formation. Then they speculate about whether rocks on the island form a Templar cross. Finally, at the 57 minute mark the “Roman” sword makes its appearance, and the story behind it is different still from any of the versions given by Pulitzer.
In this telling, the “Roman” swords—identified as such without qualification—is alleged to have been discovered in the 1940s “in the vicinity of Oak Island.” Craig Tester and Charles Barkhouse say that “friends of Dan” told them about the sword at some unspecified point after production began on the series, and Barkhouse passed the information along to Tester, and the two men brought the sword to the production facilities for inclusion on the program.
The Lagina Bros. find the sword intriguing, and Barkhouse asserts (again without proof) that it is a second or third century CE gladiatorial sword presented by Commodus, claims that are quite obviously derived from the untrue, evidence-free speculation presented by David X. Kenney on his unreliable website. Barkhouse asserts categorically that this sword was a gift from Commodus, but then he backtracks and adds “supposedly” to the end of his statement.
Andy White has a lot more about this on his blog.
It’s probably worth mentioning why exactly anyone would associate the sword with Commodus, a minor Roman emperor best known for entering the Coliseum to live out gladiatorial fantasies and for attempting to rename the Roman people after himself, the Commodes, and Rome again after himself, the Colony of Commodus.
The connection is entirely artistic: The sword hilt which appears to depict Hercules wearing a lion skin and holding a club above his head, bears a resemblance to a famous bust of Commodus dressed as Hercules, his idol. (Commodus also replaced the head of the Colossus of Nero with his own, in the guise of Hercules.) Commodus acted the part of a secutor in the arena, and this type of gladiator carried a short sword or dagger called a gladius, superficially similar to the Oak Island sword.
The Oak Island sword measures only 19 inches in length, which was about standard for a gladius of the Pompeiian type, in use until the first century CE, but during the reign of Commodus, the gladius was giving way to the spatha, and the sword size was much longer, typically two feet of more. We would expect that a sword commissioned by the emperor would be up to the latest standards, and we would also expect the capulus, or end of the sword hilt, to be as ornate and detailed as known imperial productions, not a crude casting. Known examples feature animal heads, and Pliny is known to have complained that such a fashion for ornamentation was a drag on traditional Roman virtue. At any rate, the sword in question was not one Commodus actually used in the arena; he play-acted with a wooden sword. There is no record of Commodus presenting ceremonial gladii.
Myles C. McCallum, an expert in Roman antiquities at St. Mary’s University in Halifax, will be examining the sword in the next episode, and the cast speculates about whether the sword means that the Romans visited Oak Island or whether the sword was pirate treasure from another, later visitor. I spoke with Dr. McCallum this morning to inquire into the results of his examination, and he informed me that Prometheus Entertainment had him sign a confidentiality agreement forbidding him from commenting on the sword’s authenticity until 10:03 PM next Tuesday, when the episode has finished airing. However, he said he’d be happy to share more about the sword at that time.
Way to drive publicity for your show, Prometheus, by preserving the “mystery” with gag orders! How wonderful that mystery-mongers like Pulitzer and the cast of Oak Island get to spew their unsupported speculation wildly while the production’s legal team (intentionally or not—these agreements are standard on TV) prevents scholarly analysis from competing with it.
It looks like, we’ll all have to wait for next week’s thrilling conclusion, which from the selectively edited previews sounds like it isn’t going to be entirely positive for Oak Island fantasists.
Chief among those fantasists is J. Hutton Pulitzer, who is on the defensive, having staked his Treasure Force Command on the authenticity of the sword. In an interview with a Nova Scotia newspaper published today (which also interviews Andy White and mentions me!), Pulitzer appealed to the volume of his writings as an indication of his credibility: “Is it enough that I have written 300 history books?” Pulitzer asked. “Is it enough that I’ve published over seven million words on ancient and lost history? Is that enough?”
Well, no. Pulitzer says he’s been writing since mid-2002, which means he produces 23 books on average each year, and writes 500,000 words per year, or 1,500 words per day, which is roughly equivalent to my daily output, but without the quality. That said, nearly all of his writing was done in 2014, according to Amazon listings, making his output something like a 100,000 words book per day on average. (Where does he get the time to self-promote with such a heavy workload?) Pulitzer’s claims rest, ultimately, on his series of Commander’s Lost Treasures book series, which he appears to be counting as original writing for 50 state-by-state guides all published in a brief period around 2014. However, those 50 books are all identical except for one brief state-specific chapter in each. So, let’s say each book has the standard 100,000 words, which would give him 5 million of his 7 million words. But since only one chapter differs per book, that knocks him down by about 4.5 million words, at least. Many of his other books, like his very similar 10 Treasure Legends state-by-state series are also cut-and-paste jobs with minimal differences in content from one another. Indeed, Pulitzer himself admits that the 10 Treasure Legends series is a cut-down version of the Commander’s Lost Treasures and More Lost Treasures series. You see the pattern. He also claimed to the newspaper to be “a professional researcher with a specialty in forensic investigation.”
Now, as it happens, I have written between three and four million words about ancient history on this website, and an additional 500,000 or so words in my books, and probably about a million words on my old website from 2001 to 2009. I also did university-level training in archaeological field methods. By Pulitzer’s standards, that should give me equal say in condemning him as a terrible historian and offering my expert opinion that his claims far exceed any available evidence. Given that I match him dollars for doughnuts on his claims to greatness as a historian and investigator, it is my highly considered opinion that he has presented no evidence whatsoever to warrant accepting his story. At this point, even if the sword turned out to be Roman, Pulitzer has so mangled the handling of his claims that the elaborate story he wove around it is demonstrably untrue nonetheless.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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