Many of you have undoubtedly heard the big news coming from Treasure Force Commander J. Hutton Pulitzer that a Roman sword was discovered at Oak Island, suggesting that the Romans reached Nova Scotia at some unspecified period in the past. The claim appeared in an obscure British regional newspaper, the Boston Standard of Lincolnshire, which is a very odd place to announce the discovery of a major artifact. But that’s par for the course with people like Pulitzer, who try to inject unsupported ideas into the mainstream by filtering them through small and obscure publications with lower editorial standards in the hope that it will legitimize their unconventional ideas. It’s hard not to think that Pulitzer chose the Boston Standard because it can easily be confused for a paper from Boston, Mass., and thus offer greater prestige. However, since the author says that Pulitzer spoke to the parent company, Johnston Press of Edinburgh, that might not be the case.
The sword was set to be featured on Curse of Oak Island this season, but Pulitzer seems to have wanted his version of the story out before the episode airs. (Pulitzer appeared in an earlier season of the show.) The sword is allegedly to be shown only “briefly” on Oak Island, suggesting that the Lagina brothers, the stars of the show, may not give much credence to the tale Pulitzer spins about it. Pulitzer used the article to complain that Oak Island didn’t give him enough screen time because the show wasn’t interested in anything but Knights Templar.
In an interview with the Standard, Pulitzer said that the sword had been discovered either “some years” or “several decades” ago, by an unnamed individual who allegedly kept the sword hidden for fear that the government would seize it as illegally recovered from Oak Island, where treasure hunting without a permit has been illegal since 2010. Of course Pulitzer provided no documentation to confirm that the sword had been uncovered where and when he alleges.
Pulitzer supports his claims with a number of other unproven assumptions. Among these is the false claim that the Romans used barberry (Berberis vulgaris) to fight scurvy and thus left the plant on Oak Island. (The species arrived in America with Europeans in the colonial period.) He also alleges that the Mi’kmaq have Levantine DNA, which is a claim based on the fringe history DNA Consultants’ allegation that the Mi’kmaq’s Haplogroup X links them to the ancient Near East, something that DNA experts dispute. He further argues that the Mi’kmaq preserve 50 Roman sailing terms, though he identifies none. Since the Mi’kmaq have a long history of interaction with French sailors, and French is a Romance language, if there are Latinate borrowings, he would need to prove these were not mediated through French. Finally, he alleges that a shipwreck off Oak Island is “100% confirmed” to be Roman, though his only evidence is a scan of the seafloor, which he declined to share. Given that fringe explorers like Barry Clifford have been hard-pressed to distinguish between European and Asian shipwrecks, or those of the Middle Ages and Early Modern periods, it’s difficult to credit Pulitzer with such flawless perspicacity, particularly since he in the same breath alleges that the Nova Scotia government might not let him explore the wreck, implying that he never tried.
Pulitzer alleges that the Catholic Church destroyed all records of pre-Columbian contact with the New World, which is strange since the first record of a voyage to the New World, Adam of Bremen’s account of the Viking voyage to Vinland, occurs in the Gesta Hammaburgensis Ecclesiae Pontificum 4.38, an eleventh century work of Church history officially commissioned by the Archbishop of Bremen. Indeed, the Catholic Church unofficially supported claims of a pre-Columbian European discovery of America long before the discovery of L’Anse-aux-Meadows proved it. (Also: How did the Church conspire to cover up African and Asian voyages to America that diffusionists allege occurred?) Pulitzer says that modern historians go along with Church suppression because “to rewrite history it would mean rewriting every textbook and university course in the world.” You’d think that textbook companies—which charge hundreds of dollars per copy for books that are already updated with new editions every 2-3 years—would be thrilled to force libraries, universities, and students to have to buy new books again. Nevertheless, Pulitzer alleges that the Church and historians have “Columbus conspiracy” to promote Columbus as the first European to reach America—a claim that hasn’t been “promoted” by mainstream scholars since Washington Irving all but invented it for his influential biography of Columbus more than 200 years ago.
So that leaves us with the sword itself, for whatever an object with no definitive connection to Oak Island is worth. At first glance, it resembles no Roman ceremonial sword with which I am familiar; however, as we learned from Andy White’s blog, the sword is identical to one alleged to have come from a Dutch antiquities dealer out of a German collection. The current owner of that sword, David Xavier Kenney, 60, is a diffusionist who believes that ancient European peoples, particularly the Romans, had sustained and frequent contact with America. He also produces reproduction Roman votive offerings to order, and some have accused his artifacts of being crude fakes. What’s particularly noteworthy is that Pulitzer mirror’s Kenney’s conclusion that the Romans were in America in the first century CE and thus dates the sword to that time, even though Kenney explicitly alleges that his sword represents Commodus as Hercules (how would he know this?), placing it in the second century.
What’s quite interesting is that the hilts of the sword aren’t just nearly identical; the differences are also odd: If I direct your attention to the crotch of the Florida sword, you’ll see a small hole. In the Nova Scotia sword, that hole has been cast directly into the bronze, appearing as a seemingly raised dot. This is certainly unusual, but the fine details also differ, appearing in slightly different angles and degrees of perfection, as though one were copied imperfectly from the other rather than simply cast from the same mold.
All in all, the signs point to the sword not being what Pulitzer claims, but how and why he chose to share his “discovery” in a regional British newspaper in an attempt to scoop Curse of Oak Island, a show he uses to bolster his credibility yet routinely attacks for not conforming to his views, is perhaps the bigger story.
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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