"Oak Island" Gives Verdict on "Roman" Sword; Plus: Are Fairy Tales Bronze Age Relics?
Last night The Curse of Oak Island delivered its verdict on the allegedly “Roman” sword that erstwhile Treasure Force Commander and current History Heretic J. Hutton Pulitzer has been promoting as a “100% confirmed” Roman artifact that would rewrite Nova Scotia history. The Lagina brothers, stars of the show, had the sword examined at St. Mary’s University in Nova Scotia, where both an expert in Classics and a chemist specializing in metals declared that the sword is almost certainly modern. A chemical analysis of the sword found that it was made of brass with a zinc content of about 35%, characteristic of brass made in the 1890s or later. Older brass has a lower zinc content.
Strictly speaking, though, one could theoretically argue that the Romans used extra special brass with lots of zinc for obscure purposes. J. Hutton Pulitzer took a different path, and in postings on Facebook last night he suggested that the chemist’s slightly nervous demeanor while being filmed indicated potential fraud: “She was bright red delivering the test results. Somethings a miss (sic).” In a further posting on Medium.com, Pulitzer revised his claims somewhat and now backed down on his original assertion that the Nova Scotia sword had been “100% confirmed” and “tested,” now arguing that there are unspecified other swords which have been “certified” and which the Nova Scotia sword must be tested against. Presumably he means the David X. Kenney’s copy in Florida, which is not certified except by Kenney.
He revealed his own motives for promoting the Roman sword when he claimed to have exclusive information about interpersonal disagreements among the cast of Curse of Oak Island, which he reported beneath a vaguely homoerotic image of the all-male cast of the show fondling the sword, captioned “Are you ready for sword play?” Sadly, since “Sword Play” was the name of the episode, I don’t think Pulitzer actually realized how his graphic appeared.
I’m bored with the sword, and I think it’s pretty clear from both this episode and from the work that Andy White has done analyzing other versions of the sword that it’s not a Roman artifact. The 1890s or later date almost makes me wonder whether it was a World’s Fair item, and it would be interesting to see if the Italian Pavilion at one of the expositions was casting these things for visitors. But my interest in this is pretty much over.
So that’s why I was intrigued to read a BBC article this morning that claims that fairy tales can be traced back to the Bronze Age using evolutionary analysis. According to Jamie Tehrani of Durham University and Sara Graca Da Silva of Lisbon’s New University, by looking at the appearance of similar stories across cultures, we can determine when they were first told by looking at when each culture’s language split from a common ancestor. “They were probably told in an extinct Indo-European language,” Durham said.
The article is entitled “Comparative Phylogenetic Analyses Uncover the Ancient Roots of Indo-European Folktales” and was published in the Royal Society Open Science journal last week. Yet there is the troublesome issue of stories spreading from culture to culture across space, not simply descending from a common ancestor across time. The authors claim that they can disentangle the two types of transmission by constructing a phylogenic chart of stories to look for commonalities that can then be mapped onto a chart of languages. By correlating changes in folklore to changes in language they feel we can find the original period when a story was told.
This seems to me to be problematic since a story could spread from culture to culture and then adapt to the language and culture of each, thus giving the appearance of being ancestral when it was, in fact, not. For example, Edwin Sidney Hartland, writing the nineteenth century, found versions of the tale of Perseus spread across Indo-European cultures. It wasn’t clear to me how one would differentiate between an “ancestral” Perseus tale and one that was derived from a Classical source. In fact, I read a few years ago a book that claimed that popular fairy tales had Classical origins (forgive me for forgetting the title), and given the widespread influence of Greco-Roman culture on other Indo-European-speaking groups, it would seem difficult to separate this out, or, in a more complex way, what happens when one group inherits an ancestral story from a more recent ancestor that is then adopted by other groups that shared more distant ancestors. I’d have liked to see the researchers examine whether any of these stories were also told by non-Indo-European groups (as Hartland found for Perseus tales) and, if so, how these might impact the overall analysis. Surely, the appearance of a story in a non-Indo-European culture shouldn’t lead us to conclude that the story goes back to the Paleolithic!
This is an interesting study, and whose probabilistic modeling I’m not sure I entirely followed. It’s quite possible that some folk tales have Bronze Age origins: Greek mythology, after all, has Mycenaean origins, and the Mycenaeans clearly had their mythology from Indo-European sources. I’d like to learn more about this and whether the same results would occur with a wider view of folklore.
1/20/2016 08:58:19 am
The fall-back claim of the fringe, an academic conspiracy designed to hide the truth. Who didn't see that coming?
1/20/2016 05:17:36 pm
So true - perfectly said
1/20/2016 09:01:23 am
1890's metallury? Clearly an alien presented this sword to Commodus!
1/20/2016 07:11:34 pm
Everyone is wrong. The Lady of the Lake presented the sword to Arthur, king of all the Britons. He then boarded one of the eighteen lost Templar ships, by luck and happenstance, it happened to be the one carrying the lost treasure of Solomon. They sailed to Oak Island and buried the treasure. Then Arthur, who was a Knight Templar, had carved, by Henry Sinclair, runes describing where the treasure was buried and claiming all of the North American continent. He then, before dying, returned the sword to the Lady of the Lake, who left her lake and was hanging out in the North Atlantic.
1/20/2016 07:23:59 pm
I'll buy your theory if you can account for giants and ancient aliens. (Maybe we can have giant aliens found the Masons and the Illuminati.)
1/21/2016 11:07:14 am
My theory, which is impossible to disprove and is, therefore, plausible and fully conforms to the known facts is far less obtuse.
1/20/2016 09:32:32 am
"A Lagina and his money is soon parted" Abraham Lincoln, 1967.
1/20/2016 09:34:01 am
"the all-mast cast" is an appropriate Freudian typo in that paragraph.
1/20/2016 09:51:45 am
I fixed the typo!
1/20/2016 09:47:01 am
>>>the sword is almost certainly modern<<<
1/20/2016 11:04:08 am
I think comparing question of the Pulitzer Sword to those surrounding the Shroud of Turin is off the mark. The provenance of the Shroud is definitively traceable in the historical record to 14th century France. Its history prior to that time is subject to debate but because of accounts of the Veronica and the Image of Edessa, missing artifacts that could refer to the Shroud there is a plausible case that can be made to trace it to at least the 4th Century. While C14 tests argue for a Medieval date, the method by which the photograph-like negative image was produced is problematic and only conjectural theories have been put forward. Because there is also the added attribution of divine intervention which could conceivably make our testing methods unreliable, the question can remain open.
1/20/2016 11:12:20 am
Except that the RCC claims to have both the Veronica (which is an obvious painting) and the Image of Edessa (which they will not allow tested) so neither of these are missing.
1/20/2016 11:26:53 am
"Because there is also the added attribution of divine intervention which could conceivably make our testing methods unreliable, the question can remain open."
1/21/2016 01:32:53 pm
DaveR, the C14 dating on the Shroud is definitively flawed. It doesn't require divine intervention for it, either. C-14 is only reliable for artifacts that haven't been handled over time. We have definitive records that the Shroud has been handled, displayed, repaired, and even been in the close vicinity to a large fire over his history, all of which are things that can foul C14 data.
1/21/2016 01:58:02 pm
V, I'm aware of the difficulties dating the shroud due to the handling, storage, and fire. My recollection is the argument against the dating is smoke and ash from the fire has been absorbed by the cloth and that's why the C14 dating comes up dates consistent with the monastery fire.
1/20/2016 11:37:37 am
>>>provenance of the Shroud is definitively traceable in the historical record to 14th century France<<<
1/20/2016 10:41:57 am
Are you going to call back to Dr . McCallum at St. Mary's University and get his unedited analysis of the sword?
1/20/2016 11:25:33 am
Andy White posted Dr. McCallum's comments on the sword over on his blog. I'm trying to think whether there is anything he didn't already cover.
1/20/2016 12:35:39 pm
As far as I know, Miles McCallum won't be able to do any significant talking about the sword, until the episode airs in Canada this Sunday. I expect he'll have more to say to Andy after Sunday.
1/20/2016 11:42:07 am
1/20/2016 01:16:59 pm
For some reason my reply to you got posted as a separate comment.
1/20/2016 04:20:15 pm
The same thing happened in my initial reply to you. "Ancient Astronaut Theorists" probably have an explanation (just not the right one).
1/20/2016 01:23:38 pm
A bishop's memorandum is being ignored in this discussion like in most documentaries on the Turin Shroud, made by believers...
1/20/2016 04:11:20 pm
You're of course to the document of the Bishop of Troyes which declared the Shroud a forgery ("cunningly executed" I think was the term used) shortly after it was displayed for the first time in the 14th Century.
1/21/2016 01:42:05 pm
Time Machine, please provide a link to the alleged memorandum if you want it considered.
1/21/2016 02:06:15 pm
The memorandum to which Time Machine most probably refers is one produced in late 1389 by Pierre D'Arcis, Bishop of Troyes to Clement VII. A copy resides in the Bibliothéque Nationale, Paris. There is an English translation made in 1903 by Rev. Herbert Thurston which originally appeared in a periodical called The Month but was republished in an appendix to The Shroud f Turin by Ian Wilson (Image Books 1978).
1/21/2016 03:25:04 pm
1/20/2016 12:45:03 pm
dragons. how come there are western and eastern dragons ? can't think of any american dragons, but dragons stretch from wales to china. do dragon tales all come from the same place ?
1/20/2016 02:39:43 pm
Some might argue there are American dragons, of a sort.
1/20/2016 02:44:13 pm
Proofread yourself, Clint...
1/21/2016 12:11:40 pm
some's got wings and some's 'asn't. mebbes these is dragons of diff'rent origin
1/21/2016 02:56:22 pm
what about all the places it says "here be dragons" ? prolly need to add some ocean territories and island chains for a complete analysis
1/21/2016 09:14:49 am
The east and west where not as isolated as from each other as people commonly think. even if two cultures did not have direct contact they likely did second or third hand. the northern Europeans had contact with Mediterranean cultures who had contact with eastern cultures like India who had contact with most other eastern cultures.
1/21/2016 11:50:27 am
Your point is quite valid. At the same time it makes the claim for a single prehistoric origin for myths and fairy tales harder to prove and logically less likely.
1/21/2016 12:25:19 pm
It's not a difficult leap to imagine a trader saying something like "While I was trading with this other tribe they all told me of this fantastic beast that lived in a mountain cave. They also told me this creature flew through the air and could spit fire. The beast was similar to a lizard with gigantic bat wings, and when it roared the ground shook!"
1/21/2016 02:48:28 pm
DaveR, that would be more plausible as a "universal" origin of dragons if Asian dragons 1. had wings or 2. breathed fire. Asian dragons are associated with winter, water, ice, storms, etc. and with wisdom rather than treasure. European dragons are associated with fire, stone, no season or weather at all, death, destruction, and wealth and SOMETIMES knowledge (but not necessarily wisdom). I don't even really know with the feathered-snake motif, and I'm not sure if there's anything remotely similar in African mythology.
1/21/2016 03:00:38 pm
I am in no way advocating there is one single source of all fairy tales. What I am advocating is that it's not difficult at all, given trade between cultures, even the Vikings were trading throughout Russia and Turkey, that stories and myths could be shared between cultures and then over the course of being told numerous times be infused with local ideas. Therefor a culture with a wingless dragon can easily be transformed into winged dragon thousands of miles away.
1/20/2016 12:45:24 pm
I see, thank you for clarifying this for me, I know understand your previous post more clearly.
1/20/2016 12:46:09 pm
The sword is clearly a reproduction.
J(azzy Jeff) H. Pulitzer
1/20/2016 03:41:09 pm
Bored with the sword
1/20/2016 04:08:13 pm
Europeans and later "Americans" have been on North America for over 500 years now and the ONLY documented evidence of pre columbian contact is the Norse in the Greenland, the high arctic and NewFoundland (and a norse penny in Maine). That's it folks. 500 years and no roman ship or carthagian or templar ship has been found, no buildings, no settlements, no anything.
Hans Atheist Andersen
1/20/2016 05:23:59 pm
Fairy stories are thousands of years old. And Romans are thousands of years old. And fairy stories are found in America. This proves that the stories must have been brought over by the Romans. Probably on the visit when they were dropping their tourist trinket swords all over the place. Has anybody checked the swords for fairy stories scratched on them in runic characters? For that matter, has anyone DNA tested them to see if they could be the murder weapons used in the killings described on the KRS? Oak Island and California would be ideal places to discard the evidence, being hundreds of miles away.
1/20/2016 06:09:44 pm
While we're at it, couldn't those swords be proof of the final battle between the Lamanites and the Nephites at the Hill Cumorah? Did anyone crack to see if the inscription on the KRS isn't actually Reformed Egyptian rather than runes?
1/21/2016 12:58:02 pm
Now given I grew up a short distance from Hill Cumorah I would have found some relics in the woods near Palmyra. Never did. But they do have a really nice pageant every summer.
1/20/2016 07:57:57 pm
Jason, I enjoy your site. I know you dont want to, but I think it would be great if you would cover episodes of Oak Island regularly.
1/20/2016 10:00:51 pm
I would if it weren't so boring. I feel like one could review the whole season in an hour just by watching the last 5 min. of each episode.
1/29/2016 01:04:32 am
You could probably do the same just by watching the commercials.
1/22/2016 11:35:25 am
"J. Hutton Pulitzer took a different path, and in postings on Facebook last night he suggested that the chemist’s slightly nervous demeanor while being filmed indicated potential fraud."
1/22/2016 04:00:58 pm
What I find surprising is that Hutton Pulitzer who had direct contact with the cast of Oak Island for quite some time, only found out about the sword test results from watching the show.
1/25/2016 02:00:35 pm
Say what you want about the Lagina brothers and their search on Oak Island. At least they are actually in search of truth, rather than interested in distorting it for money with ridiculous claims like Hutton. What has the "Treasure Commander" ever found of validated value/significance?
1/28/2016 12:47:52 pm
They're in search of the suspected treasure buried in the Money Pit. Having found no treasure thus far, they managed to sell their story for a reality show. They are most certainly in this for the money.
1/22/2016 08:57:37 pm
I suspect they edited the analyst's speech and it said "this is definitely not authentic" originally, and they removed "not".
1/23/2016 09:37:00 am
The magical 'Roman' sword has become to cuecat of the historical era.
Your comment will be posted after it is approved.
Leave a Reply.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
Enter your email below to subscribe to my newsletter for updates on my latest projects, blog posts, and activities, and subscribe to Culture & Curiosities, my Substack newsletter.
Terms & Conditions
Please read all applicable terms and conditions before posting a comment on this blog. Posting a comment constitutes your agreement to abide by the terms and conditions linked herein.