Nova Scotia's coastline is dotted with hundreds of islands. One of them, Oak Island, holds a mystery that has captivated people for centuries. Marty and Rick Lagina have been transfixed since they were boys by rumors that the rustic island, 50 miles from the provincial capital of Halifax, holds myriad hidden treasures, from Shakespeare's manuscripts to Marie Antoinette's jewels.
Rick and Marty's conquest for the treasure is documented in the HISTORY series The Curse of Oak Island. Before the show's third season, which premieres November 10, we caught up with the Laginas to find out what it takes to try to solve this centuries old-mystery. From old-fashioned homework to extreme diving equipment, here's the essential guide for treasure hunting from two brothers living the dream.
First things first: Dive into the Past
Rick and Marty are quick to point out that no two treasure hunts are alike. Each hunt will require massively different gear and knowledge. Every search begins by exploring the past, learning every detail and account from as many perspectives as possible. If you're on the hunt for Spanish gold, learn ancient Spanish. "There's some very good equipment out there, you just have to decide what type of search you want to conduct, then go out and avail yourself to the best possible resources," Rick says.
"The research is important. The best tool is your mind."
It's tempting to get the adventure started right away, but the brothers stress studying first. Reading up on the history of a place and the parties involved is the best way to immerse yourself in a search. "The research is important," Marty says. "The best tool is your mind." Rick and Marty point out that a critical reading of history is essential — you never know who's trying to cover their tracks when it comes to hidden treasure. Studying the treasure-hunting techniques and search plans of those who looked before you are essential to ensuring you're not repeating their mistakes.
Every Type of Metal Detector
Whether you're a beachcomber or a professional treasure hunter, the metal detector is an essential tool. Over their search at Oak Island, the Laginas have used just about every type of metal detector made. "We've had all kinds of metal-detecting equipment, stuff designed to look deep, shallow, and medium depth," Marty says.
Rick and Marty hit a stroke of luck one day in the sticky Swamp of Oak Island. The Mine Lab 30/30 metal detector is designed to detect precious metals, so you're not wasting time digging up tin cans and old buttons. Rick and Marty knew they were onto something when their detector started firing off. The result was one of the most rewarding finds for the pair in the early days of their search: a Spanish 8 Maravedis coin dating back over 300 years.
By seeking metal at various depths with differing degrees of sensitivity, the Laginas were able to hone their search. But detecting doesn't always mean you'll find what you're looking for. "A gold coin buried about two feet is very hard to find," Marty says. "A gold coin buried a thousand feet deep is almost impossible to find."
The Heavy Machinery
When the metal detectors start going off, and all signs point to treasure — or at least a clue — there's no sure way to know what'll turned up except to dig. Treasure hunters have been digging up the island for over 200 years. In that time, countless tons of earth have been excavated and moved. While early treasure hunters did things more or less by hand, Rick and Marty have technology on their side. With everything from bulldozers to excavators, the brothers are able to efficiently get to the bottom of their search. A top-of-the-line excavator can move a whopping 5,000 cubic meters of dirt in a 10-hour shift.
Scanning the depths with High Resolution Sonar
After hard work, technology is the modern treasure hunter's best friend. Rick and Marty spare no expense when it comes to equipment, and they've brought in some of the best high-definition sonar equipment. These tools give Rick and Marty a high-definition rendering of the landscape, from the surface level down to depths of the ocean and shafts that dot the island.
The island is dotted with boreholes, long shafts that are dug into the ground for everything from water retrieval to mining. One shaft in particular, X-10, is believed to hold the key to solving the mystery of Oak Island. Rick and Marty brought in sonar experts Brian Abbott and Nick Burchill to map the chamber that's 235 feet deep into the shaft. What they found was one of the Lagina's biggest discoveries to date.
Using MS 1000 Scanning Sonar, the team discovered what appears to be a man-made chest along with two additional tunnels. Further scans using the advanced Variable Frequency feature — which increases the quality and quantity of data readings — revealed the possible presence of a human body.
The money Pit Special: Inclinometers
Oak Island is home to numerous shafts and boreholes, some of which researchers believe hold the key to the island's treasure. "We've brought in inclinometers for borehole studies," Rick says. Inclinometers measure the angle of a surface. "We were quite surprised that the holes had deviated so much," he says. Studying the deviation of the borehole could open up the possibilities of hidden chambers where the treasures may lie.
UNDERWATER Rovers and High Tech Diving Equipment
When the holes are excavated and the pathways to potential treasure and clues are opened up, it's time to actually get in there and take a look. Rick and Marty might be some of the most impassioned treasure hunters on the globe, but they're no expert divers. Instead they called on the world famous diver John Chatterton, to explore the depths of 10-X. Submerging to a depth of 235 feet, Chatterton uses what's called a Surface Supplied Trimix system to breathe. The blend of oxygen, helium, and nitrogen staves off nitrogen narcosis — a possible altering of consciousness (similar to the effects of drinking alcohol) that can occur on dives deeper than 100 feet.
When it's not safe or possible to get a human into a tight or incredibly deep space, the Laginas use state-of-the-art underwater remotely operated vehicles, or ROVs. These machines, similar to the robots that roam Mars, compile data and video footage of unreachable spaces. The VideoRay Pro 4 ROV used in 10-X not only shoots high definition video, it also features a sonar scanner and a remotely operated mechanical arm.
Rovers help determine if the hunt is on the right path with the least amount of risk and legwork. When a space is reachable and a first-person perspective is needed, the brothers call on highly skilled divers. These professionals are accustomed to tight spaces, poor visibility, and extreme cold.
A Skilled and Cooperative Team
The brothers also know that you can't hunt for treasure alone. They've hired a diverse team with wide-ranging knowledge in everything from history to engineering. "In the end having different points of view is very constructive," Marty says. It's the only way to solve a mystery this complicated.