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Rose-headed nail from The Curse of Oak Island: What could its significance be?

The rose-headed nail on The Curse of Oak Island
The rose-headed nail found on The Curse of Oak Island Season 5 premiere

This week on The Curse of Oak Island the team discovered a rose-headed nail in the spoils dug up last season from the GAL-1 shaft — and it could prove very significant.

Metal-detecting expert Gary Drayton finds the nail with his device and excitement rises as the team examine its shape and discuss just what it could be.

Drayton identifies it as a rose-headed nail, named after the shape formed when the head of the nail is created with a hammer. After taking it into the War Room, it’s debated if the nail could be a railroad spike but soon decide it lacks the off-set head and so must be a nail.

Drayton seems pretty sure it is pre-1870 and possibly a lot older, adding “this could dip into the 1600s.” Holding the nail, Marty says: “If we could verify that, I’m holding a piece of the original Money Pit.”

When trying to age sites or finds, archeologists typically use pottery as a key identifier. Pottery tends to change both in design and manufacture over time and these trends tend to be pretty reliable. Pottery is also used by just about everyone and regularly breaks, so it tends to be present in large amount wherever humans have been.

However, it is not the only method of dating digs and metalwork can also prove useful when trying to work out the age of finds. Most people would know that a handmade nail is likely to be older than a modern machine manufactured one, but what about reproductions and is there variation in the handmade ones over time?

Nails have been used by humans since the start of the Bronze Age, around 4,000 years ago in 1800 BC. From that time right up until the 19th century, nearly all the nails were made by hand on a forge, with both the body of the nail, known as the shank, and head being irregular due to this manufacturing process.

Diagram showing nail shanks cross section by date, the nail found on The Curse of Oak Island looks to be square shanked
Nails can roughly be dated by the shape of the shank or body in cross section. Credit: Monsters and Critics

In the 1790s a machine was invented that could cut the shank of the nail and this meant only the head had to be finished by hand, rapidly speeding the manufacturing time. These nails were known as cold nails as no forge was used and they were in use for around 100 years.

By the 1890s, developments in technology meant nails could be created by machine in their entirety and the modern nail we still use today was born.

This means that the rose-headed nail found by the team would have to either be a modern reproduction or date back at least to around the 1890s. Once it is cleaned up any modern reproduction nail would show a mould line, since they are nearly all made this way. Even when buffed off the line is usually visible and moulded nails tend to have a sort gritty finish to them.

Metal fragment found on Oak Island
A metal fragment found last season that could be a corner plate of some sort

So if the nail found by The Curse of Oak Island team is pre-1800 or even older, it could tie in with the “impenetrable object” they hit last year when drilling the GAL-1 shaft. It might also be related to the metal plate fragments and gold-plated 18th century button that were found — and potentially be part of a vault or chest of some sort.

This is not the first nail or spike to be found by the team, with an iron barrote nail turning up last season which was dated back to the late 16th century and were often used in the decks of Spanish galleons. It’s possible that this latest find could be part of a boat too.

What do you think of the latest find? Let us know in the comments section below or on our Facebook page.

The Curse of Oak Island airs Tuesdays at 9/8c on History.

James has worked for Monsters and Critics since it started back in 2003. He oversees the business and technical side of things. You can contact... read more
James Wray

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