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The Curse of Oak Island row over archaeologist has been bubbling since 2014

Marty Lagina and the Oak Island Treasure Act
Marty Lagina explains developments on the show and, inset, the Oak Island Treasure Act


This week’s episode of The Curse of Oak Island sees Rick and Marty Lagina and the team agree to bring in archaeologist Laird Niven to oversee future digs on the island.

But the letter that the team receive from Nova Scotia’s department of Communities, Culture and Heritage is not the first time there have been calls for them to have a full-time archaeologist involved in their treasure hunting exploits.

Back in 2014, local MLA (Member of the Legislative Assembly) Denise Paterson-Rafuse said legislation to safeguard artifacts on the island wasn’t strong enough and the team should have an archaeologist on the site full-time.

Minister of communities, culture and heritage Tony Ince wrote a letter to Rick Lagina and Craig Tester at the time advising them to hire an archaeologist to monitor their activities.

Paterson-Rafuse then later introduced a bill to amend the Oak Island Treasure Act, which governs treasure hunting on the island, as well as the Nova Scotian Special Places Protection Act, which the team must also abide by. She told the Nova Scotia legislature: “The island’s heritage objects could be damaged during the search for treasure if changes aren’t made.” However, the bill never passed into law.

The Curse of Oak Island team reveal on this week’s episode how their hesitance at having an archaeologist oversee everything they do is due to the red-tape that it would bring.

Rick said in 2014 that they had always treated the guidelines in the Oak Island Treasure Act with “honour and integrity”, and it appears from the latest episode that a compromise was reached after the letter from the department of Communities, Culture and Heritage was received.

The letter on The Curse of Oak Island
The letter received by the team on The Curse of Oak Island

From what is said in the episode, the compromise will see the archaeologist — in this case Laird Niven — having to apply for a one-time permit rather than a new one for every dig, and metal-detecting being allowed take place without him as long as no digging happens while he is not there.

Everything the team does was already covered by the Oak Island Treasure Act, which was brought in back in 2010 after the old Treasure Trove Act — which Marty Lagina has previously described in an interview as a “thorny mess” — was abolished.

The new act — which you can read in full here — tells how anyone who wants to hunt for treasure on Oak Island must apply for a licence, and adds in Section 8:

When any person, whether or not the holder of a licence issued under this Act, discovers or recovers any treasure on Oak Island, that person shall immediately make a report in writing, verified upon oath, to the Minister setting out full particulars of

(a) the treasure discovered or recovered;
(b) the location of the discovery; and
(c) the place at which the treasure may be inspected by the Minister or by some person on the Minister’s behalf.

Marty has previously told how if the team find any treasure on the island then they are allowed to split it 90-10 — with the team getting 90 per cent of the value and Canada getting 10 per cent, except if what is found is classed as an “artifact”.

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

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