By John Wonnacott and Les MacPhie, May 2016
The 1967 Becker Program
“Who or what the heck is a Becker?”, you are probably asking. Well it’s the name of a drilling company and also a special type of drilling device named after the man who invented the equipment and started the company. In 1967 David Tobias and Dan Blankenship hired the Becker company to investigate the Money Pit area and with 40 drill holes they discovered compelling evidence of man-made workings far deeper than any Searcher had ever explored. What the Becker program found is the most intriguing set of archeological discoveries ever made at Oak Island.
Part 1 of this article will explain the Becker drilling program in the area of the Money Pit, and will present the factual details of what was found. Part 2, which will be published later, will present the interpretation of these findings. The reader will soon see that drill holes do not usually go in a straight line, and for that reason, understanding the configuration of underground objects or constructions encountered in the Becker holes is not nearly as easy as one would first think.
Before anyone can properly assess and interpret those archeological findings, it is important to understand the principal advantage and a critical weakness of the Becker drill. The way the drill works, a pile-driving hammer pounds the drill pipe into the ground, with a drill bit attached to the bottom of the drill pipe. The drill pipe is actually double walled pipe and compressed air is forced down the outer annulus. The compressed air passes by an opening in the drill bit, and drill cuttings are blown back to the surface, travelling inside the inner pipe. The compressed air travels at very high speed, so drill cuttings reach the surface before the drill bit has advanced more than a few inches. This is a tremendous advantage when drilling in search of artifacts, because the driller can know precisely at what depth any sample came from. Here is an illustration to show how the Becker drill works followed by a photograph of the Becker drill in operation at Oak Island:
Tobias and Blankenship knew all about the advantages of the Becker drill but they did not appreciate a problem that eventually plagued the work and confounded efforts to interpret the discoveries they made. No drill rig can make a perfectly straight hole. That’s because no soil or rock is perfectly homogeneous, so when one side of a drill bit face hits soil or rock of a greater hardness, the path of the drill bit wanders off vertical. When drilling in soil that has hard boulders, the drill bit is often deflected from its intended path, and a significant amount of “lateral drift” or deviation occurs. Around the Money Pit, the upper soil contains a lot of hard boulders, and despite the fact that the Becker drill string used double-wall pipe, which is pretty stiff and you’d think resistant to deflection, the drill holes deviated from their planned route. We’re not talking about a few inches of deviation here either – in a different drilling program some years later, where borehole deviation was measured, one hole drilled to a similar depth as the Becker holes deviated by 17 feet!
The problem with drill-hole deviation is that the driller does not know how much any particular hole deviates, and he/she does not know in which direction the drill bit has wandered off course. Based on our best estimate, a lateral drift of about 10 feet at 200 feet depth is considered to represent the upper range of values for most of the Becker holes. However, the lateral drift could readily exceed 10 feet for some holes. So if the maximum deviation is 10 feet, then the drill bit can end up anywhere within a 20 foot diameter circle at a depth of 200 feet. Surprisingly though, even if a 200 foot deep hole deviates by as much as 10 feet, the true depth that the bit achieves will be almost 200 feet (if you do the trigonometry, you’ll see such a hole reaches a true depth of about 199.7 feet!). Here is a schematic illustration showing the possible range of locations at a depth of 200 feet for holes with a lateral drift of 10 feet or less. Also shown on the illustration is a simplified geological profile of subsurface conditions in the area of the Money Pit.
Of course in 1967 there were down-hole tools designed to measure the orientation and amount of borehole deviation, but Tobias and Blankenship did not have that equipment on site during their Becker program. They did not realize at the time that they would need it. Since the Becker drilling technique does not routinely leave any drill casing in a hole after the drilling is completed, when the drill string is extracted, the hole soon collapses and it becomes impossible to measure deviation afterwards.
The Becker program of 1967 produced 40 boreholes in the area of the Money Pit. We know quite accurately where the holes were started or “collared”, we know how deep they were drilled, we know whether the holes were started in a vertical or inclined orientation and we know what archeological artifacts were found. But we don’t really know, in a lateral sense, where the samples were collected from. If we assume that every hole was drilled in a straight line, we can make some “interpretation” of the findings, but we must keep in mind that probably none of the Becker holes ended up where they were intended to go. Possible combinations and permutations of drilling results will be discussed in Part 2 of this article.
Tobias and Blankenship were hoping to find treasure chests that were assumed to be sitting at a depth of 100 feet based on Searchers’ work in 1849 or close to bedrock based on Searchers’ work in 1897. Bedrock was expected at about 150 to 160 feet and in 1967 everyone thought the Money Pit ended at bedrock. “So what did the Becker drilling actually discover?” you ask. Well at first, nothing remarkable. Dan Blankenship was supervising the work in the field, and the first borehole (B1) was placed about 15 feet west of the Hedden Shaft. The hole hit bedrock at 145 feet without encountering anything very interesting. The next 9 holes (B2 to B10) were located rather randomly, west and south of the Hedden Shaft, as shown on the following figure which also includes the later Becker holes in the area of the Money Pit:
Each of the first 10 holes ran into bedrock somewhere between 145 and 156 feet. But then Borehole 11 went surprisingly deeper, to a full depth of 200 feet before hitting bedrock! Along the way the hole encountered uniform clay – likely puddled clay (1) (based on findings from later Becker holes) – from 184 to 200 feet. Besides the clay, two “oak buds” (2) were found embedded in a clay sample recovered from a depth of 196 feet. Dan Blankenship described the consistency of the clay as “coming out like toothpaste”.
Such a simple discovery, but what a profound meaning it had! The depth of 196 feet was greater than any known Searcher had every explored at the Money Pit. Glacial deposits do not contain oak or maple tree seeds, so the “oak buds” could only have arrived in the clay well after the glacial period, meaning that the oak buds were relatively recent, in geologic time. To have relatively recent, organic material embedded in sixteen feet of uniform clay could only mean that the clay, which itself was enclosed in a glacial soil deposit, had been placed there by human hands. A somewhat similar condition of recent (3) material at depth was encountered in 1970.
Borehole 12 was put down in an old shaft located well south of the Money Pit area. This hole hit large boulders and was abandoned at a depth of 136 feet. Borehole 13 was located 4 feet north of B11 and again the hole went very deep before it struck anhydrite bedrock at 200 feet. Clay was encountered from 184 to 200 feet and careful examination of the clay found that it contained coarser pebble sizes at regular intervals of about 18 inches. This was a strong indication that it was a “puddled clay” deposit. Borehole 14 found clay from 184 to 200 feet. Boreholes 15 and 16 had drilling problems and Borehole 15A was put down four feet east of Borehole 15. Then Borehole 17 found more clay – likely puddled clay – from 176 to 198 feet.
Boreholes 18, 19 and 20 were not drilled anywhere close to the Money Pit. Borehole 21 was inclined to the northeast, in an attempt to get below the bottom of the Hedden Shaft. At 176 feet depth, a piece of slightly crumpled thin brass (4) was recovered.
At first sight, the brass had a bright shiny appearance but it quickly turned a dark color (probably due to oxidation upon exposure to the air). It appeared as if the brass had been torn from a larger piece of brass in the ground. A clay layer – likely puddled clay- was encountered from 184 to 192 feet. Stagnant water and evidence of a possible cavity were found from 200 to 206 feet.
It was at about this point in the drilling program that David Tobias made an intuitive decision. Up until that time, the general instruction to drillers was to stop the Becker holes once sound bedrock was found. However after a number of the early holes had continued to more than 200 feet before bedrock was hit, David Tobias decided to have the drill keep going to at least 200 feet in every new hole, even if bedrock was found at a shallower depth. At first this decision did not pay off – the casing broke off in Borehole 22 and the hole was abandoned before anything interesting was found. Borehole 23 found disturbed ground to 160 feet and then anhydrite bedrock until the hole was terminated at 205 feet.
Borehole 24 changed everything for the Oak Island Searchers. The hole was advanced to rock surface at a depth of 160 feet and the hole was advanced through rock from 160 feet to 192 feet with a tricone bit by rotary drilling with air circulation. After penetrating 32 feet of continuous rock, a sequence of 4 inches of wood, 12 inches of clay, 4 inches of wood and then a 6 foot cavity was found! Since the wall of the hole was in continuous rock from the bottom of the Becker casing to 192 feet, it was concluded that the first wood came from 192 feet depth. Even though the tricone bit was used in this section of the hole, the depth is considered to be representative since air circulation was used to advance the bit. A sample of the wood from 192 feet was radio-carbon dated to 1575, plus or minus 85 years (5). The tricone bit dropped through the cavity under the weight o the rods. The hole was then continued below the bottom of the 6 foot cavity, through bedrock from a depth of 199 feet to a final depth of 207 feet.
The next Borehole, B25, produced results as dramatic as B24. This hole, located 17 feet northwest of B24, was advanced to rock surface at a depth of 146 feet and then the hole was continued to 191 feet using the tricone bit. At 191 feet, after penetrating 45 feet of continuous rock, a 7 foot high cavity was found, that extended to 198 feet! Again the tricone bit dropped through the cavity under the weight of the rods. A hard obstruction encountered at the base of the cavity could not be penetrated by the tricone bit, so a diamond bit was put on, and a ½ inch thickness was eventually penetrated after 30 minutes of drilling – while the distinctive sound of a diamond bit on metal (6) was constantly being heard. The conclusion drawn was that the floor of the 7 foot high cavity was covered by a ½ inch iron plate.
Holes 26 to 32 were uneventful and then Borehole 33 was drilled, located 7 feet south of B24. Bedrock was struck at 152 feet and the hole was advanced using a tricone bit. After penetrating 32 feet of continuous rock, 2 feet of soft rocky drilling were encountered, followed by 2 feet of hard drilling and then 2 more feet of soft drilling. Clay was found from 190 to 192 feet and then a layer of wood was hit. The hole then advanced through a partial cavity containing soil and fragments of what appeared to be crude lime mortar. Rock was encountered again at 198 feet.
Borehole 34 found bedrock at 156 feet and this was drilled with the tricone bit to a depth of 205 feet without finding anything remarkable.
Borehole 35 was located about 6 feet west of B24. The hole was advanced to rock surface at 160 feet and then continued using the tricone bit to a depth of 181 feet. At that depth, 6 to 8 inches of wood was encountered, followed by a partial cavity from 181 to 192 feet where charcoal and clinker were recovered. An attempt was made to advance the Becker casing to the partial cavity, including down-hole blasting, but this was unsuccessful and the hole was terminated. Boreholes 36 to 39 did not discover anything of great interest; however Borehole 40 encountered rock at 167 feet and continuous clay from 175 to 195 feet with bedrock again at 201 feet. Boreholes 41 to 49 were either drilled somewhere further away from the Money Pit, or nothing of great interest was found.
Well that ended the Becker program around the Money Pit. Out of 49 holes attempted, 6 holes were abandoned because of drilling problems and 9 were drilled at other places away from the Money Pit. A total of 10 holes found something of archeological interest as summarized below in Table 1:
Table 1: Summary of Main Archaeological Features Encountered in Becker Holes
Tobias and Blankenship found 400 year old wood, cavities and an iron plate all under what looked like solid bedrock! What does it all really mean? The authors will discuss the interpretation of these fascinating discoveries in Part 2.
Blankenship, Dan, 1967. Three separate typewritten documents describing the results of the Becker drilling program (these documents are included in MacPhie, 2008):
Ritchie, J.C., 1970. Report on Palynological Analyses of Four (4) Samples from the Oak Island Exploration. Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, May 1970.
Stelco (The Steel Company of Canada Limited), Hamilton, Ontario, 1970. Letter Report, including testing of brass sample, to
The Oak Island Exploration by Allen B. Dove, Senior Development Metallurgist, August 18, 1970.
MacPhie, Les, 2008. The Money Pit, Oak Island, Nova Scotia, Summary of Geotechnical and Archaeological Conditions and the 1967 Becker Drilling Results. Technical Report, January 2008.
Harris, Graham and MacPhie, Les, 2013. Oak Island and Its Lost Treasure, Third Edition. Formac Publishing Company Limited, Halifax, Nova Scotia, 2013.
Thanks to Mark Sykes for drafting the third and fourth illustrations.
From The Blockhouse
is published by Blockhouse Investigations and oakislandcompendium.ca
in Nova Scotia, Canada
Editors and Chief Correspondents
Kelly W. Hancock, CD
John Wonnacott, P. Eng.
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