Nova Scotia

New research sheds light on the mysterious walls of Bayers Lake

Some have speculated that the stone walls are connected to the Knights Templar or Oak Island. But new research suggests they have a somewhat more humble origin.

Researcher explored theories of the curious site ranging from military forts to domestic use

Jonathan Fowler conducts a soil chemistry survey with a portable X-ray fluorescence analyzer. (John Bignell/Terry Deveau)

The so-called Bayers Lake mystery walls have inspired grand and fanciful theories about their origins over the years.

Researchers and archeologists have puzzled over the five-sided stone structure and 120-metre-long wall tucked in the woods between a busy Halifax highway and a maze of big-box stores.

Some writers have suggested links to the Knights Templar and Oak Island and speculated that the structures could be pre-Columbian, or even date back thousands of years before the Viking era.

But new research suggests the walls could have a somewhat more humble origin: They may have been used to shelter sheep.

That's the theory of Jonathan Fowler, an associate professor in the anthropology department at Saint Mary's University and the former president of the Nova Scotia Archaeology Society. Fowler studied the site in 2017 with the help of $5,475 from the Halifax Regional Municipality and $2,000 from SMU.

"They are now beginning to look less like fabrications of wonder and mystery and more like the work of ordinary labouring people," Fowler wrote in his report, obtained by CBC News under the freedom-of-information law. "We should value their stories more than fanciful speculation about foreign princes and buried treasures."

Similar structures in U.K.

Fowler used an X-ray fluorescence analyzer to look for traces of human activity in the soil, particularly phosphorus, which can indicate the presence of human or animal urine or feces, bone, meat, fish or plants.

While the tool did not find elevated levels of phosphorus, Fowler said he still favours the animal husbandry explanation. A sheep pen might be expected to produce higher levels of phosphorus, but the levels at the site could be low simply because it wasn't used for long or for many sheep, Fowler said.

He said the structure "strongly resembles" similar enclosures in the United Kingdom used to isolate small numbers of sheep for examination or treatment. The wall, he adds, could have been used to help herd the sheep toward the pen, as is the case at similar Scottish sites.

A view of the entrance to the five-sided structure in the woods behind the Bayers Lake Business Park. (Jonathan Fowler)

Other researchers have found documents showing the area was logged in the 1760s, and Fowler notes that could have produced some good grazing land for the farms along Dutch Village Road.

The sheep hypothesis would explain why there's no paper trail related to the site, he said. While some researchers have theorized that the wall and five-sided structure were used as part of a military exercise or even a sort of fortification, Fowler points out no records have been found showing the site was ordered or paid for by the government.

The military theory also falters in Fowler's view because the style of the walls isn't in keeping with other types of defences built in early colonial Nova Scotia.

Fowler pokes holes in the theory that the five-sided structure was once a house, saying there's no evidence of a hearth and no artifacts like windowpane glass or other domestic debris.

Mystery walls vs. BdCv-9

Although Fowler may have pinpointed the function of the walls, he's still not sure when they were built.

"There's no easy way of getting at that answer," he said, especially as previous digs have turned up only modern debris.

At the request of the provincial archeological regulator, Fowler's report refers to the site not by the moniker "mystery walls," as they've come to be known since they were found around 1990, but by the decidedly less alluring name BdCv-9, which refers to the site's position on an archeological research map. 

While the walls may now be a little less tantalizing to the public imagination, Fowler said there's still plenty of mystery.

"I still have questions about what this site was, how old it is, who built it," he said. "In terms of solving it, no, I don't think we've got a conclusive answer or set of answers just yet."

Read more articles at CBC Nova Scotia


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