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Who Is Laird Niven: The Curse Of Oak Island's Expert Archaeologist Explained

Over the years, "The Curse of Oak Island" has featured all sorts of experts who have played varyingly visible roles in the quest of partial island owners Marty and Rick Lagina to find the Oak Island treasures. One of them is archaeologist Laird Niven, who first becomes a recurring presence on the reality series during Season 4. Since then, Niven's role has increased in prominence to the point that he's almost guaranteed to show up on any given episode of the later seasons. But who, exactly, is he?

For a casual viewer, it may be hard to gauge Niven's expertise and just how prominent he is in his field, especially since "The Curse of Oak Island" and the adjacent "The Curse of Oak Island: Drilling Down" are his only screen credits. However, Niven has been conducting his business for quite a while in Nova Scotia's archaeological circles.

Starting in 1993, he led a series of archaeological surveys in Birchtown — an area that was, in the aftermath of the American Revolution, the world's largest non-African community of free Black people. He worked on the Birchtown digs for nearly a decade, often working in collaboration with the Nova Scotia Museum, unearthing a great many constructions and artifacts from the area's history. His other work includes early-2010s digs in Halifax, where his team again discovered remnants of old buildings.

Niven has kept busy on Oak Island, whether the cameras are on him or not

Niven's history explains why he's often less likely to lose it over every little discovery than some of the other team members — he's used to slow, methodical archaeological work, where world-shattering discoveries are unlikely to turn up on a weekly basis. Knowing his long experience surveying Birchtown's Black loyalist settlement also helps to understand why he's temporarily a less prominent on-screen presence when "The Curse of Oak Island" brings in other archaeologists. He simply uses that time to focus on the line of investigation that involves surveying the estate of wealthy former slave Samuel Ball, which may not be quite as exciting for filming purposes but allows some breathing space and yields more artifacts than those recounted on the show.

Even when actual notable discoveries happen on the series, it's not necessarily what you'd call Indiana Jones archaeology. When Niven discovers remnants of First Nations pottery on the island in Season 9, Nova Scotia's Department of Communities, Culture and Heritage and the Acadia First Nation council soon force the archeologists to leave Oak Island and take over. Only Niven remains. 

After this incident, Niven has become more of an advisor than an active archaeologist — which, based on the number of his appearances after the incident, has freed up time from his surveying schedule and led to an increased screen presence. Whether he works away from the cameras or in front of them, Niven has carved out a crucial role on the team that's tirelessly trying to find out the truth about Oak Island.