Treasure hunt thwarted by Myrtle Beach City Council opposition

Two explorers hoping to dig for a treasure that they say could date back nearly 400 years and is believed to be buried in the sands of Myrtle Beach won’t get the chance to retrieve it.

Robert Thomason of Spruce Pine, N.C., and Wayne Gaither of North Myrtle Beach say that technology has helped them pinpoint what they believe to be emerald crystals and Spanish coins. Thomason said they believe the artifacts are scattered along the coast and came from an old Spanish galleon shipwrecked by a hurricane. But their treasure hunt hit a snag Tuesday when they requested permission to excavate the artifacts from Myrtle Beach City Council, which denied the request.

City Attorney Thomas Ellenburg told council members the city has a law against digging on the beach. The only exception to the ban, he said, is “recreational play associated with the digging and movement of public beach sand … as long as the sand is not removed from the public beach.”

Gaither argued their activities would fall under recreational play, “only we’re a little more professional. There are people on the beach everyday, they don’t have this technology but they run all over the beach and they dig something up whether it’s one foot or two feet (deep) and they’re having fun,” he said. “It’s recreational play.”

Thomason said they had no plans to harm the beach, they would dig in winter months and they would restore the sand once they retrieved the objects. And with his technology, he said, he could pinpoint the artifacts’ locations limiting the size and number of the dig sites.

But although Thomason and Gaither mentioned NASA science and a long-distance frequency scanner, Thomason says the technology he uses has been around a while.

He says he has successfully hunted for minerals for 15 years using divining rods (also known as dowsing rods) to pinpoint frequencies in the natural environment.

“Everything has its own frequency that it vibrates at in physics and all you have to do is have the matching frequency and the signal will lead you right straight to it. So we wouldn’t be randomly digging,” he told the council.

Long-distance frequency scanners, which can cost up to $20,000, employ the same method as the divining rods, he said, in the search for natural frequencies.

The technology is thousands of years old, according to the American Society of Dowsers, Inc.

City leaders say they were intrigued by the idea of using high-tech gadgets like the long-distance frequency scanner that Thomason told them about.

Councilman Randal Wallace liked the idea of recovering and preserving parts of history, but Councilman Mike Lowder said he was wary about opening the shores up to large excavations from more treasure hunters.

Councilman Wayne Gray said he felt uncomfortable allowing someone to dig for and profit from treasure that “belongs to the public.”

Gaither asked if the city would go 50/50 with them on their find.

“Whatever is there belongs to the public,” Gray echoed.

He advised Thomason to “go to the highest person in the state of South Carolina” to find a way to see his request approved. If Thomason could find a high-ranking state official to back his search and affirm that whatever is found is given to a state museum, Gray said he would feel more comfortable entertaining the request.

“I’d like to donate a great deal of it to the public, but I’d like some of it for all the effort also,” Thomason said.

He told the council they came to the city several months ago and were referred to the state.

“After we jumped through all of the hoops of 13 months and $3,500 worth of survey and so forth and a thousand-dollar permit with the state and all that, we got referred back here,” he said. “We’re back where we started over 13 months ago, with over $4,500 already spent.”

But Thomason said he and his partner in the endeavor wanted to do everything upfront and honorably with “full respect to the beach.”

“We’d like to salvage the artifacts while they’re still findable. Eventually somebody over the years is going to come in under the dark of night and do a lot of digging,” he said, which could harm the artifacts. “We don’t want that to happen to the artifacts.”

Thomason has a permit application pending with the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control.

“Gaither has gone through the state process and the local DHEC office will most likely issue a permit for what he proposes if the city will allow the activity on the beach,” Assistant City Manager Ron Andrews said in a Jan. 6 memo to City Manager John Pedersen.

Myrtle Beach City Council later denied the request in a meeting Tuesday afternoon.

Reach Weaver at 843-444-1722 or follow her on Twitter @TSNEmily.