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12/31/2008
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Treasure Hunter Claims Google Maps Treasure Find

A 39-year-old musician and filmmaker from Los Angeles has been fighting representatives of an estate in Refugio County, Texas, for the right to excavate.

A treasure hunter testified in a Texas courtroom Tuesday that he used Google Maps to locate a shipwreck.

Houston Chronicle writer Mary Flood reported that Nathan Smith, a 39-year-old musician and filmmaker from Los Angeles, has been fighting representatives of an estate in Refugio County, Texas, for the right to excavate his claimed find.

Smith seeks to prove that the wreck lies in navigable waters rather than on privately owned land.

The case, Nathan Smith v. The Abandoned Vessel, was filed in March 2007. The significant documents, including the initial complaint, are under seal to hide the location of the supposed shipwreck.

In the publicly accessible depositions, much of the questioning has to do with the area in and around Melon Creek and Melon Lake, near the Mission River.

On Monday, according to the Houston Chronicle, Smith described the circumstances in 1822 by which the ship allegedly ran aground and sank in the mud near the Mission River while trying to avoid a hurricane. He claimed that half the crew died during the voyage and the remaining crew was killed by a local cannibal tribe.

Describing a seemingly implausible sequence of events, Smith testified that Comanche Indians found the ship's gold and buried some of it after encountering the cannibals and fleeing, the Chronicle reported.

The plaintiff's exhibit list mentions "Google Aerial photographs taken in 2007." Google has traditionally licensed its satellite imagery from companies like DigitalGlobe, GeoEye, and TerraMetrics.

The court exhibit list also includes Lost Treasures Of American History by W.C. Jameson. Presumably, the book has some relevance to the claimed shipwreck. The exhibit list also mentions a 1958 family manuscript, Nicholas Fagan: Texas Patriot, by Mrs. Tom O'Connor Sr.

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