More than five centuries after Christopher Columbusâ€™s flagship, the Santa Maria, was wrecked in the Caribbean, archaeological investigators think they may have discovered the vesselâ€™s long-lost remains â€“ lying at the bottom of the sea off the north coast of Haiti. Itâ€™s likely to be one of the worldâ€™s most important underwater archaeological discoveries.
â€œAll the geographical, underwater topography and archaeological evidence strongly suggests that this wreck is Columbusâ€™ famous flagship, the Santa Maria,â€ said the leader of a recent reconnaissance expedition to the site, one of Americaâ€™s top underwater archaeological investigators, Barry Clifford.
â€œThe Haitian government has been extremely helpful â€“ and we now need to continue working with them to carry out a detailed archaeological excavation of the wreck,â€ he said.
So far, Mr Cliffordâ€™s team has carried out purely non-invasive survey work at the site â€“ measuring and photographing it.
Tentatively identifying the wreck as the Santa Maria has been made possible by quite separate discoveries made by other archaeologists in 2003 suggesting the probable location of Columbusâ€™ fort relatively nearby. Armed with this new information about the location of the fort, Clifford was able to use data in Christopher Columbusâ€™ diary to work out where the wreck should be.
[The] team found and photographed the wreck 10 years ago, but did not realize what it was until recently, the paper reported.
The Santa Maria ran into a reef off the coast of Haiti with Columbus aboard, forcing him to build a small settlement for his crew — the first European settlement in the Americas since the Vikings’ 11th century village in Newfoundland.
He named it La Navidad — Christmas — and then returned to Spain on the Nina, leaving behind 39 crew members unable to fit on the ship.
The third ship, the Pinta, was separated from the other two at the time.
One year later, Columbus returned with 17 ships and some 1,200 men, but the settlement had been burned and no one remained. (This Smithsonian article has more on La Navidad.)
The 2003 discovery of the possible ruins of La Navidad led Clifford to the current location off the coast, where he re-examined the wreck that had been found by his team. He says the size and location in relation to the ruined fort match what he’d expect from the Santa Maria.
â€œI am confident that a full excavation of the wreck will yield the first ever detailed marine archaeological evidence of Columbusâ€™ discovery of America,” Clifford was quoted as saying.