Christopher Columbus's Flagship, The Santa Maria, Has Been Found

In what's being heralded as one of the most significant underwater discoveries in history, the wreck of Christopher Columbus's flagship, the Santa Maria, has been discovered lying at the bottom of the sea off the north coast of Haiti.

"All the geographical, underwater topography and archaeological evidence strongly suggests that this wreck is Columbus' famous flagship, the Santa Maria," said lead archaeological investigator Barry Clifford.

This news is being reported as an exclusive by the UK's Independent.

To date, Clifford and his team have carried out non-invasive surveys of the supposed wreck, but the evidence gathered so far has been substantial. It's in the right location as described by Columbus in his diary as it relates to his fort. The ship sank off the northern coast of Haiti in 1492 shortly after Columbus's discovery of the New World. It was one of three ships to make the journey.

A Re-Examination Of Old Data

The identification was made possible by virtue of separate discoveries made by archaeologists in 2003, suggesting the likely location of Columbus's fort, which was built nearby. This information was used to work out where the wreck should be.

The same team of archaeologists investigated the wreck over a decade ago, but they didn't know what they were looking at. The re-examination involved another look at the 2003 photographs, along with new reconnaissance dives at the site.

Historically Consistent

Indeed, all the evidence points to the wreck being the Santa Maria. The site is an exact match in terms of what we know about the underwater topography, while the local currents are consistent with what's known about the way the ship drifted onto a reef. What's more, the remains of the wreck, a pile of the ship's ballast, is consistent with a vessel the size of the Santa Maria.

Christopher Columbus's Flagship, The Santa Maria, Has Been Found

The remains of the Santa Maria (Brandon Clifford via The Independent).

Back in 1492, Columbus hired the ship and sailed in it from southern Spain's Atlantic coast in search of a new western route to Asia. Along with La Pinta and La Nina, Columbus reached the Bahamas after a 37-day journey.

Christopher Columbus's Flagship, The Santa Maria, Has Been Found

Image: 1492: Conquest of Paradise.

But 10 weeks later, with Columbus on board, the Santa Maria had to be abandoned after it drifted onto a reef during the night. Columbus began building a fort in a native village nearby. A week later, leaving many of his men behind, he used the remaining two vessels to sail back to Spain to report his discovery to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain.

Future Excavation

Another tantalizing clue was found in the 2003 photographs: a probable early cannon of exactly the type known to have been on board the vessel. But when the team returned to the site last month, many of the objects observed in the photographs had been looted by illicit raiders — including the cannon.

Christopher Columbus's Flagship, The Santa Maria, Has Been Found

A model of the Santa Maria (Daderot).

The researchers have informed the Haitian government of their discovery, along with their intentions to see that the site is fully protected and preserved.

"I am confident that a full excavation of the wreck will yield the first ever detailed marine archaeological evidence of Columbus' discovery of America," notes Clifford in the Independent. "Ideally, if excavations go well and depending on the state of preservation of any buried timber, it may ultimately be possible to lift any surviving remains of the vessel, fully conserve them and then put them on permanent public exhibition in a museum in Haiti," adding that, "I believe that, treated in this way, the wreck has the potential to play a major role in helping to further develop Haiti's tourism industry in the future."

The investigation is being supported by the History Channel, which has secured the exclusive rights to produce a major television program on the subject.

Read the entire article at The Independent: "Exclusive: Found after 500 years, the wreck of Christopher Columbus's flagship the Santa Maria."

Top image: Alamy.

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