Five centuries have passed since the flagship of Christopher Columbus, the Santa Maria, sunk. Now archaeological divers believe they have found the ship’s last resting place, off the north coast of Haiti.
Barry Clifford is the lead investigator in the search for the missing vessel. He is also a top underwater archaeological investigator. Clifford has reportedly stated that all the possible evidence they could gather shows that the wreck they have found near Haiti, is the Santa Maria. Researchers have looked at a number of factors including archaeological information and geography both above and below the waves.
Clifford located the wreck using information that came to light in 2003 suggesting the location of the fort used by Columbus. He then found the wreck using co-ordinates written up in a personal diary owned by the explorer.
Clifford has investigated the wreck over the last decade. When it was found initially, it was not linked to Christopher Columbus, but with subsequent trips and new information Clifford is confident that he has found the final resting place of the Santa Maria. Clifford cites photographs taken of the flagship in 2003 along with recent reconnaissance missions that have allowed for a tentative identification.
The team under Mr Clifford has been using dives, side-scan sonar equipment and marine magnetometers in an area close to Haiti for several years in order to pin down the location of the ship. They have also examined local currents to predict where the wreck would have been deposited. The ship carries with it a kind of footprint as seen through its type of ballast. This has also found to be consistent with information known about the Santa Maria.
Although the team has been working closely with the Haitian government, certain elements which may have been key points in its identification have been stolen by illegal raiders. This includes the cannons which would have given the team more evidence for their theory. The area is said to be under the protection of the local government, who are trying their best to preserve it in its entirety.
Clifford and his team hope to be able to completely excavate the ship. They believe in doing so, they may just find archaeological marine evidence of Columbus’ discovery of America. They wish to lift the vessel from the sea floor in order to display it fully preserved in a Haitian museum.
The Santa Maria dates from sometime in the second half of the 15th century. It was hired by Christopher Columbus in 1492, when he sailed from the Southern end of Spain looking for a new western route to Asia. Following close to 40 days at sea, Columbus made it to the Bahamas. After ten weeks in the area, the flagship floated off towards the reef near by Haiti and had to be abandoned. Columbus then began construction on his fort close to a native village on the island. After a week, he left his men to finish the job and took the remaining two ships back to Spain in order to report what he thought was a new route to the east to the King and Queen of Spain.
Barry Clifford has called the Santa Maria, the vessel that altered “the course of human history.” He is eager to begin excavations on the flagship to uncover its history and find out if it is in fact the ship in which Christopher Columbus found America. He has reportedly stated that history cannot be trusted. The ship could unearth a wholly different spin on the past. What secrets might an excavation bring?
By Sara Watson