Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492. He discovered America in three ships that the explorer commanded–the Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria. The world’s largest ever search for the explorer’s long-lost flagship, the Santa Maria, is about to be launched by the United Nations’ cultural and scientific organisation, Unesco. The expedition has been triggered by the underwater exploration work carried out off the coast of Haiti by American explorer Barry Clifford, who announced in May 2014 that he had discovered what might be Columbus’ long-lost flagship vessel. However, upon examination of the wreckage, Unesco has concluded that it is not in fact the Santa Maria, but that the real final resting place of Columbus’ flagship could be somewhere nearby.
Unesco, which is a Paris-based organization, has outlined plans to look for the Santa Maria in various locations, some of which are on land and others near the seabed. However, Unesco’s outright rejection of Clifford’s site, and some of the organization’s proposed alternatives, are likely to prove controversial. Moreover, an official report issued by Unesco on October 9 largely ignored more than a decade of photographic evidence that could be Columbus-era cannon on the wreckage site discovered by Clifford.
Unfortunately, the artifacts have been looted from the site since the photographs were taken. However, some of the world’s top experts in early ordnance, who have looked at the photos, believe that they are either 15th or 16th century weapons called lombards. Since the cannon is no longer verifiable, Unesco contends that the Haiti wreckage site is not that of Christopher Columbus’ Santa Maria.
However, there are a number of other discrepancies contained within the report, such as crucial evidence ignored from an expedition which almost certainly visited the wreckage site in 1960. It also admitted that no tests, which could have revealed the geographical origin of the vessel, have been carried out on the ballast from the wreck. Moreover, no detailed analysis has been carried out on the bronze objects found at the wreckage site, tests which might have revealed the objects’ ages via carbon dating techniques. Furthermore, the report does not address in any detail the case for there potentially being two shipwrecks on the site–one of which being Columbus’ Santa Maria, as well as the possibility of another wreckage either pre or post-dating Columbus’ journey.
As Unesco contends the Haiti wreckage site discovered by Clifford is not that of Christopher Columbus’ Santa Maria, the organization has also moved towards the belief that the Santa Maria could be buried under sediments on what used to be seabed and is now coastal marshland. The supposed evidence that Unesco has used to reject Clifford’s wreckage site as the Santa Maria, include unique construction fasteners that have not been found among other wrecks from the same era, as well as edited versions of text from Columbus’ diary. These scant and inconclusive objections have many experts questioning the organization’s conclusions regarding the wreckage site. Now that a massive expedition is about to be launched by Unesco to search for Columbus’ long-lost Santa Maria, the initiative has could potentially confirm or debunk the underwater exploration work carried out off the coast of Haiti by Clifford, who announced in May 2014 that he had discovered what might be Columbus’ long-lost flagship vessel.
By Leigh Haugh