Santa Maria: has Christopher Columbus's ship been found?

Underwater archaeology

Wreck found off coast of Haiti believed to be Santa Maria, which took Columbus across Atlantic 500 years ago

LAST UPDATED AT 12:28 ON Tue 13 May 2014

ARCHAEOLOGISTS are "confident" that they have discovered the wreck of Santa Maria, the ship in which Christopher Columbus sailed across the Atlantic Ocean 500 years ago on his voyage to America.

Columbus hired the Santa Maria in 1492 and sailed it from Spain's southern Atlantic coast via the Canary Islands in search of a new western route to Asia. After 37 days, he reached the Bahamas, but over ten weeks later the Santa Maria drifted onto a reef off the northern coast of Haiti and had to be abandoned.

Remains of a vessel were found at the bottom of the sea off the north coast of Haiti more than a decade ago, but its identity was unknown at the time.

Barry Clifford, one of America's top underwater archaeological investigators, has since used data from Columbus's diary and discoveries from other archaeologists to work out where the Santa Maria should have ended up.

"All the geographical, underwater topography and archaeological evidence strongly suggests that this wreck is Columbus's famous flagship, the Santa Maria," he told The Independent. The newspaper says the discovery is likely to be "one of the world's most important underwater archaeological discoveries".

Clifford added: "I am confident that a full excavation of the wreck will yield the first ever detailed marine archaeological evidence of Columbus's discovery of America."

The footprint of the wreck is exactly what one would expect from a vessel the size of the Santa Maria and photos of the wreck from 2003 provide evidence consistent with the Columbus era. The photos showed a probable cannon of exactly the type known to have been on-board the Santa Maria, but all the key visible diagnostic objects including the cannon have since been looted.

So far the team has only measured and taken photographs of the wreck, but with the help of the Haitian government, they will now carry out a detailed archaeological excavation.

Clifford hopes that it might be possible to lift and conserve the remains of the vessel and put them on permanent public exhibition in a museum in Haiti. · 

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