Experts are “confident” that a wreck found off the north coast of Haiti is the Santa Maria, flagship of Christopher Columbus’ flotilla that discovered the Americas and changed the world forever, 500 years ago.
The wreck was found during an expedition led by Barry Clifford, who went on to showcase his find on a History Channel TV show.
“All the geographical, underwater topography and archaeological evidence strongly suggest that this wreck is Columbus famous flagship, the Santa Maria,” said the explorer, who is famous for his discovery of a complete pirate ship.
“I am confident that a full excavation of the wreck will yield the first ever detailed marine archaeological evidence of Coumbus’s discovery of America,” Clifford continued.
“If excavations go well, it may ultimately be possible to lift any surviving remains of the vessel, fully conserve them and put them on display in a museum in Haiti,” he added.
“The Haitian government has been extremely helpful and we now need to continue working with them to carry out a detailed archaeological excavation,” Clifford told Britain’s Independent newspaper.
Clifford spent over a decade tracing the origins of the wreck, and the discovery was backed up by research that pinpointed the probable location of a nearby fort commissioned by Columbus.
The Santa María was a relatively small ship, described as “very little larger than 100 toneladas” (about 100 tons) and thought to be about 58 feet (17.7 m) long.
It was Columbus’ flagship for the expedition that opened Europe’s eyes to the New World, and was supported by the smaller ships Santa Clara, remembered as La Niña (“The Girl”), and La Pinta (“The Painted”).
None of the ships were purpose-built for exploration and none were new.
The Santa Maria was lost during Columbus’ first voyage to the New World in 1492 when it ran aground near Hispaniola (now Haiti/Dominican Republic).
After the shipwreck, Columbus set sail for Spain in the Niña, leaving a party of men behind to establish a fort.
During the long voyage home, Columbus wrote a report of his discoveries and offered “as much gold as they need…and as many slaves as they ask” if King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella would finance another voyage.
He took the Spanish royals a small amount of gold, parrots, and plants – as well as some Indians he had kidnapped and enslaved – as a token of the New World’s potential.
Research indicates that the courageous seafarers who joined Columbus’ second trip to the New World in 1493 were faced with major obstacles.
Not only were they risking a long and dangerous voyage and entering unknown territory, but a new study suggests they may have also suffered from scurvy while sailing across the Atlantic.
The disease, caused mainly by vitamin C deficiency, killed many of the early colonisers, causing the demise of the La Isabela settlement within just four years of it being founded, according to historic documents and analysis of skeletons buried at Columbus’ settlement in what is now the Dominican Republic.
In 1496, Columbus decided to abandon La Isabela in favour of a new settlement, today known as Santo Domingo.