Saturday, May 31, 2014

Santa María May Have Been Found

The alleged discovery of the Santa María (yes, that Santa María) takes the cake for historical discoveries this month. Or this century, if it actually is the ill-fated ship of America's most famous trio. Christopher Columbus' ship hit bottom and sank more than 500 years ago. New geographical, underwater topography, and archaeological evidence suggest that the shipwreck lies on the ocean floor off the northern coast of Haiti.

The Santa María ran aground on Christmas Eve in 1492 during the first visit to the New World and the sinking ship had to be abandoned. The crew was able to swim to the nearby shore and construct a fort out of remaining timbers from the Santa María. This first European settlement built in North America since the Viking era was discovered in 2003. Named "La Navidad," the fort became home to the 39 crew members Columbus had to leave behind, as he was forced to consolidate men to the Niña and Pinta after the Santa María went down. 

Researcher Barry Clifford found and photographed an underwater shipwreck site in 2003. After recent reconnaissance dives, photographs, and other data was revisited, Clifford now thinks he has discovered one of the greatest archaeological finds in American history.

Image source: CNN Newday Blogs

There are a number of clues that point to Clifford's theory. The shipwreck is in the right spot in relation to the fort according to Columbus' own diary notes. Lodged on a coral reef, only 10-15 feet below the water's surface, the ship's size is consistent with the likely dimensions of the Santa Maria, with a 115 foot long keel. A cannon Clifford photographed in 2003 was hoped to be reexamined, but before the cannon could be removed for testing it had disappeared, likely taken by looters. Heavy rocks at the site could have also served as the ship's ballast, Clifford says.

As one of the world's premiere underwater archaeologists, Clifford's resume includes locating the remains of the Whydah Galley (the 18th century first fully verified pirate ship ever discovered) and vessels once commanded by privateer William Kidd in the 17th century. What Clifford calls the "Mount Everest of shipwrecks" could be his oldest and most important discovery yet. Tests which can determine if the ship is the Santa María could begin as early as July 1st.
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