Christopher Columbus Santa Maria discovery: Archaeologists hail find as 'amazingly significant'

The Independent revealed that remains found off the north coast of Haiti are believed by archaeologists to belong to the famous vessel

Senior Reporter

Maritime archaeologists tonight hailed the potential discovery of the wreck of Christopher Columbus’s flagship, the Santa Maria, as “amazingly significant”.

Yesterday The Independent revealed that remains found off the north coast of Haiti are believed by archaeologists to belong to the famous vessel, which was lost in the Caribbean more than five centuries ago.

Barry Clifford, one of America’s top underwater archaeological investigators, said he was “confident” that the remains are those of the ship captained by the great explorer on his first voyage to the Americas in 1492.

Mr Clifford narrowed the search down to a tiny area using marine magnetometers, side-scan sonar equipment and divers – and entries in Columbus’s personal diary. He is now awaiting permission to carry out a full excavation of the site.

Italian explorer Christopher Columbus (Getty) Italian explorer Christopher Columbus (Getty) Professor Jon Adams, director of the Centre for Maritime Archaeology at the University of Southampton, said: “If it’s the Santa Maria, it would be a major find. You could say it’s additionally significant because it has both archaeological importance in terms of its materiality but it also has social importance because of its historical significance.”

His colleague Dr Fraser Sturt added: “If it is [the Santa Maria] it’s amazingly significant because of the story that goes with it. I’d be sceptical until you get really good, concrete evidence – but the discovery of any ship from that period would be intensely interesting in its own right.”

READ MORE: Exclusive: Found after 500 years, the wreck of Christopher Columbus’s flagship the Santa Maria

British marine archaeologist Dr Sean Kingsley said the discovery “could shed a major educational spotlight on the ‘birth’ of the Americas”. But he added that the archaeologists involved would have to answer several “hard questions” before the find could be verified, and that even if it was, a political battle is likely to erupt over ownership.

“Spain no doubt will claim its remains as a sovereign vessel,” he said. “Haiti signed the UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage in 2009. No doubt many heritage experts would prefer to see the wreck left underwater and turned into a dive trail as UNESCO prefers.”


Although the wreckage of the Santa Maria is unlikely to contain sunken treasure, there is no doubt that shipwreck hunting has become a boom industry in recent years. In 2012, the Florida-based salvage firm Odyssey Marine Exploration began recovering silver bullion worth up to £150 million from the wreck of the SS Gairsoppa, which it located the year before. The British cargo ship was sunk by a torpedo during the Second World War.

Last week, the same company said it had recovered almost 1,000 ounces of gold worth $1.3 million (£771,000) during an initial exploration of the wreck of the SS Central America, a steamship which sank off the coast of South Carolina in 1857.

Christopher Columbus’s flagship, the Santa Maria (Rex) Christopher Columbus’s flagship, the Santa Maria (Rex)

Sunken treasure: Which wreck could be the next one found?

1. San Miguel

Believed to be carrying vast amounts of silver plate, gold, pearls and emeralds, the San Miguel was among 12 ships to set off from Havana in 1715 bound for Spain, which at the time was badly in need of funds. But the fleet was caught in a hurricane a week after leaving Cuba, with thousands of the crew perishing. Other ships that went down have since been found, but the San Miguel remains elusive. Some believe that it rests in the shark-infested Nassau Sound.

2. San Jose

A Spanish galleon which sank off the coast of Colombia in 1708, the San Jose is believed to have been carrying a fortune in treasure – including 116 chests of emeralds and the personal wealth of the Viceroy of Peru. Many believe it to be the most valuable ship ever sunk. A US company called Sea Search Armada claims to have located the wreck, but has been locked in a decades-long legal dispute with the Colombian government over who can claim any resulting booty – so it still lies undisturbed.

3. Las Cinque Chagas

The Portuguese merchant ship was returning from the East Indies in 1594 with a haul of diamonds, rubies and pearls when it was sunk in the Azores by the English. Although the vessel was huge – 150ft long and weighing 1,200 tonnes – it is believed to lie in 2,500ft of water, so far scuppering attempts to locate it. And spare a thought for the 1,000 people on board, of whom around 400 were slaves.

4. Grosvenor

On its way back from India in 1782, this British ship was wrecked off the coast of South Africa. One of the East India Company’s finest vessels, it is believed to have been carrying 1,400 gold ingots, 19 chests of gems and 2.6 million gold coins – not to mention a jewel-encrusted throne in the shape of a gold peacock.

5. Flor de la Mar

A 400-tonne Portuguese frigate built in Lisbon in 1502, the “Flower of the Sea” was returning from the Far East in 1511 captained by Alfonso de Albuquerque when it was caught in a violent storm in the Straits of Malacca and broke in two. The ship was loaded with gold bullion, silver plate and tributes from the King of Siam, so there are plenty of reasons to look for it – but so far nobody has succeeded in finding it.

Chris Green

Voices
The Sumatran tiger, endemic to the Indonesian island of Sumatra, is an endangered species
voicesJonathon Porritt: The wild tiger population is thought to have dropped by 97 per cent since 1900
News
These photographs released by the University of Maryland Medical Center show images of full face transplant recipient 37-year-old Richard Lee Norris of Hillsville, Virginia
mediaGQ front page features man who underwent full face transplant
Sport
Lionel Messi looks on at the end of the final
football
Arts and Entertainment
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
Prince Harry is clearing enjoying the Commonwealth Games judging by this photo
people(a real one this time)
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
Life and Style
Attractive women on the Internet: not a myth
techOkCupid boasts about Facebook-style experiments on users
Sport
Van Gaal said that his challenge in taking over Bobby Robson's Barcelona team in 1993 has been easier than the task of resurrecting the current United side
football
News
The Swiss Re tower or 'Gherkin' was at one time the UK’s most expensive office when German bank IVG and private equity firm Evans Randall bought it
news
Sport
Moeen Ali wearing the 'Save Gaza' and 'Free Palestine' wristbands on his left arm
cricket
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off 2014 contestants
tv
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
filmThe Battle of the Five Armies trailer released
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
Beast would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him
musicIndie music promoter was was a feature at Carter gigs
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Java Developer

£45000 - £60000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: JAVA DEVELO...

HR Business Partner (Maternity Cover 12 Months)

£30000 - £34000 Per Annum 25 days holiday, Private healthcare: Clearwater Peop...

Microsoft Dynamics AX Developer

£475 - £550 per day: Progressive Recruitment: MDAX / Dynamics AX / Microsoft D...

.Net/ C# Developer/ Analyst Programmer - Eciting new Role

£45000 - £50000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: .NET/ C# .Pr...

Day In a Page

The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on