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

News
people
News
people And here is why...
News
peopleStella McCartney apologises over controversial Instagram picture
Life and Style
Laid bare: the Good2Go app ensures people have a chance to make their intentions clear about having sex
techCould Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Burr remains the baker to beat on the Great British Bake Off
tvRichard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
News
i100
Sport
footballArsenal 4 Galatasaray 1: Wenger celebrates 18th anniversary in style
Arts and Entertainment
Amazon has added a cautionary warning to Tom and Jerry cartoons on its streaming service
tv
News
people
News
The village was originally named Llansanffraid-ym-Mechain after the Celtic female Saint Brigit, but the name was changed 150 years ago to Llansantffraid – a decision which suggests the incorrect gender of the saint
newsWelsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Kristen Scott Thomas in Electra at the Old Vic
theatreReview: Kristin Scott Thomas is magnificent in a five-star performance of ‘Electra’
News
Destructive discourse: Jewish boys look at anti-Semitic graffiti sprayed on to the walls of the synagogue in March 2006, near Tel Aviv
peopleAt the start of Yom Kippur and with anti-Semitism flourishing, one Jew can no longer ignore his identity
Life and Style
Couples who boast about their relationship have been condemned as the most annoying Facebook users
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Hayley Williams performs with Paramore in New York
musicParamore singer says 'Steal Your Girl' is itself stolen from a New Found Glory hit
News
i100
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

Associate Recrutiment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: SThree Group have been well ...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE: SThree: Real Staffing Group is seeking Traine...

Year 6 Teacher (interventions)

£120 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: We have an exciting opportunity...

PMLD Teacher

Competitive: Randstad Education Manchester: SEN Teacher urgently required for ...

Day In a Page

Italian couples fake UK divorce scam on an ‘industrial scale’

Welcome to Maidenhead, the divorce capital of... Italy

A look at the the legal tourists who exploited our liberal dissolution rules
Time to stop running: At the start of Yom Kippur and with anti-Semitism flourishing, one Jew can no longer ignore his identity

Time to stop running

At the start of Yom Kippur and with anti-Semitism flourishing, one Jew can no longer ignore his identity
Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

The vintage series has often been criticised for racial stereotyping
An app for the amorous: Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?

An app for the amorous

Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid. Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?

Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid

Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

After a few early missteps with Chekhov, her acting career has taken her to Hollywood. Next up is a role in the BBC’s gangster drama ‘Peaky Blinders’
She's having a laugh: Britain's female comedians have never had it so good

She's having a laugh

Britain's female comedians have never had it so good, says stand-up Natalie Haynes
Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows

Let there be light

Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LEDs designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
Great British Bake Off, semi-final, review: Richard remains the baker to beat

Tensions rise in Bake Off's pastry week

Richard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
Paris Fashion Week, spring/summer 2015: Time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris

A look to the future

It's time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris
The 10 best bedspreads

The 10 best bedspreads

Before you up the tog count on your duvet, add an extra layer and a room-changing piece to your bed this autumn
Arsenal vs Galatasaray: Five things we learnt from the Emirates

Arsenal vs Galatasaray

Five things we learnt from the Gunners' Champions League victory at the Emirates
Stuart Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

This deal gives England a head-start to prepare for 2019 World Cup, says Chris Hewett
Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence