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

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
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

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there