Columbus discovered America. Is this his ship? Replicas of the Nina, left, and Pinta represent two of the three ships Columbus used to reach the New World
Columbus discovered America. Is this his ship?
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A shipwreck off northern Haiti may be the remains of Christopher Columbus' flagship vessel the Santa Maria. But experts expressed caution about a discovery that was far from confirmed.

Explorer Barry Clifford thinks he found the the wreck is the Santa Maria. It struck ground and foundered on Christmas Day in 1492. The evidence includes ballast stones that appear to have come from Spain or Portugal. He also found what looks like a 15th century cannon that was at the site during an initial inspection but has since disappeared.

Clifford, known for discovering a pirate ship off Cape Cod in 1984, said another factor is the location of the wreckage. The wreck was found in 15 feet of water near where the crew of the Santa Maria is thought to have built a coastal settlement for crew members of the ship who were left behind after the sinking.

"The circumstantial evidence is overwhelming," Clifford said. "The cannon is the smoking gun, so to speak."

He said that he and his son, Brandon, first explored the site and took photos in 2003. They decided to publicize their findings after a follow-up dive and examination of the photos led them to conclude they may have found the Santa Maria. The cannon that they saw in 2003 had vanished by the time they returned last week.

If the ship is the Santa Maria, it would be the oldest known European shipwreck in the so-called New World and a find of major archaeological significance. But scientists say it's far too early to make any such declaration especially since there is likely to be very little left of the vessel.

"The evidence, as you can imagine, after more than 500 years is not going to be very much because of time and the environment that the site is in," said Roger C. Smith, the State Underwater Archaeologist for Florida. "It's going to require some careful archaeology."

Kevin Crisman, director of the Center for Maritime Archaeology and Conservation at Texas A&M University, said many Spanish ships sank off Haiti and the Dominican Republic, and it will be difficult to confirm that this is the Santa Maria.

"Anything is possible in this world, but I would like to see all the evidence, and so far this is not too promising," Crisman said.

The ship sank slowly in 1492 and the crew had time to strip it and remove valuable items that would help document the identity of the vessel.

Much, if not all, of the ship's timbers would have broken down or been consumed by a species of wood-consuming mollusk found in the tropical waters if it hadn't been carted away by crew members who were left behind and never heard from again.

"If whoever finds the Santa Maria can confirm that it's the Santa Maria, that's kind of like the Holy Grail," Crisman said.

Critical thinking challenge: What acts of man and nature will make it difficult to confirm the discovery?

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COMMENTS (15)
  • Zues3
    5/14/2014 - 11:46 a.m.

    I really hope it is the Santa Maria. Being the person to find it must be amazing. If it isn't the ship, I hope they find it soon. Also, Columbus didn't discover America. Amerigo Vespucci did.

  • TobiasPeters-Lar
    5/14/2014 - 11:49 a.m.

    like how they found the ship from america to discover it for its ours are not for the discover of the america and colombus ships.

  • jwClemmy0826
    5/15/2014 - 08:39 a.m.

    The fact that its been eaten away and erosion took place on it for over 500 years makes it a lot harder to tell where and when its from. Because the crew had time to get rid of valuables before it sank, it makes it nearly unidentifiable.

  • AJW239
    5/15/2014 - 11:40 a.m.

    I would think that the ship would be next to non-existent by now if it was only just discovered. It would be amazing if Columbus`s flagship was found. Would`t there be more obvious signs that it was the Santa maria like the ship is empty. Only if better technology would be brought in.

  • jv9red
    5/15/2014 - 01:01 p.m.

    Most likely because its hard to figure out if the pices are the ship are of the ship that columbas sailed on. The location of where the wreak was found dose match up, this could possibly be the Santa Maria

  • AnnaN-5
    5/16/2014 - 01:25 a.m.

    Explorer Barry Clifford thinks he has found Columbus' Santa Maria which sank on Christmas Day in 1942. He found a shipwreck off of northern Haiti. He thinks this because the shipwreck includes ballast stones probably from Spain or Portugal, and what looks like a 15th century cannon that was at the site but disappeared since the initial inspection. Now, they are just trying to find evidence that it is definitely the Santa Maria. I think that it would be really awesome if this really was the Santa Maria. Considering that the ship sunk in 1492, it'd be a pretty remarkable discovery.

  • kaylaVa
    5/16/2014 - 12:11 p.m.

    Thats crazy that they may have found a ship that is that old. I would think that the ship would be long gone by now and I think that is very cool that they found the ship and it definitely be something that is important to our history.

  • 5AshleyC
    5/21/2014 - 08:30 p.m.

    ^^even though there are a lot of ships, we have so much technology and such now a day that if they think thats what it is thats probably what it is. Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492! Pros: we csn know more of what the ship was like and the material of the ship. Cons: there is a small chance that its not columbus's ship, and it could just be a random ship thats they think is columbus's ship. This relates to history because columbus sailed to america a long time ago and this story is from a long time ago. Some lessons we can learn from this is to make sure you are using and having correct information.

  • trevink-Sch-Sch
    5/30/2014 - 01:52 p.m.

    That would be outstanding if this was the Santa Maria however I doubt it. I'm also surprised that it hasn't been found before. How would we even know if it is the Santa Maria if the crew took the stuff off of it.

  • 9mackenziek
    6/05/2014 - 06:12 p.m.

    If indeed this is the Santa Maria many doors would open in history. Historians would have a better understanding how Columbus got to the Americas. This task may take a very long time since when the ship started to sink the Santa Maria sank very slowly. The crew was able to take everything of value off the ship. This has made it very hard to identify that the ship is in fact the Santa Maria. Not very much is left of the ship either due to wood consuming mollusk. If in fact this is the ship Columbus sailed on it will be one of histories greatest finds.

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