17 May 2014

The wreck of Columbus's flagship found?

The anchor of the Santa María now rests in the
Musée du Panthéon National Haïtien, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
Underwater archaeologist Barry Clifford has recently announced the discovery of what he believes is the Santa María, Christopher Columbus's flagship from his epochal 1492 expedition.  Clifford and his team found the debris from the wreckage off the northern coast of Haiti, near Cap-Haïtien.

The ship was wrecked on Christmas Eve, 1492, and sank the next day, after a cabin boy was allowed to steer because all the other sailors were asleep from the festivities of the day.  Columbus ordered the deck timbers salvaged to create the first European settlement in the Caribbean, named La Navidad ("Christmas").  Archaeological evidence has located La Navidad nearby.

Clifford believes the remains of the Santa María are lodged on a coral reef about ten to fifteen feet below the water's surface.  Photos of the site in 2003 show a lombard canon, which Clifford avers has now been looted from the site.  Clifford says that, "All the geographical, underwater topography and archaeological evidence strongly suggests that this wreck is Columbus' famous flagship, the Santa Maria."

Laurence Bergreen, author of Columbus: The Four Voyages, is more skeptical.  He wonders how much of the ship would remain, given its age, the influence of earthquakes and hurricanes, and that most of the wood from the ship was used for La Navidad (and want was not used for lumber, he believes, would have rotted away).  Bergreen also comments on the lombard canon from 2003 have disappeared: "But now the lombards, if that's what they were, are gone. There's not much left to go on."

Clifford has tried to interest the Haitian government in protecting and excavating the site.  He said, "The Haitian government has been extremely helpful–and we now need to continue working with them to carry out a detailed archaeological excavation of the wreck."  Bergreen agrees that more investigation is needed: "Given its potential historic significance, let's hope this wreck will finally receive the careful and responsible attention it deserves."