500 years later, Christopher Columbus’ flagship Santa Maria likely found off coast of Haiti

BY Anya van Wagtendonk  May 13, 2014 at 12:32 PM EST

Painting of the flagship Santa Maria, circa 1628, by Andries van Eertvelt. Image courtesy of National Maritime Museum

Painting of the flagship Santa Maria, circa 1628, by Andries van Eertvelt. Image courtesy of National Maritime Museum


A leading underwater archaeologist says he has identified the shipwrecked remains of Christopher Columbus’ flagship off the northern coast of Haiti.

As you may recall from elementary school, Columbus’ initial, poorly-researched voyage from Spain included three ships: the Niña, the Pinta, and, leading the way, the Santa Maria. But a few months after Columbus and his crew had comfortably settled on the Bahamas, their flagship drifted onto a reef and wrecked. Columbus abandoned ship, setting up a fort on a nearby island before eventually returning to Spain.

Guided by historical records, including Columbus’ own diaries, a team led by underwater explorer Barry Clifford used high-tech tools such as marine magnetometers and side-scan sonar equipment to survey more than 400 potential sites for the wreck.

Over the course of several years, they narrowed their search to an area that is consistent with the reported location of Columbus’ fort and the direction of the doomed ship’s drift. Clifford says he now believes the wreck is conclusively that of the Santa Maria.

If so, the find would provide “the first ever detailed marine archaeological evidence of Columbus’ discovery of America,” Clifford said.

The next step in this project is a full archaeological excavation, which Clifford says he will undertake in partnership with the government of Haiti.

“We’ve informed the Haitian government of our discovery and we are looking forward to working with them and other Haitian colleagues to ensure that the site is fully protected and preserved,” he said. “It will be a wonderful opportunity to work with the Haitian authorities to preserve the evidence and artifacts of the ship that changed the world.”

A scientific investigation is pending to confirm the evidence.