Experts to investigate possible wreckage of Columbus ship Santa Maria

Santa Maria (Columbus Expedition) [LIMITED to 500px]

A team of experts will check to see if wreckage off Haiti’s coast is Christopher Columbus’ ship, the Santa Maria, Delila James reports for the Science Recorder.

The United Nations’ cultural and scientific agency, UNESCO, announced Monday that a team of experts will look at a site off the northern coast of Haiti to see if wreckage found there belongs to the flagship Santa Maria, one of Christopher Columbus’ famous three vessels to arrive in the Americas: the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria.

UNESCO officials said a technical team will investigate the site in the coming months at the request of the government of Haiti, the Associated Press (AP) reports. Spokeswoman Agnes Bardon said that agreeing to send a team of experts does not mean UNESCO is confirming that the wreckage is from the Santa Maria.

Well-known undersea explorer and treasure hunter Barry Clifford said in May that based in part on Columbus’ diaries, he believes the wreckage found near present day Cap-Haitien is that of the Santa Maria, which ran aground on Christmas Day in 1492. Some experts, however, have expressed caution, according to the AP. UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova said in a statement that the agency is concerned about the risk of looting and illegal trafficking in ancient artifacts.

Clifford, who first explored the site in 2003, said after a recent dive that a cannon appearing to have been made in the 15th century had disappeared. He has described the site as containing a pile of ballast stones, which were used in Columbus’ time to stabilize ships and appeared to have originated in Spain or Portugal. Some members of the Santa Maria crew reportedly built a settlement on land using materials salvaged from the ship.

Undersea archeologists have cautioned that the area off Hispaniola contains a number of shipwrecks from the colonial era, saying more research is necessary to confirm that Clifford’s find is, in fact, the Santa Maria.

The island of Hispaniola is divided between two sovereign nations, Haiti and the Dominican Republic. It is the first European colony founded by Christopher Columbus and the oldest permanent European settlement in the Americas.

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