Remains Of Columbus' Santa Maria May Have Been Found, After More Than 500 Years

By Matthew Mientka on May 13, 2014 12:47 PM EDT

An undersea investigator says he's found the long-lost wreckage of Christopher Columbus' flagship Santa Maria, which sank in 1492.
An undersea investigator says he's found the long-lost wreckage of Christopher Columbus' flagship Santa Maria, which sank in 1492.

A marine archaeologist says he’s found the long-lost remnants of Christopher Columbus’ flagship Santa Maria near the northern coast of Haiti, some 500 years after the ship sank.

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Like a cross between Sherlock Holmes and Jacques Cousteau, investigator Barry Clifford says “all of the geographical, underwater topography, and archeological evidence strongly suggest” the wreckage belongs to the late explorer, whose ship sank in a tempestuous sea in 1492.

By using data collected previously by other researchers, Clifford located the scene of the wreckage but found an unfortunate surprise: the ship remnants had already been looted of any cannons that would have helped to verify the find. Still, the investigator says he’s certain of the authenticity of the wreckage.

"I am confident that a full excavation of the wreck will yield the first-ever detailed marine archeological evidence of Columbus' discovery of America,” Clifford says, adding that he’d like to see the wreckage placed in a museum in Haiti, in hopes of boosting tourism to the impoverished Caribbean nation.

“This is the ship that changed the course of human history,” he told CNN on Monday.

However, Clifford took a long while in identifying the ship’s wreckage, which he first found in 2003 with a team of divers. During that expedition, the researchers found a canon within the wreckage, but “misdiagnosed” the find. After cogitating on the find for a couple of years, Clifford says he experienced an epiphany after studying the type of cannon used by Western Europeans during that era.

"I woke up in the middle of the night and said, 'Oh my God,' " Clifford told CNN.

The archaeologist then returned to the scene with a team of experts hoping to identify the cannon, which they then found missing. Yet the investigators concluded the wreckage was highly likely to be the Santa Maria, based on photographs taken in the 2003 expedition. Among others in the field, archaeologist Charles Baker of the University of Indiana told CNN the thought warrants another visit to the undersea site. "Barry may have finally discovered the 1492 Santa Maria,” he said.

Though impressive, the possible discovery might not even represent Clifford’s best work. In 2009, Clifford and his team hauled two cannons to the surface from the wreckage of the former pirate and slave ship known as the Whydah, which sank near the coast of Cape Cod in 1717.

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