Christopher Columbus' lost ship 'Santa Maria' found?

The ship that led Christopher Columbus' mission to discover America has been found after 500 years, lying at the bottom of the sea off Haiti's coast, an archaeological investigator has claimed.

"All the geographical, underwater topography and archaeological evidence strongly suggests that this wreck is Columbus' famous flagship, the Santa Maria," Barry Clifford, the leader of a recent reconnaissance mission to the site off Haiti's north coast, was quoted as saying by The Independent.

If the claim is proved to be true, the recovery of the shipwreck more than five centuries after Columbus's flagship, the Santa Maria, was wrecked in the Caribbean is likely to be one of the world's most important underwater archaeological discoveries. "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," Clifford said.

So far, Clifford's team has carried out purely non-invasive survey work at the site measuring and photographing it, the British daily said. Tentatively identifying the wreck as the Santa Maria has been made possible by quite separate discoveries made by other archaeologists in 2003 suggesting the probable location of Columbus' fort relatively nearby, the report said.

Armed with this new information about the location of the fort, Clifford was able to use data in Columbus' diary to work out where the wreck should be, it said. An expedition, mounted by his team a decade ago, had already found and photographed the wreck but had not, at that stage, realised its probable identity. It's a current re-examination of underwater photographs from that initial survey, carried out in 2003, combined with data from recent reconnaissance dives on the site carried out by Clifford's team earlier this month, have allowed for tentatively identifying the wreck as that of the Santa Maria.

The evidence so far is substantial. It is the right location in terms of how Columbus, writing in his diary, described the wreck in relation to his fort, the report said. The Santa Maria was the flagship of Columbus' small fleet that set sail from Spain in August 1492 under the sponsorship of King Ferdinand II and Queen Isabella I. The voyage aimed to find a westward route to China, India and the gold and spice islands of the East. But the land the sailors set eyes on in October 1492 was an island in the Caribbean.

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