A shipwreck off the coast of Haiti may be the Santa Maria, the long lost flagship of Christopher Columbus and one of the three ships that reached the Americas in his 1492 expedition.
“All the geographical, underwater topography and archaeological evidence strongly suggests that this wreck is Columbus’ famous flagship, the Santa Maria,” expedition leader Barry Clifford told The Independent newspaper.
His team found and photographed the wreck 10 years ago, but did not realize what it was until recently, the paper reported.
The Santa Maria ran into a reef off the coast of Haiti with Columbus aboard, forcing him to build a small settlement for his crew -- the first European settlement in the Americas since the Vikings' 11th century village in Newfoundland.
He named it La Navidad -- Christmas -- and then returned to Spain on the Nina, leaving behind 39 crew members unable to fit on the ship.
The third ship, the Pinta, was separated from the other two at the time.
One year later, Columbus returned with 17 ships and some 1,200 men, but the settlement had been burned and no one remained. (This Smithsonian article has more on La Navidad.)
The 2003 discovery of the possible ruins of La Navidad led Clifford to the current location off the coast, where he re-examined the wreck that had been found by his team. He says the size and location in relation to the ruined fort match what he'd expect from the Santa Maria.
“I am confident that a full excavation of the wreck will yield the first ever detailed marine archaeological evidence of Columbus’ discovery of America," Clifford was quoted as saying.
The History Channel has been filming the operation and plans to broadcast a special on the effort.