More than five centuries after Christopher Columbus’s flagship, the Santa Maria, was wrecked in the Caribbean, archaeologists think they may have discovered the vessel’s long-lost remains—lying at the bottom of the sea off the north coast of Haiti. It’s likely to be one of the world’s most important underwater archaeological discoveries. (The Independent)
- Read the terrific Independent article on the possible discovery of Columbus’ ship, the Santa Maria. Barry Clifford, the lead archaeologist associated with the shipwreck, says he has worked with the government of Haiti to properly document the site. Listen to our explorer, Bob Ballard, describe his discovery of the Titanic. What government did Ballard consult with?
- Ballard was working for the U.S, Navy at the time, so he technically consulted with his own government. But otherwise . . .
- Ballard did not need to consult with any nation about documenting the shipwreck. The Titanic sank in the open sea, outside any nation’s exclusive economic zone. The (supposed) Santa Maria, on the other hand, was discovered less than 200 nautical miles off the northern coast of Haiti, within that nation’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ). A nation has the right to explore and exploit all the living and non-living resources within its EEZ—from shipwrecks to seafood to oil deposits.
- Play our fun map game, “Find the Sunken Treasure.” The tool digital underwater archaeologists use in the game is a gradiometer. Do you think the archaeologists studying the Santa Maria site used a gradiometer? What artifacts do you think they found?
- Barry Clifford and other archaeologists used a tool similar to a gradiometer, called a magnetometer, to detect metals in the shipwreck site.
- The artifacts discovered at the Haiti site are probably pretty similar to the ones in the game: cannon, coins, nails and other equipment used on the ship itself.
- The Independent article says one of the most spectacular finds in Haiti was a 15th-century cannon discovered a year earlier, before archaeologists realized the significance of the site. Why didn’t archaeologists re-locate the cannon when they re-located the site?
- The cannon, along with many artifacts from the site, was looted. Such thievery is a major concern for underwater archaeologists. (And, really, all archaeologists.) Ocean explorer Bob Ballard explains these concerns with real-world examples from the 20th-century North Atlantic (site of the Titanic) and the Bronze-Age Black Sea.
- The wreck of the supposed Santa Maria does not contain lucrative treasure, such as gold or jewels. Our archaeologist Fred Hiebert describes treasure this way: “We don’t actually search for treasure. We search for knowledge—that’s our real gold.” What would you identify as the treasure of the Santa Maria? What are some of the treasures of the actual 1492 voyage itself?
- In the words of lead archaeologist Barry Clifford, the discovery of the Santa Maria would yield “the first ever detailed marine archaeological evidence of Columbus’ discovery of America.” Archaeological gold!
- Columbus’ voyage, probably the most monumental in recorded history, yielded both treasure and tragedy. The tragedy, of course, included the genocide of Native Americans and an expanded African slave trade. The treasure is the Americas themselves, and might include gold and other precious metals, fossil fuels, trade routes, and (my favorite) indigenous plants and plant products such as potatoes, rubber, corn, tobacco, tomatoes, and cocoa.