Santa Maria Looters Create Need For Quick Excavation

Treasure hunters have already looted a ship off the coast of Haiti that could be Christopher Columbus' flagship, the Santa Maria.

replica of Columbus’ 15th century Santa Maria

Photo: Phil (Flickr)

A replica of Columbus’ 15th century Santa Maria in Funchal, Madeira.

Researchers need to move quickly to investigate the a ship that could be the Santa Maria if they want to retrieve archaeological evidence before looters take away key artifacts.

Underwater explorer Barry Clifford announced yesterday he believed a ship off the coast of Haiti to be Christopher Columbus’ famed ship.

On Christmas Day in 1492, the flagship of Christopher Columbus’ fleet hit a reef and sank, and Columbus’ logbook indicates the ship in the location of the shipwreck Clifford and his team found.

Archaeologist Charlie Beeker, who directs Indiana University’s Office of Underwater Science, is on the team investigating the site.

“As far as importance is going to be kind of the holy grail.  We’ve been looking for Columbus shipwrecks for a long time,” he says.

Beeker has already looked at the shipwreck and photographed it.

The next phase, which he hopes to begin next month is a diagnostic investigation. Crews will dive and recover artifacts to see if they are consistent with a 15th century ship.

“It needs to start now. It can’t be put off,” Beeker says. “There are treasure hunters already talking about it. There are people who have already looted the site. Imagine if you could get artifacts off what might turn out to be the Santa Maria what you could sell them for. We can’t allow that to happen. We have to get back there.”

Beeker is currently in the Dominican Republic conducting research. When he’s finished there at the end of the month, he plans to go back to Haiti and work with a team on what he calls a diagnostic investigation

“We’re going to be digging on the site, we’re going to be moving ballast stones, we’re going to be looking for diagnostic artifacts,” Beeker says. “Now whether or not the whole site warrants an investigation is to be determined.  If it is the Santa Maria, I mean what are you going to do? Is it worth a full scale investigation? Absolutely.”

Beeker says the investigation could take a couple years.

If it turns out to be the Santa Maria, he and his team will work with the Haitian government to determine the best approach to long term protection of the site.

Sara Wittmeyer

Sara Wittmeyer is the News Bureau Chief for WFIU and WTIU. Sara has more than a decade of experience as a news reporter and previously served with KBIA at the University of Missouri, WNKU at Northern Kentucky University in Highland Heights, KY, and at WCPO News in Cincinnati.

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