Almost every American child can recite the names of the ships from Christopher Columbus' first voyage to the Americas, as if in song: The Nina, The Pinta and The Santa Maria. The three ships are practically the stuff of legend. But despite their sturdy place in history, the ships themselves were hardly indestructible. In fact, The Santa Maria, Columbus' flagship, never made it back to Spain. It ran aground and had to be abandoned just off the coast of Haiti.

The remains of that storied ship have been lost ever since. But now, over 500 years since it was shipwrecked, underwater archaeologists believe they have located The Santa Maria, reports the Independent.  

"All the geographical, underwater topography and archaeological evidence strongly suggests that this wreck is Columbus’ famous flagship, the Santa Maria," said Barry Clifford, one of America’s top underwater archaeological investigators. "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."

Although the only work performed at the site thus far has been survey work-- basic measurements and photographing-- the circumstantial evidence points strongly toward this being Columbus' shipwreck. The wreck is positioned just offshore the site of La Navidad, the small settlement on the coast of Haiti that Columbus established after having to abandon ship, and the dimensions of the wreck correlate perfectly with the size and shape of The Santa Maria. A cannon identical to the ones carried on The Santa Maria was also photographed at the site. 

The site for La Navidad was only just discovered in 2003. Its discovery allowed Clifford to calculate the probable location of the ship using information derived from Columbus' own journal. Finding a wreckage at that very spot was quite the eureka moment.

"I am confident that a full excavation of the wreck will yield the first ever detailed marine archaeological evidence of Columbus’ discovery of America," said Clifford.

Once the wreck is confirmed to be that of The Santa Maria, Clifford hopes to hoist the remains to dry land so that they can be preserved and put on public display.

"I believe that, treated in this way, the wreck has the potential to play a major role in helping to further develop Haiti’s tourism industry in the future," he said.

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