IU researchers will investigate potential Santa Maria discovery

BLOOMINGTON (WISH) —  An underwater explorer says he may have found one of Christopher Columbus’ ships from 1492.

Barry Clifford announced this week that he thinks he has found the Santa Maria off of the coast of Haiti. Now, it’s up to a crew from Indiana University to determine if it is, indeed, the Santa Maria.

Dr. Charles Beeker, director of the Office of Underwater Science and Academic Diving, will be leading the research.

Dr. Beeker said he was in Haiti last week to conduct a “non-invasive” assessment, or a visual assessment.

“This particular one is the right location; it’s got some compelling attributes. I’m not saying it’s the Santa Maria, but I’m out to prove whether it is or isn’t,” Dr. Beeker said.

Beeker said there’s enough initial evidence there for him to take a crew and start to investigate further this summer.

“If this proves, scientifically, to have the attributes that will ultimately prove it is the Santa Maria, then it’s the most important shipwreck to be discovered,” Beeker said.

Beeker is currently in the Dominican Republic, directing ongoing research there.

He said he’s done this type of shipwreck identification research before. One of his achievements was working to identify a pirate ship abandoned in the Caribbean 300 years ago. That ship is the focus of an exhibit at the Indianapolis Children’s Museum.

“It’s not easy. It took me over two years to prove the Captain Kidd Cara Merchant was located in the Dominican Republic, and I anticipate with the scientific investigation, it may take us a couple years, on the Santa Maria,” Beeker said.

He said they’ll be looking for things that shouldn’t be there, or things that will tell researchers this isn’t a 15th century ship.

“All kids know, you know, ‘1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue,’ he had the Nina, Pinta, and the Santa Maria. They may not realize the Santa Maria sank, but I’m trying to put that into context,” said Beeker.

Beeker said if this is the Santa Maria, which could take years to prove, they will have new insight into 15th century technology.

He hopes to get back to the shipwreck off Haiti, by the end of May, or the middle of June, to take a closer look at the wreck.

If it still looks like a ship from the 15th century, they’ll bring in more experts, and start an even larger investigation.

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