Explorer Believes Wreckage off Haiti Is Columbus' Santa Maria

Jun 23, 2014 04:36 PM EDT | Jordan Ecarma

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Researchers believe they may have discovered the wreckage of one of Christopher Columbus' trio of ships when the famed explorer first sailed to America in 1492.

Thought to be the resting place of the former Santa Maria, a site near northern Haiti will be explored at the request of the Haitian government, the reported. While the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization has tapped a technical team to explore the area, the group cautions that the wreckage is not necessarily Columbus' ship.

The theory that the site holds the Santa Maria wreckage comes from U.S. undersea explorer Barry Clifford, who believes the ship rests there because of materials found in the area and information in Columbus' diaries.

Clifford says the spot is close to where the Santa Maria wrecked and foundered in December of 1492, the AP reported. According to the researcher, the site off Haiti's coast holds a pile of ballast stones that seem to have been brought from Spain or Portugal. The stones were used in Columbus' day to stabilize ships.

After the Santa Maria foundered, some of the crew members salvaged materials from the ship and constructed a settlement on the nearby shore, Clifford said.

UNESCO will be sending a team in the next few months to examine the wreckage, said a .

One concern is that artifacts from the site will be stolen. The wreck was previously studied by explorers in 2003, when a cannon that appeared to date back to the 15th century disappeared.

Irina Bokova, the Director-General of UNESCO, said it is vital to beware "of looting of underwater heritage sites off the shores of Haiti. We stand by the authorities in fighting illicit trafficking in underwater cultural heritage objects and urge States to join Haiti's efforts to find artifacts stolen from these underwater archaeological sites, notably the one that will visited by UNESCO's mission."

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