IU scientists to help in 'Santa Maria' exploration

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. - An Indiana University scientist who's based in the Caribbean says the school's underwater researchers will help investigate a shipwreck that could be the remains of the famed Santa Maria.

Charles Beeker is director of IU's Office of Underwater Science and Academic Diving. He's currently in the Dominican Republic overseeing research that's part of his more than two decades of work in the region.

Beeker says explorer Barry Clifford's discovery of a shipwreck off adjacent Haiti's northern coast that could be the Santa Maria looks "very compelling." He says IU underwater researchers will conduct a full investigation of the site as early as this summer.

Clifford said Tuesday that evidence suggests the wreck is the Santa Maria, Christopher Columbus' flagship vessel that struck a reef and foundered on Christmas Day, 1492.

"When you hear the evidence of what we found, I think the evidence is overwhelming that this ship most probably is the Santa Maria," Clifford said.

Beeker has already spent hours at the site and cannot wait to get back to get a closer look. He and Matt Maus, also with IU's Office of Underwater Science and Academic Diving, will lead the investigation.

"If it still warrants a 15th-century shipwreck that might still be proven to still be the Santa Maria, we'll bring in other scholars and interested people. This should be much broader than IU, but IU will be in charge," Beeker said.

Although it is still early in the investigation, both Beeker and Maus agree the find could be one for the history books.

"Archaeologically it's quite rare to be able to associate a specific name with a ship but there really aren't very many vessels from this time period in the new world, and the location of the vessel, very near to La Navidad where we have corresponding archaeological and historical data indicating the establishment of that fort by Columbus in 1492 after the Santa Maria ran aground, their close location to each other is really is a strong piece of data supporting this site as a potential Santa Maria," Maus said.

It could take 10 days to two weeks to verify whether the discovery warrants a full-scale investigation. If it does, it could take years to prove the wreck is the Santa Maria and to properly recover and preserve it.

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