Search for Columbus's Lost Ship The Santa Maria: History of the Search Part 4

About the search for Christopher Columbus's ship the Santa Maria which he sailed to America, history and background.

The Continuing Search for . . . the Santa Maria

Between 1967 and 1972 Dickson and his coworkers made 4 explorations of the reef, or coral mound. His 1st discovery 2' below the surface was of ballast stone, and the Santa Maria had carried 20 tons of this. At the 12' level they found pieces of wood, badly deteriorated but nevertheless sealed by the mud under the coral and protected from shipworms or teredos. Then more and more uncoverings of objects--copper bolts or rods; iron rods; a nail fashioned from silver alloy in some emergency, presumably for a piece of armor; brass bolts with triangular washers or collars; and a piece of pottery. This last turned out to be the most exciting and precise find. The shard was dated by the thermoluminescent process as between 1375 and 1575 A.D. The underwater explorers defying the "wet unknown" now speculated the pottery might even have been a piece of Columbus' own dinner plate.

CONCLUSIONS: As Dickson and friends hewed and hacked away at the coral, mud, and slime of centuries, using crowbars, hoes, and picks in order to make a trench 4'-5' wide and 12" to 18" deep, they found nothing to prove that here lay the Santa Maria ... and nothing to disprove the possibility either. "It was a trail of uncertainties," wrote John Frye, who covered the excavations for National Fisherman magazine. At one point Dickson, using a sophisticated electronic subbottom profiler, got signals from an area 75' southeast of the coral mound they were exploring. Seven feet under the sand, a 100'-long "thing" seemed to be buried. This appeared to the excavators to be not the Santa Maria but an earlier ship. From Africa? From China? A pre-Columbian voyage by a people heretofore unknown to have crossed oceans? At this point Vilhjalmur Stefansson's prophetic warning words were brought to the explorers' minds: "It is safer to assume that ancient men knew more than we can prove now than to discount less than perfect legends."

In 1972 Dickson died during his last expedition in quest of the Santa Maria or the "thing," which had come to assume equal importance in his adventures. He was, as Frye describes it, looking through "a curtain of frustration." The answer to the question "Was this the Santa Maria?" was always "shimmering like a mirage, sometimes taking firm shape, sometimes disappearing." With Dickson's death, interest in the Santa Maria has waned somewhat. Few today have his enthusiasm or his money-raising abilities. That he found something, however, is incontrovertible. Was it the Santa Maria?

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