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The Santa Maria found?
May 13, 2014 9:50 AM   Subscribe

"More than five centuries after Christopher Columbus’s flagship, the Santa Maria, was wrecked in the Caribbean, archaeological investigators think they may have discovered the vessel’s long-lost remains – lying at the bottom of the sea off the north coast of Haiti."
posted by brundlefly (61 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
Ideally, if excavations go well and depending on the state of preservation of any buried timber, it may ultimately be possible to lift any surviving remains of the vessel, fully conserve them and then put them on permanent public exhibition in a museum in Haiti.
Is it not the property of the Spanish Crown?

To be clear I personally am fine with Haiti taking it; I just wonder what the actual legal situation is.
posted by Flunkie at 10:12 AM on May 13


" ...ahoy, ahoy, oh how the wind did blow."
posted by Fizz at 10:14 AM on May 13


As I understand the relevant maritime salvage laws, the wreck belongs to Chris Columbus, director of Home Alone and Home Alone 2: Lost in New York.
posted by theodolite at 10:21 AM on May 13 [32 favorites]


the wreck belongs to Chris Columbus, director of Home Alone

Just imagine the shocked face I'm making.
posted by yoink at 10:30 AM on May 13 [17 favorites]


As I understand the relevant maritime salvage laws, the wreck belongs to Chris Columbus, director of Home Alone and Home Alone 2: Lost in New York.

Mrs. Cannonfire.
posted by brundlefly at 10:33 AM on May 13


Is it not the property of the Spanish Crown?

My understanding is that normally, shipwrecks are finders-keepers except in the case of those classified as warships. See for example this story from a couple of years ago, "Spain wins battle for shipwreck treasure" and "Treasure from sunken galleon must be returned to Spain, judge says".

The sad irony being, of course, that all of the treasure mentioned was stolen originally from the South Americans.
posted by Celsius1414 at 10:34 AM on May 13 [4 favorites]


Wikipedia tells me something I don't believe we were ever taught in elementary school: the crew of the Santa Maria had been partying hard on Christmas eve 1492, but Columbus didn't let them actually take the day off, so the only one sober or awake enough to steer the ship was a young cabin boy, who ran it aground.
posted by aught at 10:36 AM on May 13 [5 favorites]


As I understand the relevant maritime salvage laws, the wreck belongs to Chris Columbus, director of Home Alone and Home Alone 2: Lost in New York.


Home Alone 5: Treasure Dive
posted by Cosine at 10:37 AM on May 13


Is it not the property of the Spanish Crown?

Wikipedia also suggests the ship was pretty well stripped (including its main timbers, which were used to build a fort nearby) by Columbus and his crew, so it's unlikely there's a lot of other than historical value to what remains.
posted by aught at 10:38 AM on May 13


To follow up on that, see the Wikipedia article on shipwrecks:
Military wrecks, however, remain under the jurisdiction–and hence protection–of the government that lost the ship, or that government's successor. Hence, a German U-boat from World War II still technically belongs to the German government, even though the Third Reich is long-defunct. Many military wrecks are also protected by virtue of their being war graves.
posted by Celsius1414 at 10:39 AM on May 13


@Aught When I was in elementary school I swear I read a young adult novel about the kid who sunk that ship. Googling is not turning anything up, but I distinctly remember being terrified of a kid being given so much adult responsibility and screwing up pretty much as badly as possible.
posted by lownote at 10:42 AM on May 13 [2 favorites]


It's like the 15th century version of backing the car through the garage door.
posted by brundlefly at 10:49 AM on May 13 [9 favorites]


It's like the 15th century version of backing the car through the garage door.

Well, thanks for those flashbacks.

It wouldn't have been so bad (and indeed could have been so much worse), except that I also decided to put the car back in the garage.

Sure, I knocked part of the house off the foundation, but they got a new built-in china cabinet out of the deal. Win-win! Er, lose-win. But if you ignore all the horrible stuff, there was winning.
posted by Celsius1414 at 10:52 AM on May 13 [9 favorites]


But if you ignore all the horrible stuff, there was winning.

You've pretty much summed up all of recorded history in one sentence.
posted by aught at 10:57 AM on May 13 [52 favorites]


There's a replica on land on La Palma in the Canary Islands and it's seems about the size of a large living room when you are standing on deck, but Google says is 72 ft (Wiki disagrees, 58 ft and and the Encyclopedia Brittanica says 117 ft) and housed 39 crew.

Even though sailors cross the Atlantic in small boats all the time, growing up I always imagined these iconic ships to be much bigger. Reading the dimensions in a history book didn't prepare me for seeing an actual replica. Of course, with so much confusion over the length, my large-living-room impression seems pretty valid.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 10:59 AM on May 13 [1 favorite]


Wikipedia tells me something I don't believe we were ever taught in elementary school: the crew of the Santa Maria had been partying hard on Christmas eve 1492, but Columbus didn't let them actually take the day off, so the only one sober or awake enough to steer the ship was a young cabin boy, who ran it aground.

I remember this from being that age. I don't remember what way it was presented to me, but yea.

What i do remember thinking clearly though in my kid-brain, which was instantly refreshed by this being brought up here... why didn't they just do what every drunk does on 4th of july here and drop the damn anchor? Why did the ship have to be underway while they were all plastered?
posted by emptythought at 11:01 AM on May 13 [1 favorite]


You've pretty much summed up all of recorded history in one sentence.

A productive morning! I'm off to lunch. ;)
posted by Celsius1414 at 11:05 AM on May 13 [12 favorites]


The ships that brought the settlers to Jamestown are also tiny. Like horror-movie, trapped-in-a-dungeon tiny.
posted by gottabefunky at 11:06 AM on May 13 [7 favorites]


You've pretty much summed up all of recorded history in one sentence.

Also, the Internet.
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:21 AM on May 13 [1 favorite]


So Macauley Culkin sank the Santa Maria? Thank God for Wikipedia.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 11:24 AM on May 13 [1 favorite]


Wikipedia tells me something I don't believe

Say it ain't so.
posted by goethean at 11:30 AM on May 13


Like horror-movie, trapped-in-a-dungeon tiny.

Oh my god I'm reading the pdf and I was like oh really that doesn't seem too bad and then I got to the one that's only 50 feet long and carries 20 tons and I cried a little.
posted by elizardbits at 11:31 AM on May 13


Wikipedia says whatever I want it to.

I'm curious why news articles have been referring to a cannon having been "looted" from the wreck. I don't know the relevant law offhand, and I'm not a diver, but it seems odd. You're diving in the middle of the ocean. You find a cannon. You can't take it? You shouldn't take it? What's the thinking?
posted by cribcage at 11:42 AM on May 13


As I understand the relevant maritime salvage laws, the wreck belongs to Chris Columbus, director of.... Home Alone 2: Lost in New York.

I think you're confusing shipwreck with trainwreck.
posted by blue_beetle at 11:45 AM on May 13 [6 favorites]


50 feet long and carries 20 tons

I was on a 60 foot research vessel a couple of weeks ago; we were only out for the day, but it's equipped for multiple-day journeys (I think the captain said they longest they were out was for eight days). It sleeps eight in two bunks. I cannot imagine being on a boat that size with seven other people, let alone 40 or a hundred others, for the months it took to cross the ocean. I think there's a case for justifiable homicide there.
posted by backseatpilot at 11:53 AM on May 13


I'm not a diver, but it seems odd. You're diving in the middle of the ocean. You find a cannon. You can't take it? You shouldn't take it? What's the thinking?

That you shouldn't casually pilfer stuff from significant archeological sites.
posted by yoink at 12:04 PM on May 13 [5 favorites]


There's a replica on land on La Palma in the Canary Islands

FWIW, there are replicas everywhere. There's one in West Edmonton Mall, right near a Wetzel's Pretzels.
posted by Sys Rq at 12:20 PM on May 13 [2 favorites]


As I understand the relevant maritime salvage laws, the wreck belongs to Chris Columbus, director of Home Alone and Home Alone 2: Lost in New York.

--
:O
--
posted by echocollate at 12:32 PM on May 13 [3 favorites]


I was on a 60 foot research vessel a couple of weeks ago; we were only out for the day, but it's equipped for multiple-day journeys (I think the captain said they longest they were out was for eight days). It sleeps eight in two bunks. I cannot imagine being on a boat that size with seven other people, let alone 40 or a hundred others, for the months it took to cross the ocean. I think there's a case for justifiable homicide there.

Now imagine the conditions of the slave trade.
posted by srboisvert at 12:34 PM on May 13 [1 favorite]


That you shouldn't casually pilfer stuff from significant archeological sites.

I'm no expert but I'm seeing two questionable adjectives, a nondescript noun, and one rather troublesome verb-adverb combo. It's my understanding that the ocean floor is pretty well littered with "wrecks." This one was discovered some time ago and written off as explicitly not significant. So, again...?
posted by cribcage at 12:53 PM on May 13


It's my understanding that the ocean floor is pretty well littered with "wrecks."

And the land is littered with ruins, buried treasure of various kinds etc. etc. You'll find that in the modern age, if you're within reach of any nation's laws there are highly likely to be laws limiting your right to just casually pilfer parts of the national patrimony. Just because you stumble across an arrowhead or a Roman helmet or a Neanderthal burial site or a sunken ship's cannon does not mean "finder's keepers" is the prevailing law. I'm not sure why you find that so difficult to understand. Perhaps if you concentrated on trying to absorb the meaning of the words I'm using instead of just tallying which parts of speech they represent you'd get on a little better?
posted by yoink at 1:06 PM on May 13 [3 favorites]


I find it helpful to think of these phrases as comment prefixes- when you encounter them, your mental interpreter can freely disregard the rest of the sentence.
posted by zamboni at 1:12 PM on May 13 [1 favorite]


Can't see something beautiful without thinking "gee, that'd look great on my mantle!"
posted by basicchannel at 1:15 PM on May 13


You've pretty much summed up all of recorded history in one sentence.

here is the summary of all recorded history in a single image
posted by elizardbits at 1:23 PM on May 13 [10 favorites]


You're diving in the middle of the ocean. You find a cannon. You can't take it? You shouldn't take it? What's the thinking?

It's really heavy and you will probably drown trying to carry it back to the surface.
posted by elizardbits at 1:24 PM on May 13 [5 favorites]


I'm not sure why you find that so difficult to understand.

Take a pill, AC. Your comment wasn't hard to understand because you used the wrong parts of speech. It was hard to understand because it didn't actually say anything. Dial back the snark and up the content, or else hey, maybe don't bother and let the question be answered by someone who actually knows.

Just because you stumble across an arrowhead or a Roman helmet or a Neanderthal burial site or a sunken ship's cannon does not mean "finder's keepers" is the prevailing law.

True, insofar as "just because." But sometimes that's exactly what it means. What's abandoned is often claimable because, generally speaking, property law favors use over disuse. To use your example, we don't typically talk about people having "looted" arrowheads; the more common (in fact, cliched) phrase is, "found an arrowhead." I'm curious to know what circumstances would have been pertinent here, hence my question. We have a few folks 'round these parts who might know.

If that's not you, don't feel put out.

It's really heavy and you will probably drown trying to carry it back to the surface.

See, now that's how you respond if you don't have anything to say but want to anyway. Except I was sipping soda and now I need a napkin.
posted by cribcage at 1:30 PM on May 13 [3 favorites]


It belongs in a museum!
posted by valkane at 1:36 PM on May 13 [6 favorites]


I don't know what specific laws would apply here, but I know laws concerning archaeological and paleontological finds are not uncommon. I've posted in the past about a Tarbosaurus that was looted (or rather "poached") from Mongolia.
posted by brundlefly at 1:41 PM on May 13 [2 favorites]


True, insofar as "just because."

All moral precepts boil down to "just because." If you want to know the specific law that applies in Haiti, I have no idea (here in the US it is the Abandoned Shipwrecks Act). If you want to understand the moral claim that underlies the law, it is that people shouldn't casually pilfer items from important archeological sites that are part of the nation's patrimony. There's not going to be a "because" there. There's no Old Man who came down from the mountain and told us that God wanted things that way. It's just a community norm that developed over time until it was sufficiently widely shared to drive most nations to pass laws enforcing it. Somehow it was a community norm that passed you by.
posted by yoink at 1:47 PM on May 13


Thanks, Brundlefly! That WIRED article is an interesting comparison.

And by the way, good post. I'd seen the story elsewhere but not this write-up.
posted by cribcage at 1:48 PM on May 13


It belongs in a museum!

We have top men working on it right now.

Top. Men.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 1:58 PM on May 13 [4 favorites]


When I was in elementary school I swear I read a young adult novel about the kid who sunk that ship

Pedro's Journal, by chance?

when you encounter them, your mental interpreter can freely disregard the rest of the sentence.


Only if your mind is well and truly made up.
posted by IndigoJones at 2:00 PM on May 13


Good god I hope it doesn't go to Haiti. I'll go out on a limb and say they're not up to the financial or organizational challenges to give it a proper home. I think they're still having problems with cholera almost four years after the quake.
posted by codswallop at 2:13 PM on May 13


Good god I hope it doesn't go to Haiti. I'll go out on a limb and say they're not up to the financial or organizational challenges to give it a proper home.

Well one thing that will help its economic recovery is to deprive it of an important cultural artifact that would drive tourism.
posted by empath at 3:00 PM on May 13 [3 favorites]


If you want to understand the moral claim that underlies the law, it is that people shouldn't casually pilfer items from important archeological sites that are part of the nation's patrimony.

If you want a practical reason not to loot archaeological sites, it's that removing objects from a site destroys the context the object was found in, therefore removing much of the information that a archaeologist could have derived from the object in situ. Further, as our technology develops, we will in future be able to get more information from unexcavated sites than we can now, which is a good justification for leaving archaeological resources alone and preserving them for the future.

That's one of the fundamental principles of cultural resources management: one of the best things to do with an archaeological site is nothing, unless it's at risk of destruction because of development or looting or something. Not to mention the importance a given site might have to a still-extant human community, like a Native American burial site.
posted by suelac at 3:05 PM on May 13 [6 favorites]


Columbus didn't let them actually take the day off

Man, Columbus is actually a fractal 15th-century dick--no matter how far you zoom in, there's always exactly as much dickery to be found.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 3:05 PM on May 13 [13 favorites]


Well one thing that will help its economic recovery is to deprive it of an important cultural artifact that would drive tourism.

How much of the cultural artifact is actually left, though? I also had a knee-jerk "oh god, not to Haiti" response--but because I fear that it would stick Haiti with significant costs related to raising and restoring and etc, and not actually serve as much of a driver for tourism. I'd be really interested to see numbers on how much this sort of recovery might cost, as well as projected tourism revenues. What sort of numbers does an attraction like this generally draw?

I'm sincerely interested, if that's not clear, but have no idea how to begin searching for something like this.
posted by MeghanC at 3:43 PM on May 13


A thing I can answer! A thing I can answer! My husband is a government historical society attorney and one of the things he does is exactly this, jurisdiction over found stuff, including archaeological and paleontological remains!

Flunkie: "Is it not the property of the Spanish Crown?"

As a rule of thumb, anything found archaeologically that's over 100 years old is the property of the country in whose territory it is found.

The length of time may vary, some things may be exempted, some finds belong to the person who finds them (rather than the government), and things in international waters are obviously different. But in general, if it's over 100 years old and a big enough find to be in the news, it probably belongs to the country whose dirt it was dug out of.

cribcage: "I'm no expert but I'm seeing two questionable adjectives, a nondescript noun, and one rather troublesome verb-adverb combo. It's my understanding that the ocean floor is pretty well littered with "wrecks." This one was discovered some time ago and written off as explicitly not significant. So, again...?"

In general when you find something archaeologically interesting (and you would be aware of this as an archaeologist or a treasure-trove-type hunter who specializes in shipwrecks -- and also as a general contractor who does excavations for new buildings, or a road surveyor, or lots of other related jobs), you are legally obligated to inform the relevant governmental authority, who will make a determination about the legal status of the finds. Many governments pay finders' awards. In some cases it may be a crime to fail to report. So there are incentives to comply and disincentives if you attempt to ignore.

Generally "surface collecting" of small, common artifacts (like Native American arrowheads, say) is allowed for hobbyists -- who are generally pretty well-aware of the rules because they are archaeology nerds, and they generally know to call it in if they find something unusual. Selling hobbyist finds, though, can get dicey.

University archaeologists and big commercial wreck-hunters absolutely know the ins and outs of the law, and most government archaeology authorities are well-used to working with them, it's not too hard to set up a dig most of the time.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 3:46 PM on May 13 [9 favorites]


I find it helpful to think of these phrases as comment prefixes- when you encounter them, your mental interpreter can freely disregard the rest of the sentence.

Now let me tell you something about shipwrecks.
posted by dhartung at 3:51 PM on May 13


What Suelac and Eyebrows McGee said. And specifically, the casual pilfering of the canons without any recording makes positively identifying this wreck much harder. They're a key clue.
posted by Helga-woo at 4:29 PM on May 13


I believe "casual pilfering of the canons" shows up several times on J.J. Abrams' résumé.
posted by brundlefly at 5:30 PM on May 13 [3 favorites]


Yes, but did they find any pieces of the Planispheric Disc?

Nibiru is coming....
posted by RonButNotStupid at 5:50 PM on May 13


A thing I can answer! A thing I can answer!

And I'm glad you did. Thanks! It sounds like your husband probably has some darn good stories.

And specifically, the casual pilfering of the canons without any recording makes positively identifying this wreck much harder. They're a key clue.

According to Clifford, when the wreck was originally found in 2003 the cannon was "misdiagnosed" (his word). They moved on, and it wasn't until two years ago when Clifford had a midnight epiphany that the cannon's possible significance occurred to him. That's what I find interesting about the "looting" that occurred in those intervening years. (Eyebrows McGee's comment sheds some helpful light.)

I also think it's interesting to think about where the cannon might be. Someone mentioned it belongs in a museum. Isn't it possible that it is? It may have wound its way into a display case somewhere, marked as having just some general/abstract historical significance, no one knowing that it (might have) sat on one of the most famous ships in history.
posted by cribcage at 7:20 PM on May 13


To be pedantic, "It belongs in a museum" is a Raiders of the Lost Ark reference.
posted by Chrysostom at 9:07 PM on May 13


cribcage: "I also think it's interesting to think about where the cannon might be. Someone mentioned it belongs in a museum. Isn't it possible that it is?"

It's possible, but not likely. If the cannons were taken by archaeological scavengers, they almost certainly sold them into private collections on the black market. Museums all know the law too, and knowingly trading in black market antiquities creates a lot of liability for an institution (and in many cases also carries criminal charges for the individuals involved -- although Haiti is perhaps not in a position to press its claims against overseas looters, with the government in chaos).

It's possible that as this hits the news, whoever the buyer was says "Oh, I didn't know these were important" and turns them over (with or without cash compensation). A somewhat more likely scenario is where the buyer holds them for 20 or 40 years and his heirs turn them over after he's dead and can't be punished. But it's also possible (maybe even likely, I don't know anything about cannons) that distinguishing marks were destroyed and they were sold as anonymous random cannons into collections just as "old cannons" and their provenance is lost and the cannons will never be recovered or identified. If they're in a museum, it's most likely that's in a country that plays fast and loose with antiquities laws and doesn't respect international rules about legal acquisitions, which might make it tricky to recover. (These are often countries where corrupt regimes use the antiquities trade, in part, to fund illegal arms acquisitions.) I don't know anything specifically about the trade in Carribbean antiquities or cannons, and doubtless they have their own special oddities, but that's just what I've picked up about the black market in antiquities in general, just to give you a bare idea.

(Precious metal artifacts are sometimes melted down and sold for the metal, but I assume Columbus's cannons would have been iron and not fared well at the bottom of the sea and probably not been worth selling for scrap anyway even if they'd been in good shape?)

Sometimes the best scenario is where someone totally ignorant took them because they thought they looked cool or thought maybe they could sell them later; when something like this gets press, they often come forward.

But yeah, antiquities looting is a huge problem, and there'd definitely be a market for something like this. My husband had a case where someone acquired a backhoe and took it to a super-rural county in the middle of nowhere to attempt to loot Native American graves from a tribe not known for leaving grave goods and this is like sooooooooooo many crimes all in one but the possible financial reward was still worth the risk for someone sophisticated enough to know where and how to dig. There are seriously active tomb raiders. In America. With enough education to know what they're after, where to look for it, and how to get at it. A lot of these sites are really freaking obscure.

Anyway, cross your fingers, it's a super-weird little "industry" and the cannons may turn up quickly and just fine, with a story you couldn't put in a novel because nobody would believe it. But don't get your hopes up too high, because if they're gone, they're probably gone for 20 or 40 or 100 years or forever.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:13 PM on May 13 [2 favorites]


To be precise, "It belongs in a museum!" is an Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade reference.
posted by valkane at 9:17 PM on May 13 [2 favorites]


To be pedantic, "It belongs in a museum" is a Raiders of the Lost Ark reference.

I dunno, it's what I mutter bitterly every time some mega-rich person buys a famous painting I would love to see and whisks it off to their Manhattan or Dubai or Hong Kong penthouse.

(Yeah, I'm talking about you and the Francis Bacon triptych, Sheika Mayassa of Qatar.)
posted by aught at 7:45 AM on May 14


If you're talking about the three portraits of Francis Bacon, you're behind the curve.
posted by IndigoJones at 6:03 PM on May 20


If you're talking about the three portraits of Francis Bacon, you're behind the curve.

Yep, the tryptic of Lucien Freud portraits.

Ah, thanks for the update. A different rich person to resent!
posted by aught at 11:51 AM on May 22


Hey, she's at least willing to share
posted by IndigoJones at 7:01 PM on May 22


Hey, she's at least willing to share

Anything for a tax hedge. I mean, woo, thanks, Ms. Wynn!
posted by aught at 11:07 AM on May 23


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