A Florida State Museum archeologist thinks she has found the site of Columbus' long-lost first New World colony, La Navidad, on the northern coast of Haiti.
The colony of 39 men was established the day after Christmas in 1492, shortly after the Santa Maria ran aground and broke up off Haiti and was abandoned. Columbus instructed his men to build a fort, trade with the Indians for gold and wait for his return.
When Columbus returned 11 months later, all the men were dead and there was no sign of the fort. Columbus moved on to friendlier shores, and the site of the ill-fated colony was soon forgotten.
Now Kathleen A. Deagan and a team from the museum has found a site in Haiti in a plausible location where pieces of European pottery and bones and teeth from a European pig and a European rat have been found. Both European varieties were unknown in the New World before Columbus.
The pig could even be traced to the Seville area of Spain, not far from where Columbus' expedition embarked, because its combination of radioactive strontium isotopes matched those of animals raised in that area but not those from Haiti. The mineral composition of bones and teeth correlates closely with that of the soils in which an animal grows up.
While Spanish animals could have arrived on later expeditions, a radiocarbon date on the remains was A.D. 1440 plus or minus 35 years. While this is rather young to be plausible, it suggests the animals are not likely to have arrived in Haiti much later than 1492.
"We're certain we've got the right site, and we've got the funds to excavate it properly," Deagan said. Further evidence of the first Spanish settlement in the New World is expected to be of great interest as the 500th anniversary of the first voyage approaches.
A preliminary report from Deagan appears in the November issue of National Geographic.