Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Pnma: In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue...

Investigaciones Marinas Del Istmo (IMDI) is again diving at an old ship submerged near Nombre de Dios that may be Christopher Columbus’s Vizcaina, a German university’s tests on wood samples taken from the vessel have added weight to the argument that the ship is in fact the Genoese navigator’s abandoned caravel, and the squabbling that paralyzed recovery efforts during most of the Moscoso administration has resumed.

One afternoon in 1997, American diving enthusiast Warren White, who lives on his boat at the Panama Canal Yacht Club in Cristobal, went looking for lobsters with his son around the coral reefs off of Playa Damas, just west of Nombre de Dios. He saw, jutting out from the coral, the shape of a Lombard cannon, a weapon that was made and used from the middle of the 15th century until the early part of the 16th.

Returning to the site for subsequent dives, White recovered stone mortar balls, munitions which also suggested the antiquity of his find.

He showed one of the mortar balls to archaeologist Carlos Fitzgerald, then a member of the committee that evaluates, lists and oversees national historical sites, whose contract with the National Institute of Culture (INAC) had been canceled by then-President Ernesto Pérez Balladares because he had insisted in taking the time to investigate archaeological sites that were in the path of the Corredor Norte project. (With the change of administrations Fitzgerald returned to INAC as director of Historic Patrimony, a post that he presently holds.) At the time Fitzgerald dismissed the value of the site that White had found, arguing that with the nation’s limited budget for archaeological research there were more promising pre-Columbian sites that had priority.

White continued his historical research and his diving on the site, and due to many factors became increasingly convinced that he had found not just a rare early 16th century wreck, but the Vizcaina, which Christopher Columbus abandoned in 1504 during his disastrous fourth and final voyage of discovery. To White, not only the old weapons, but the lack of rigging (indicating an abandonment and not a wreck) the presence of more cannons than one ship would carry (fitting in nicely with Columbus’s earlier stripping and abandonment of another of his ships, the Gallega, on that voyage), and the lack of metal sheathing for the hull (which the king of Spain had ordered for all ships traveling to the New World in 1508) all pointed toward the probability that he had found the Vizcaina.
Read the rest of it.

I'm not one of those who spit on good ol' Columbus. All we need to ask ourselves is this: where would we have been had Columbus not been a lousy navigator? As for the indigenous peoples of the Caribbean and Americas, who were busy killing out each other, mourning the decimation of their numbers should not prevent us from appreciating the changed futures of many of us.

Okay, I await the outrage.


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