Leiden University logo.

nl en

La Navidad: The Lost Beginnings

One of the greatest mysteries of world archaeology is the exact location of La Navidad, the first settlement founded by Christopher Columbus on his first trip to the Americas in 1492. Known to be in the northern coast of the present day Haiti, it has been the object of study by many scholars, from various countries of the world, starting in the 1780s with French historian and geographer Moreau de Saint-Méry to explorer Barry Clifford, just recently. Other noteworthy investigators include Samuel Eliot Morison, a US historian and expert on Columbus (1930s); Dr. William Hodges and Clark Moore, amateur archaeologists living in the Limbe, Haiti areas (1960s – 2000s); Clark Moore and Dr. Kathleen Deagan, a US archaeologist from the University of Florida (1980s, 2003). It must be noted that archaeologist Irving Rouse also worked in the northern coast of Haiti, but focused more on the pre-contact settlements of the area. Links to their research can be found below.

The Search Continues

Now, 522 years later, La Navidad and La Isabela are found on two different sides of the border dividing the Dominican Republic and Haiti, and the issues surrounding archaeological research in these settlements is a micro-example of archaeological research in the Caribbean on the macro-scale.

In the Dominican Republic, the history of archaeological research is closely linked to the search for La Navidad and the consequences of its failure. Archaeologists have been interested in defining the lifeways of the Amerindian people who lived on the island when La Navidad was founded. Why did they allow the Spanish to build a settlement there? What caused the deaths of the Spaniards left behind? At the same time, the question remains as to why La Isabela was a sucessful settlement while La Navidad was not?

Interest in La Navidad was rekindled in May of 2014 by the reports that the wreck of the Santa Maria had been found in northern Haiti by Barry Clifford. As is explained in greater detail in the UNESCO report (link can be found below), the shipwreck could not be confirmed as the Santa Maria, in part due to the fact that it bore no relation to the possible places identified as the location of La Navidad. On Dec. 16th, Clifford announced he is planning to re-submit his proposal to the Haitian government, this time working with the Spanish University of Huelva.

As the search for La Navidad heats up once more, it is important to point out that the UNESCO report appeals for more archaeological investigation in northern Haiti, as well as an increase in training of locals to safeguard their heritage. These aims fit perfectly with the goals NEXUS1492 project, which include a better understanding of the European settlement of Hispaniola as seen by the Indigenous people living on the north coast of the island, not only in Haiti, but also in the Dominican Republic.

Related Research

The Lost Fort of Columbus (Clark Moore)

Florida Museum of Natural History (Kathleen Deagan)

La télédétection spatiale du littoral Nord-Est d’Haïti : comparaison avec les cartographies ancienne et actuelle (Loic Menanteau)

Caribbean sites destinations under consideration by UNESCO as World Heritage

UNESCO Report and Evaluation on the Santa Maria

La Universidad de Huelva investigará si el pecio de Haití es la ‘Santa María’

This website uses cookies.  More information.