By Harriet Alexander - The Telegrap
An 'X' marked the spot on the explorer's map – and the crowd grew wide-eyed in amazement at what they were told lies beneath.
The 500-year-old diaries corroborated the find, said Barry Clifford, a marine archaeologist, standing at the front of the wood-panelled Explorer's Club in New York.
The ballast found under the waves matched the profile of the ship, believed to have run aground half a millennia ago. The government of Haiti, the country on the map, was excited by the news.
Mr Clifford thought he had found his treasure: the wreck of Christopher Columbus's ship, a prize 500-years in the searching.
"I think the evidence is overwhelming that this ship is most probably the Santa Maria," he said last month.
But after the triumphant announcement, Mr Clifford's find is now being called into question.
A Portuguese-American historian, Manuel Rosas, has said that the discovery of the shipwreck is impossible – because the ship never sank.
His theory, based on over two decades of research, is that the ship did not sink, as is widely believed, but was hauled onto the Haitian shore, used to house the sailors Columbus left behind on his return voyage, and eventually years later burnt as firewood.
He says that Columbus deliberately misled the world with his journals, because he was acting as a spy for the Portuguese king, rather than reporting to his Spanish paymasters.
"He was the James Bond of his day," said Mr Rosas, speaking to The Telegraph from his home in New York. "It's unbelievable that he has managed to pull the wool over everybody's eyes for five centuries.
"But the important thing to remember is that the whole mission was to trick the Spanish – and tell the Portuguese what was really going on. In this he succeeded.
"Anyone who looks for a shipwreck off Haiti won't find the Santa Maria – because it never sank."
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