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Remains Provide More Clues To Columbus’ First Settlement

October 30, 1987

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) _ A rat’s jawbone, a pig’s tooth and other artifacts found on the northern coast of Haiti could help pin down the location of Christopher Columbus’ first settlement in the New World, a University of Florida researcher said.

″We discovered deep in what looks like a well the jaw of a European rat and the tooth of a European pig,″ Kathleen Deagan, an archeologist at the Florida State Museum on the UF campus, says in the Novermber issue of National Geographic. ″Before Columbus, both of these animals were unknown in the New World.″

A team of archaeologists and other specialists have been analyzing some seven tons of remains found on the northern coast of Haiti at a site believed to be La Navidad, the fort Columbus built after his flagship, the Santa Maria, ran aground on a coral reef in 1492.

Columbus left 39 men at La Navidad. Upon his return a year later, he found the fortress burned and his men dead. The site was abandoned and its exact location lost to history.

″We are excited and expectant that as the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ journey approaches, we may be able to shed some light on what happened to the first settlement in the New World,″ said Ms. Deagan.

The team, which visited Haiti in June, is trying to uncover conclusive evidence that the small Arawak Indian village is the site of La Navidad. Charcoal from a European-style well was carbon dated to the late 1400s.

Zoo archeologists Karla Bosworth and Erica Simons, working under museum curator Elizabeth Wing, identified the rat jaw and pig bones, which were sent to the University of California at Irvine for further analysis.

″Jonathon Ericson analyzed the tooth for the stable isotopes of carbon, nitrogen and strontium,″ said Ms. Deagan. ″Strontium reflects the composition of the soil and plants that grew in it. Since the pig ate these plants while its bones and teeth formed, Ericson was able to show that the pig grew up in Spain and not Haiti.

″By comparing the amount of these elements in various Spanish soils with the pig tooth, he concluded the pig grew up in the vicinity of Seville, not far from Palos, the port from which Columbus set sail,″ said Ms. Deagan.

Ms. Deagan and colleague Maurice Williams have been digging on and off for seven years with funding from UF, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Organization of American States and the National Science Foundation.

Efforts this summer, however, were hampered by a general strike in Haiti which forced the team to leave the country after encountering roadblocks and violent demonstrations.

″We’re certain we’ve got the right site, and we’ve got the funds to excavate it properly, and now here we sit, holding the money,″ Ms. Deagan said.

In 1492 Columbus set off to find a western passage to the Indies. Just before midnight on Christmas Eve, the helmsman of the Santa Maria let the ship’s boy take the tiller while he recovered from two nights of entertaining and trading with the Indians.

The ship ran aground on a coral reef, and Guacanacaric, the friendly chief of the nearby Indian town, helped the crew construct a fortress from salvaged timbers. The fort’s name, La Navidad, is Spanish for the birth of the Christ child.

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