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(NEWSER) – Has the wreck of a ship that changed the course of history been found after more than 500 years?

The leader of an expedition off the coast of Haiti believes he has uncovered the wreck of Christopher Columbus' flagship, the Santa Maria.

"All the geographical, underwater topography, and archaeological evidence strongly suggests that this wreck" is the ship that ran aground in December 1492, just months after Columbus made landfall in the New World, expedition leader Barry Clifford tells the Independent.

Clifford, one of the world's top underwater archaeological investigators, says the location on a reef 10 to 15 feet below the surface off Haiti's northern coast matches Columbus' description of where the ship was wrecked, per his diary.

The ship is the same size as the Santa Maria; rocks found nearby are from the right part of Spain to be the ship's ballast stone; and the "smoking gun" is a 15th-century cannon, says Clifford, whose previous finds include Captain Kidd's flagship.

But it was a smoking gun delayed: Clifford tells CNN he initially identified the wreck in 2003 but "misdiagnosed" the cannon there; it was only two years ago, after time spent learning about the cannons of Columbus' age, that he "woke up suddenly in the middle of the night" realizing what he might have found.

So far, the wreck has only been photographed and scanned, but Clifford and his team plan to excavate it for a full archeological investigation.

(Meanwhile, an 1857 shipwreck found decades ago off South Carolina is giving up more gold.)

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