A Maritime Archaeologist Investigates The Little Mermaid’s Shipwreck

Atlas Obscura recently asked Kevin Crisman, the director of the Center for Maritime Archaeology and Conservation at Texas A&M University, to take a deep dive (sorry) into the shipwreck that fascinates Ariel. While Crisman’s research usually concerns actual boats, he and other maritime archaeologists are well aware of the “Hollywood shipwrecks” that sink all logic—The Little Mermaid’s wrecked galleon is no different, though it does get some of the details right…

Crisman considered every angle of the ship—from the barrel-like stern (“This boat never had a chance”) to the shape of the portholes, to the spacing of the ship’s frame—to try and determine whether this Renaissance-era Spanish galleon is a recreation or the real deal. The conclusion? Signs point to this ship being a poorly-designed copy of a 16th-century galleon, possibly built closer to the 19th-century setting of the original Hans Christian Anderson tale.

Crisman also gives equal consideration to each of her treasures. It turns out the candelabra is authentic of the time, if a bit ornate; the legendary dinglehopper has one too many tines and should probably be a bit more corroded, but maybe there’s some Disney magic in that grotto preserving the artifacts.

The Little Mermaid shipwreck expert Ariel dinglehopper fork

But my favorite part of the piece is when Crisman and Atlas Obscura writer Sarah Laskow ponder Ariel’s discoveries in the larger context of the science world, and come up with an alternate future for her:

There was something else that bothered Crisman about the grotto, though. “As an archaeologist, I’m troubled by her collecting proclivity,” he says. “The scientist in me thinks she’s destroying scientific information for future archaeologists.”

Stashed in the grotto, the objects offer no clues about where they came from or how they were used. But perhaps Ariel was keeping meticulous notes on her discoveries, along with their original locations and contexts. If she only applied a rigorous scientific method to her collection process, Ariel’s enthusiasm for the material culture of seafaring humans might have made her a good candidate for a career in archaeology.

We decide to give her the benefit of the doubt. “If she had not gotten involved with that prince, she could have gone on to be a maritime archaeologist of some renown,” Crisman concludes.

Read the whole piece here!

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