Thor Heyerdahl

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Thor Heyerdahl
Thor Heyerdahl 2000.jpg
Heyerdahl c. 2000
Born(1914-10-06)6 October 1914
Larvik, Norway
Died18 April 2002(2002-04-18) (aged 87)
Alma mater University of Oslo
Spouses
Liv Coucheron-Torp
(m. 1936;div. 1947)
Yvonne Dedekam-Simonsen
(m. 1949;div. 1969)
(m. 1991)
Children5
Awards Mungo Park Medal (1950)
Scientific career
Fields
Doctoral advisor

Thor Heyerdahl KStJ (Norwegian pronunciation: [tuːrˈhæ̀ɪəɖɑːɫ] ; 6 October 1914 – 18 April 2002) was a Norwegian adventurer and ethnographer with a background in biology with specialization in zoology, botany and geography.

Contents

Heyerdahl is notable for his Kon-Tiki expedition in 1947, in which he sailed 8,000 km (5,000 mi) across the Pacific Ocean in a hand-built raft from South America to the Tuamotu Islands. The expedition was designed to demonstrate that ancient people could have made long sea voyages, creating contacts between societies. This was linked to a diffusionist model of cultural development.

Heyerdahl made other voyages to demonstrate the possibility of contact between widely separated ancient peoples, notably the Ra II expedition of 1970, when he sailed from the west coast of Africa to Barbados in a papyrus reed boat. He was appointed a government scholar in 1984.

He died on 18 April 2002 in Colla Micheri, Italy, while visiting close family members. The Norwegian government gave him a state funeral in Oslo Cathedral on 26 April 2002. [1]

In May 2011, the Thor Heyerdahl Archives were added to UNESCO's Memory of the World Register. [2] At the time, this list included 238 collections from all over the world. [3] The Heyerdahl Archives span the years 1937 to 2002 and include his photographic collection, diaries, private letters, expedition plans, articles, newspaper clippings, and original book and article manuscripts. The Heyerdahl Archives are administered by the Kon-Tiki Museum and the National Library of Norway in Oslo.

Youth and personal life

Heyerdahl was born in Larvik, Norway, the son of master brewer Thor Heyerdahl (1869–1957) and his wife, Alison Lyng (1873–1965). As a young child, Heyerdahl showed a strong interest in zoology, inspired by his mother, who had a strong interest in Charles Darwin's theory of evolution. He created a small museum in his childhood home, with a common adder ( Vipera berus ) as the main attraction.

He studied zoology and geography at the faculty of biological science at the University of Oslo. [4] At the same time, he privately studied Polynesian culture and history, consulting what was then the world's largest private collection of books and papers on Polynesia, owned by Bjarne Kroepelien, a wealthy wine merchant in Oslo. (This collection was later purchased by the University of Oslo Library from Kroepelien's heirs and was attached to the Kon-Tiki Museum research department.)

After seven terms and consultations with experts in Berlin, a project was developed and sponsored by Heyerdahl's zoology professors, Kristine Bonnevie and Hjalmar Broch. He was to visit some isolated Pacific island groups and study how the local animals had found their way there.

On the day before they sailed together to the Marquesas Islands in 1936, Heyerdahl married Liv Coucheron-Torp (1916–1969), whom he had met at the University of Oslo, and who had studied economics there. He was 22 years old and she was 20 years old. Eventually, the couple had two sons: Thor Jr. and Bjørn. The marriage ended in divorce shortly before the 1947 Kon-Tiki expedition, which Liv had helped to organize. [5]

After the occupation of Norway by Nazi Germany, he served with the Free Norwegian Forces from 1944, in the far north province of Finnmark. [6] [7]

In 1949, Heyerdahl married Yvonne Dedekam-Simonsen (1924–2006). They had three daughters: Annette, Marian, and Helene Elisabeth. They were divorced in 1969. Heyerdahl blamed their separation on his being away from home and differences in their ideas for bringing up children. In his autobiography, he concluded that he should take the entire blame for their separation. [8]

In 1991, Heyerdahl married Jacqueline Beer (born 1932) as his third wife. They lived in Tenerife, Canary Islands, and were very actively involved with archaeological projects, especially in Túcume, Peru, and Azov until his death in 2002. He had still been hoping to undertake an archaeological project in Samoa before he died. [9]

Fatu Hiva

In 1936, on the day after his marriage to Liv Coucheron Torp, the young couple set out for the South Pacific Island of Fatu Hiva. They nominally had an academic mission, to research the spread of animal species between islands, but in reality they intended to "run away to the South Seas" and never return home. [10]

Aided by expedition funding from their parents, they nonetheless arrived on the island lacking "provisions, weapons or a radio". Residents in Tahiti, where they stopped en route, did convince them to take a machete and a cooking pot. [5]

They arrived at Fatu Hiva in 1937, in the valley of Omo‘a, and decided to cross over the island's mountainous interior to settle in one of the small, nearly abandoned, valleys on the eastern side of the island. There, they made their thatch-covered stilted home in the valley of Uia. [10]

Living in such primitive conditions was a daunting task, but they managed to live off the land, and work on their academic goals, by collecting and studying zoological and botanical specimens. They discovered unusual artifacts, listened to the natives' oral history traditions, and took note of the prevailing winds and ocean currents. [5]

It was in this setting, surrounded by the ruins of the formerly glorious Marquesan civilization, that Heyerdahl first developed his theories regarding the possibility of pre-Columbian trans-oceanic contact between the pre-European Polynesians, and the peoples and cultures of South America. [10]

Despite the seemingly idyllic situation, the exposure to various tropical diseases and other difficulties caused them to return to civilisation a year later. They worked together to write an account of their adventure. [5]

The events surrounding his stay on the Marquesas, most of the time on Fatu Hiva, were told first in his book På Jakt etter Paradiset (Hunt for Paradise) (1938), which was published in Norway but, following the outbreak of World War II, was never translated and remained largely forgotten. Many years later, having achieved notability with other adventures and books on other subjects, Heyerdahl published a new account of this voyage under the title Fatu Hiva (London: Allen & Unwin, 1974). The story of his time on Fatu Hiva and his side trip to Hivaoa and Mohotani is also related in Green Was the Earth on the Seventh Day (Random House, 1996).

Kon-Tiki expedition

The Kon-Tiki in the Kon-Tiki Museum in Oslo, Norway Kon-Tiki, Kon-Tiki Museum, 2019 (01).jpg
The Kon-Tiki in the Kon-Tiki Museum in Oslo, Norway

In 1947 Heyerdahl and five fellow adventurers sailed from Peru to the Tuamotu Islands, French Polynesia in a pae-pae raft that they had constructed from balsa wood and other native materials, christened the Kon-Tiki . The Kon-Tiki expedition was inspired by old reports and drawings made by the Spanish Conquistadors of Inca rafts, and by native legends and archaeological evidence suggesting contact between South America and Polynesia. The Kon-Tiki smashed into the reef at Raroia in the Tuamotus on 7 August 1947 after a 101-day, 4,300-nautical-mile (5,000-mile or 8,000 km) [11] journey across the Pacific Ocean. Heyerdahl had nearly drowned at least twice in childhood and did not take easily to water; he said later that there were times in each of his raft voyages when he feared for his life. [12]

Kon-Tiki demonstrated that it was possible for a primitive raft to sail the Pacific with relative ease and safety, especially to the west (with the trade winds). The raft proved to be highly manoeuvrable, and fish congregated between the nine balsa logs in such numbers that ancient sailors could have possibly relied on fish for hydration in the absence of other sources of fresh water. Other rafts have repeated the voyage, inspired by Kon-Tiki.

Heyerdahl's book about The Kon-Tiki Expedition: By Raft Across the South Seas has been translated into 70 languages. [13] The documentary film of the expedition entitled Kon-Tiki won an Academy Award in 1951. A dramatised version was released in 2012, also called Kon-Tiki , and was nominated for both the Best Foreign Language Oscar at the 85th Academy Awards [14] and a Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film at the 70th Golden Globe Awards. [15] It was the first time that a Norwegian film was nominated for both an Oscar and a Golden Globe. [16]

Cumulative linguistic, physical, and genetic evidence that Polynesia was in fact settled from west to east by Austronesian peoples [17] was long seen to rule out any validity to Heyerdahl's contention that the islands were colonized from South America. However, the archaeological consensus was left with a puzzle: the sweet potato, a staple crop throughout Polynesia that pre-dates European contact, originated in South America. [18] In 2004, Dutch linguists and specialists in Amerindian languages Willem Adelaar and Pieter Muysken pointed out that the word for sweet potato appear to be shared by Polynesian languages and several languages of South America: Proto-Polynesian *kumala [19] (compare Rapa Nui kumara, Hawaiian ʻ'uala,Māori kūmara) may be connected with Quechua and Aymara k'umar ~ k'umara. Adelaar and Muysken assert that the similarity in the word for sweet potato is proof of early contact between the Central Andes and Polynesia. [20] A genetic study published in 2020 finally found "conclusive evidence for prehistoric contact of Polynesian individuals with Native American individuals": [21]

Our earliest estimated date of contact is AD 1150 for Fatu Hiva, South Marquesas. This is close to the date estimated by radiocarbon dating for settlement of that island group, [22] raising the intriguing possibility that, upon their arrival, Polynesian settlers encountered a small, already established, Native American population. It was on the island of Fatu Hiva—the easternmost island in equatorial Polynesia—that Thor Heyerdahl hypothesized that Native American and Polynesian individuals might have contacted one another, based on islanders’ legends stating that their forefathers had come from the east. [23]

According to the authors, the genetic data suggests "a single contact event" about AD 1200 with a "Native American group most closely related to the indigenous inhabitants of present-day Colombia". The genetic contribution is modest, largely limited to Eastern Polynesia, providing a significant if partial validation of Heyerdahl's thesis.

Theory on Polynesian origins

Heyerdahl claimed that in Incan legend there was a sun-god named Con-Tici Viracocha who was the supreme head of the mythical fair-skinned people in Peru. The original name for Viracocha was Kon-Tiki or Illa-Tiki, which means Sun-Tiki or Fire-Tiki.[ citation needed ]

Kon-Tiki was high priest and sun-king of these legendary "white men" who left enormous ruins on the shores of Lake Titicaca. The legend continues with the mysterious bearded white men being attacked by a chief named Cari, who came from the Coquimbo Valley. They had a battle on an island in Lake Titicaca, and the fair race was massacred. However, Kon-Tiki and his closest companions managed to escape and later arrived on the Pacific coast. The legend ends with Kon-Tiki and his companions disappearing westward out to sea.

When the Spaniards came to Peru, Heyerdahl asserted, the Incas told them that the colossal monuments that stood deserted about the landscape were erected by a race of white gods who had lived there before the Incas themselves became rulers. The Incas described these "white gods" as wise, peaceful instructors who had originally come from the north in the "morning of time" and taught the Incas' primitive forebears architecture as well as manners and customs. They were unlike other Native Americans in that they had "white skins and long beards" and were taller than the Incas. The Incas said that the "white gods" had then left as suddenly as they had come and fled westward across the Pacific. After they had left, the Incas themselves took over power in the country.

Heyerdahl said that when the Europeans first came to the Pacific islands, they were astonished that they found some of the natives to have relatively light skins and beards. There were whole families that had pale skin, hair varying in colour from reddish to blonde. In contrast, most of the Polynesians had golden-brown skin, raven-black hair, and rather flat noses. Heyerdahl claimed that when Jacob Roggeveen discovered Easter Island in 1722, he supposedly noticed that many of the natives were white-skinned. Heyerdahl claimed that these people could count their ancestors who were "white-skinned" right back to the time of Tiki and Hotu Matua, when they first came sailing across the sea "from a mountainous land in the east which was scorched by the sun". The ethnographic evidence for these claims is outlined in Heyerdahl's book Aku-Aku: The Secret of Easter Island . Despite these claims, DNA sequence analysis of Easter Island's current inhabitants indicates that the 36 people living on Rapa Nui who survived the devastating internecine wars, slave raids and epidemics of the 19th century and had any offspring, [24] were Polynesian. Furthermore, examination of skeletons offers evidence of only Polynesian origins for Rapa Nui living on the island after 1680. [25]

Tiki people

Heyerdahl proposed that Tiki's neolithic people colonised the then uninhabited Polynesian islands as far north as Hawaii, as far south as New Zealand, as far east as Easter Island, and as far west as Samoa and Tonga around 500 AD. They supposedly sailed from Peru to the Polynesian islands on pae-paes large rafts built from balsa logs, complete with sails and each with a small cottage. They built enormous stone statues carved in the image of human beings on Pitcairn, the Marquesas, and Easter Island that resembled those in Peru. They also built huge pyramids on Tahiti and Samoa with steps like those in Peru.

But all over Polynesia, Heyerdahl found indications that Tiki's peaceable race had not been able to hold the islands alone for long. He found evidence that suggested that seagoing war canoes as large as Viking ships, and lashed together two by two, had brought Stone Age Northwest American Indians to Polynesia around 1100 AD, and they mingled with Tiki's people. The oral history of the people of Easter Island, at least as it was documented by Heyerdahl, is completely consistent with this theory, as is the archaeological record he examined (Heyerdahl 1958).

In particular, Heyerdahl obtained a radiocarbon date of 400 AD for a charcoal fire located in the pit that was held by the people of Easter Island to have been used as an "oven" by the "Long Ears," which Heyerdahl's Rapa Nui sources, reciting oral tradition, identified as a white race that had ruled the island in the past (Heyerdahl 1958).

Heyerdahl further argued in his book American Indians in the Pacific that the current inhabitants of Polynesia migrated from an Asian source, but via an alternative route. He proposes that Polynesians travelled with the wind along the North Pacific current. These migrants then arrived in British Columbia. Heyerdahl called contemporary tribes of British Columbia, such as the Tlingit and Haida, descendants of these migrants. Heyerdahl claimed that cultural and physical similarities existed between these British Columbian tribes, Polynesians, and the Old World source.

Controversy

Heyerdahl's theory of Polynesian origins has not gained acceptance among anthropologists. [26] [27] [28] Physical and cultural evidence had long suggested that Polynesia was settled from west to east, migration having begun from the Asian mainland, not South America. In the late 1990s, genetic testing found that the mitochondrial DNA of the Polynesians is more similar to people from south-east Asia than to people from South America, showing that their ancestors most likely came from Asia. [29]

Anthropologist Robert Carl Suggs included a chapter titled "The Kon-Tiki Myth" in his 1960 book on Polynesia, concluding that "The Kon-Tiki theory is about as plausible as the tales of Atlantis, Mu, and 'Children of the Sun.' Like most such theories, it makes exciting light reading, but as an example of scientific method it fares quite poorly." [30]

Anthropologist and National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Wade Davis also criticised Heyerdahl's theory in his 2009 book The Wayfinders, which explores the history of Polynesia. Davis says that Heyerdahl "ignored the overwhelming body of linguistic, ethnographic, and ethnobotanical evidence, augmented today by genetic and archaeological data, indicating that he was patently wrong." [31]

A 2009 study by the Norwegian researcher Erik Thorsby [32] suggested that there was some merit to Heyerdahl's ideas and that, while Polynesia was colonised from Asia, some contact with South America also existed. [33] [34] Some critics suggest, however, that Thorsby's research is inconclusive because his data may have been influenced by recent population contact. [35]

A 2014 research project [36] indicates that the South American component of the Easter Island people's genomes pre-dates European contact. The research team, including Anna-Sapfo Malaspinas (from the Natural History Museum of Denmark), analysed the genomes of 27 native Rapanui people and found that their DNA was on average 76 per cent Polynesian, 8 per cent Native American and 16 per cent European. Analysis showed that "although the European lineage could be explained by contact with white Europeans after the island was 'discovered' in 1722 by Dutch sailors, the South American component was much older, dating to between about 1280 and 1495, soon after the island was first colonised by Polynesians in around 1200." Together with ancient skulls found in Brazil – with solely Polynesian DNA – this does suggest some pre-European-contact travel to and from South America from Polynesia.

A study based on over one hundred Rapanui DNA sequences published in Nature in July 2020 showed that a genetic contact event occurred, circa 1200 AD, between Polynesian individuals and a Native American group most closely related to the indigenous inhabitants of present-day Colombia. [37]

Expedition to Easter Island

Thor Heyerdahl, in 1955 Thor Heyerdahl - L0061 934Fo30141701190050.jpg
Thor Heyerdahl, in 1955

In 1955–1956, Heyerdahl organised the Norwegian Archaeological Expedition to Easter Island. The expedition's scientific staff included Arne Skjølsvold, Carlyle Smith, Edwin Ferdon, Gonzalo Figueroa [38] and William Mulloy. Heyerdahl and the professional archaeologists who travelled with him spent several months on Easter Island investigating several important archaeological sites. Highlights of the project include experiments in the carving, transport and erection of the notable moai, as well as excavations at such prominent sites as Orongo and Poike. The expedition published two large volumes of scientific reports (Reports of the Norwegian Archaeological Expedition to Easter Island and the East Pacific) and Heyerdahl later added a third (The Art of Easter Island). Heyerdahl's popular book on the subject, Aku-Aku was another international best-seller. [39]

In Easter Island: The Mystery Solved (Random House, 1989), Heyerdahl offered a more detailed theory of the island's history. Based on native testimony and archaeological research, he claimed the island was originally colonised by Hanau eepe ("Long Ears"), from South America, and that Polynesian Hanau momoko ("Short Ears") arrived only in the mid-16th century; they may have come independently or perhaps were imported as workers. According to Heyerdahl, something happened between Admiral Roggeveen's discovery of the island in 1722 and James Cook's visit in 1774; while Roggeveen encountered white, Indian, and Polynesian people living in relative harmony and prosperity, Cook encountered a much smaller population consisting mainly of Polynesians and living in privation.

Heyerdahl notes the oral tradition of an uprising of "Short Ears" against the ruling "Long Ears." The "Long Ears" dug a defensive moat on the eastern end of the island and filled it with kindling. During the uprising, Heyerdahl claimed, the "Long Ears" ignited their moat and retreated behind it, but the "Short Ears" found a way around it, came up from behind, and pushed all but two of the "Long Ears" into the fire. This moat was found by the Norwegian expedition and it was partly cut down into the rock. Layers of fire were revealed but no fragments of bodies.

As for the origin of the people of Easter Island, DNA tests have shown a connection to South America. [40] But critics conjecture that this was a result of recent events. Still, whether this is inherited from a person coming in later times is hard to know. If the story that almost all Long Ears were killed in a civil war is true, as the islanders' story goes, it would be expected that the statue-building South American bloodline would have been nearly utterly destroyed, leaving for the most part the Polynesian bloodline.

Boats Ra and Ra II

The Ra II in the Kon-Tiki Museum 19-08-28-Ra2-im-Kon-Tiki-Museum-Oslo-RalfR.jpg
The Ra II in the Kon-Tiki Museum

In 1969 and 1970, Heyerdahl built two boats from papyrus and attempted to cross the Atlantic Ocean from Morocco in Africa. Based on drawings and models from ancient Egypt, the first boat, named Ra (after the Egyptian Sun god), was constructed by boat builders from Lake Chad using papyrus reed obtained from Lake Tana in Ethiopia and launched into the Atlantic Ocean from the coast of Morocco. The Ra crew included Thor Heyerdahl (Norway), Norman Baker (US), Carlo Mauri (Italy), Yuri Senkevich (USSR), Santiago Genovés (Mexico), Georges Sourial (Egypt), and Abdullah Djibrine (Chad). Only Heyerdahl and Baker had sailing and navigation experience. Genovés would go on to head the Acali Experiment.

After a number of weeks, Ra took on water. The crew discovered that a key element of the Egyptian boatbuilding method had been neglected, a tether that acted like a spring to keep the stern high in the water while allowing for flexibility. [41] Water and storms eventually caused it to sag and break apart after sailing more than 6,400 km (4,000 miles). The crew was forced to abandon Ra, some hundred miles (160 km) before the Caribbean islands, and was saved by a yacht.

The following year, 1970, a similar vessel, Ra II, was built from Ethiopian papyrus by Bolivian citizens Demetrio, Juan and José Limachi of Lake Titicaca, and likewise set sail across the Atlantic from Morocco, this time with great success. The crew was mostly the same; though Djibrine had been replaced by Kei Ohara from Japan and Madani Ait Ouhanni from Morocco. The boat became lost and was the subject of a United Nations search and rescue mission. The search included international assistance including people as far afield as Loo-Chi Hu of New Zealand. The boat reached Barbados, thus demonstrating that mariners could have dealt with trans-Atlantic voyages by sailing with the Canary Current. [42] The Ra II is now in the Kon-Tiki Museum in Oslo, Norway.

The book The Ra Expeditions and the film documentary Ra (1972) were made about the voyages. Apart from the primary aspects of the expedition, Heyerdahl deliberately selected a crew representing a great diversity in race, nationality, religion and political viewpoint in order to demonstrate that, at least on their own little floating island, people could co-operate and live peacefully. Additionally, the expedition took samples of marine pollution and presented its report to the United Nations. [43]

Tigris

Model of the Tigris at the Pyramids of Guimar, Tenerife. Tigris Model Pyramids of Guimar.jpg
Model of the Tigris at the Pyramids of Güímar, Tenerife.

Heyerdahl built yet another reed boat in 1977, Tigris, which was intended to demonstrate that trade and migration could have linked Mesopotamia with the Indus Valley civilization in what is now Pakistan and western India. Tigris was built in Al Qurnah Iraq and sailed with its international crew through the Persian Gulf to Pakistan and made its way into the Red Sea. [44]

After about five months at sea and still remaining seaworthy, the Tigris was deliberately burnt in Djibouti on 3 April 1978 as a protest against the wars raging on every side in the Red Sea and Horn of Africa. In his Open Letter to the UN Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim, Heyerdahl explained his reasons: [45]

Today we burn our proud ship ... to protest against inhuman elements in the world of 1978 ... Now we are forced to stop at the entrance to the Red Sea. Surrounded by military airplanes and warships from the world's most civilised and developed nations, we have been denied permission by friendly governments, for reasons of security, to land anywhere, but in the tiny, and still neutral, Republic of Djibouti. Elsewhere around us, brothers and neighbours are engaged in homicide with means made available to them by those who lead humanity on our joint road into the third millennium.

To the innocent masses in all industrialised countries, we direct our appeal. We must wake up to the insane reality of our time ... We are all irresponsible, unless we demand from the responsible decision makers that modern armaments must no longer be made available to people whose former battle axes and swords our ancestors condemned.

Our planet is bigger than the reed bundles that have carried us across the seas, and yet small enough to run the same risks unless those of us still alive open our eyes and minds to the desperate need of intelligent collaboration to save ourselves and our common civilisation from what we are about to convert into a sinking ship.

In the years that followed, Heyerdahl was often outspoken on issues of international peace and the environment.

The Tigris had an 11-man crew: Thor Heyerdahl (Norway), Norman Baker (US), Carlo Mauri (Italy), Yuri Senkevich (USSR), Germán Carrasco (Mexico), Hans Petter Bohn (Norway), Rashad Nazar Salim (Iraq), Norris Brock (US), Toru Suzuki (Japan), Detlef Soitzek (Germany), and Asbjørn Damhus (Denmark).

"The Search for Odin" in Azerbaijan and Russia

Background

Heyerdahl made four visits to Azerbaijan in 1981, [46] 1994, 1999 and 2000. [47] Heyerdahl had long been fascinated with the rock carvings that date back to about 8th–7th millennia  BCE at Gobustan (about 30 miles/48 km west of Baku). He was convinced that their artistic style closely resembled the carvings found in his native Norway. The ship designs, in particular, were regarded by Heyerdahl as similar and drawn with a simple sickle-shaped line, representing the base of the boat, with vertical lines on deck, illustrating crew or, perhaps, raised oars.

Based on this and other published documentation, Heyerdahl proposed that Azerbaijan was the site of an ancient advanced civilisation. He believed that natives migrated north through waterways to present-day Scandinavia using ingeniously constructed vessels made of skins that could be folded like cloth. When voyagers travelled upstream, they conveniently folded their skin boats and transported them on pack animals.

Snorri Sturluson

On Heyerdahl's visit to Baku in 1999, he lectured at the Academy of Sciences about the history of ancient Nordic Kings. He spoke of a notation made by Snorri Sturluson, a 13th-century historian-mythographer in Ynglinga Saga , which relates that "Odin (a Scandinavian god who was one of the kings) came to the North with his people from a country called Aser." [48] (see also House of Ynglings and Mythological kings of Sweden). Heyerdahl accepted Snorri's story as literal truth, and believed that a chieftain led his people in a migration from the east, westward and northward through Saxony, to Fyn in Denmark, and eventually settling in Sweden. Heyerdahl claimed that the geographic location of the mythic Aser or Æsir matched the region of contemporary Azerbaijan – "east of the Caucasus mountains and the Black Sea". "We are no longer talking about mythology," Heyerdahl said, "but of the realities of geography and history. Azerbaijanis should be proud of their ancient culture. It is just as rich and ancient as that of China and Mesopotamia."

Thor Heyerdahl in 2000 Thor Heyerdahl 2000.jpg
Thor Heyerdahl in 2000

In September 2000 Heyerdahl returned to Baku for the fourth time and visited the archaeological dig in the area of the Church of Kish. [49]

Revision of hypothesis

One of the last projects of his life, Jakten på Odin , 'The Search for Odin', was a sudden revision of his Odin hypothesis, in furtherance of which he initiated 2001–2002 excavations in Azov, Russia, near the Sea of Azov at the northeast of the Black Sea. [50] He searched for the remains of a civilisation to match the account of Odin in Snorri Sturlusson, significantly further north of his original target of Azerbaijan on the Caspian Sea only two years earlier. This project generated harsh criticism and accusations of pseudoscience from historians, archaeologists and linguists in Norway, who accused Heyerdahl of selective use of sources, and a basic lack of scientific methodology in his work. [51] [52]

His central claims were based on similarities of names in Norse mythology and geographic names in the Black Sea region, e.g. Azov and Æsir, Udi and Odin, Tyr and Turkey. Philologists and historians reject these parallels as mere coincidences, and also anachronisms, for instance the city of Azov did not have that name until over 1,000 years after Heyerdahl claims the Æsir dwelt there. The controversy surrounding the Search for Odin project was in many ways typical of the relationship between Heyerdahl and the academic community. His theories rarely won any scientific acceptance, whereas Heyerdahl himself rejected all scientific criticism and concentrated on publishing his theories in popular books aimed at the general public.[ citation needed ]

As of 2024, Heyerdahl's Odin hypothesis has yet to be validated by any historian, archaeologist or linguist.

Pyramids of Güímar

In 1991 he studied the Pyramids of Güímar on Tenerife and declared that they were not random stone heaps but pyramids. Based on the discovery made by the astrophysicists Aparicio, Belmonte and Esteban, from the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias that the "pyramids" were astronomically orientated and being convinced that they were of ancient origin, he claimed that the ancient people who built them were most likely sun worshippers. Heyerdahl hypothesised that the Canarian pyramids formed a temporal and geographic stopping point on voyages between ancient Egypt and the Maya civilization, initiating a controversy in which historians, esoterics, archaeologists, astronomers, and those with a general interest in history took part. [53] [54]

Between 1991 and 1998, archaeological excavations of the site were conducted by archaeologists of the University of La Laguna. Preliminary findings were presented at a colloquium in 1996, providing evidence for the dating of the pyramids. [55] According to the preceding geophysical Georadar-Survey eight locations adjacent to the pyramids, each with an area of 25 m², were investigated in layers down to the solid lava-floor. In doing so it was possible to establish three specific sediment layers. Starting from the top these were:

  1. A layer of thickness averaging 20 cm, consisting of humus-rich earth with many plant remains and roots; tracks from ploughing were clearly identifiable as were a broad spectrum of readily datable finds from the second half of the 20th century.
  2. A layer of thickness averaging 25 cm, similar in composition to the first layer, however containing less humus and a larger amount of small stones; a large variety of finds which could be dated to the 19th and 20th century were found, of which an official seal from 1848 deserves particular mention.
  3. A layer of thickness between 25 and 150 cm, composed out of small volcanic rocks, most likely put in place in one movement, which levelled the uneven stone underneath; the stones contained only very few finds, mostly a small number of pottery shards, of which some was local and some imported, both kinds were roughly estimated as belonging to the 19th century. The pyramids stand stratigraphically directly on top of this bottom layer, therefore allowing for an earliest date of construction of the pyramids within the 19th century. [56]

Furthermore, under the border edge of one of the pyramids, a natural lava cave was discovered. It had been walled up and yielded artefacts from the time of the Guanches. Since the pyramids lie stratigraphically above the cave, the Guanche finds from between 600 and 1000 AD can only support conclusions on the date of human use of the cave. The above survey indicates that the pyramids themselves cannot be older than the 19th century. [57]

Other projects

Heyerdahl also investigated the mounds found on the Maldive Islands in the Indian Ocean. There, he found sun-orientated foundations and courtyards, as well as statues with elongated earlobes. Heyerdahl believed that these finds fit with his theory of a seafaring civilisation which originated in what is now Sri Lanka, colonised the Maldives, and influenced or founded the cultures of ancient South America and Easter Island. His discoveries are detailed in his book The Maldive Mystery.

Heyerdahl was also an active figure in Green politics. He was the recipient of numerous medals and awards. He also received 11 honorary doctorates from universities in the Americas and Europe.

In subsequent years, Heyerdahl was involved with many other expeditions and archaeological projects. He remained best known for his boatbuilding, and for his emphasis on cultural diffusionism. [58]

Death

Thor Heyerdahl's tomb at Colla Micheri Thor Heyerdahl tomb.jpg
Thor Heyerdahl's tomb at Colla Micheri

Heyerdahl died on 18 April 2002 aged 87 from a brain tumour in Colla Micheri, Liguria, where he had gone to spend the Easter holidays with some of his closest family members. [59] After receiving the diagnosis, he prepared for death, by refusing to eat or take medication. [60]

The Norwegian government honored him with a state funeral in the Oslo Cathedral on 26 April 2002. He is buried in the garden of the family home in Colla Micheri. [1] He was an atheist. [61] [62]

Legacy

Although much of his work was not accepted by the scientific community for many years, Heyerdahl nevertheless increased public interest in ancient history and anthropology. He also showed that long-distance ocean voyages were possible with ancient designs. As such, he was a major practitioner of experimental archaeology. The Kon-Tiki Museum on the Bygdøy peninsula in Oslo, Norway houses vessels and maps from the Kon-Tiki expedition, as well as a library with about 8,000 books.

The Thor Heyerdahl Institute was established in 2000. Heyerdahl himself agreed to the founding of the institute and it aims to promote and continue to develop Heyerdahl's ideas and principles. The institute is located in Heyerdahl's birth town of Larvik, Norway. In Larvik, the birthplace of Heyerdahl, the municipality began a project in 2007 to attract more visitors. Since then, they have purchased and renovated Heyerdahl's childhood home, arranged a yearly raft regatta in his honour at the end of summer and begun to develop a Heyerdahl centre. [63]

Heyerdahl's grandson, Olav Heyerdahl, retraced his grandfather's Kon-Tiki voyage in 2006 as part of a six-member crew. The voyage, organised by Torgeir Higraff and called the Tangaroa Expedition, [64] was intended as a tribute to Heyerdahl, an effort to better understand navigation via centreboards ("guara [65] ") as well as a means to monitor the Pacific Ocean's environment.

A book about the Tangaroa Expedition [66] by Torgeir Higraff was published in 2007. The book has numerous photos from the Kon-Tiki voyage 60 years earlier and is illustrated with photographs by Tangaroa crew member Anders Berg (Oslo: Bazar Forlag, 2007). "Tangaroa Expedition" [67] has also been produced as a documentary DVD in English, Norwegian, Swedish and Spanish.

Paul Theroux, in his book The Happy Isles of Oceania, criticises Heyerdahl for trying to link the culture of Polynesian islands with the Peruvian culture. Recent scientific investigation that compares the DNA of some of the Polynesian islands with natives from Peru suggests that there is some merit to Heyerdahl's ideas and that while Polynesia was colonised from Asia, some contact with South America also existed; several papers have in the last few years confirmed with genetic data some form of contacts with Easter Island. [33] [34] [68] More recently, some researchers published research confirming a wider impact on genetic and cultural elements in Polynesia due to South American contacts. [69]

Decorations and honorary degrees

Bust of Thor Heyerdahl. Guimar, Tenerife. ThorHeyerdahl Bust Guimar.jpg
Bust of Thor Heyerdahl. Güímar, Tenerife.

Asteroid 2473 Heyerdahl is named after him, as are HNoMS Thor Heyerdahl, a Norwegian Nansen class frigate, along with MS Thor Heyerdahl (now renamed MS Vana Tallinn ), and Thor Heyerdahl, a German three-masted sail training vessel originally owned by a participant of the Tigris expedition. Heyerdahl Vallis, a valley on Pluto, and Thor Heyerdahl Upper Secondary School in Larvik, the town of his birth, are also named after him. Google honoured Heyerdahl on his 100th birthday by making a Google Doodle. [70]

Heyerdahl's numerous awards and honours include the following:

Governmental and state honours

Academic honours

Honorary degrees

Publications

See also

Related Research Articles

In Polynesian mythology, Hawaiki is the original home of the Polynesians, before dispersal across Polynesia. It also features as the underworld in many Māori stories.

<i>Kon-Tiki</i> expedition 1947 raft journey from South America to Polynesia

The Kon-Tiki expedition was a 1947 journey by raft across the Pacific Ocean from South America to the Polynesian islands, led by Norwegian explorer and writer Thor Heyerdahl. The raft was named Kon-Tiki after the Inca god Viracocha, for whom "Kon-Tiki" was said to be an old name. Heyerdal's book on the expedition was entitled The Kon-Tiki Expedition: By Raft Across the South Seas. A 1950 documentary film won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. A 2012 dramatized feature film was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Fatu-Hiva</span> Commune in French Polynesia, France

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Culture of the Marquesas Islands</span>

The Marquesas Islands were colonized by seafaring Polynesians as early as 300 AD, thought to originate from Tonga and the Samoan Islands. The dense population was concentrated in the narrow valleys and consisted of warring tribes.

<i>Fatu Hiva</i> (book)

Fatu-Hiva - Back to Nature is a book published in 1974 by archaeologist and explorer Thor Heyerdahl detailing his experiences and reflections during a 15-month stay on the Marquesan island of Fatu Hiva in 1937–38. The book was based on Heyerdahl's original report På Jakt efter Paradiset, which was published in Norway in 1938, but because of the outbreak of World War II was never translated and rather forgotten.

<i>Aku-Aku</i> Book by Thor Heyerdahl

Aku-Aku: the Secret of Easter Island is a 1957 book by Thor Heyerdahl published in Norwegian, Swedish, Danish and Finnish, and in French and English the following year. The book describes the 1955–1956 Norwegian Archaeological Expedition's investigations of Polynesian history and culture at Easter Island, the Austral Islands of Rapa Iti and Raivavae, and the Marquesas Islands of Nuku Hiva and Hiva Oa. Visits to Pitcairn Island, Mangareva and Tahiti are described as well.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Knut Haugland</span>

Knut Magne Haugland, DSO, MM, was a resistance fighter and noted explorer from Norway, who accompanied Thor Heyerdahl on his famous 1947 Kon-Tiki expedition.

Donald P. Ryan is an American archaeologist, Egyptologist, writer and a member of the Division of Humanities at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Washington. His areas of research interest include Egyptian archaeology, Polynesian archaeology, the history of archaeology, the history of exploration, ancient languages and scripts and experimental archaeology. He is best known for his research in Egypt including excavations in the Valley of the Kings where he investigated the long-neglected undecorated tombs in the royal cemetery. His work there resulted in the rediscovery of the lost and controversial tomb KV60, the re-opening of the long-buried KV21 with its two female and likely royal occupants, and tombs KV27, KV28, KV44, KV45 and KV48. In 2017, he rediscovered three small tombs in the Valley of the Kings which when first encountered in 1906 contained the mummies of animals including a dog and monkeys.

Hotu Matuꞌa was the legendary first settler and ariki mau of Easter Island and ancestor of the Rapa Nui people. Hotu Matuꞌa and his two-canoe colonising party were Polynesians from the now unknown land of Hiva. They landed at Anakena beach and his people spread out across the island, sub-divided it between clans claiming descent from his sons, and lived for more than a thousand years in their isolated island home at the southeastern tip of the Polynesian Triangle.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tangaroa Expedition</span>

The Tangaroa Expedition of 2006 closely resembled the Kon-Tiki expedition sailing a balsa raft from Peru to Polynesia. Tangaroa outperformed Kon-Tiki by having an improved sail rig and by actively using guaras (centerboards). As such, the expedition represents a scientific continuation of Thor Heyerdahl's experiments in recreated maritime technology.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Kon-Tiki Museum</span> Norwegian maritime museum in Oslo

The Kon-Tiki Museum is a museum in the Bygdøy peninsula in Oslo, Norway. It houses vessels and maps from the Kon-Tiki expedition, as well as a library with about 8,000 books. It was opened in a provisional building in 1949. In 1957, the current building—designed by architects F. S. Platou and Otto Torgersen—was opened. In 1978, an extension of the museum designed by Torgersen was opened.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Polynesia</span> Subregion of Oceania

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Robert Carl Suggs was an American archaeologist and anthropologist. He was a student of Harry L. Shapiro at the American Museum of Natural History in the 1950s and received his M.A. from Columbia University in 1956 and his Ph.D. from Columbia in 1959.

<i>Kon-Tiki</i> (2012 film) 2012 film

Kon-Tiki is a 2012 historical drama film directed by Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg about the 1947 Kon-Tiki expedition. The film was mainly shot on the island of Malta. The role of Thor Heyerdahl is played by Pål Sverre Hagen. The film is an international co-production between Norway, Denmark, Germany, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

Gonzalo Figueroa Garcia Huidobro, often referred to simply as Gonzalo Figueroa, was an archaeologist and authority on the conservation of the archaeological heritage of Rapa Nui. Figueroa's work included participating in Thor Heyerdahl's Rapa Nui expedition, restoring Ahu Akivimoai with William Mulloy, and working generally for over four decades to conserve and, in some cases, restore the archaeological monuments of Rapa Nui for future generations.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Erik Hesselberg</span>

Erik Bryn Hesselberg was a Norwegian sailor, author, photographer, painter and sculptor. He is most known as a crewmember of the Kon-Tiki raft expedition from South America to French Polynesia in 1947.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Torgeir Sæverud Higraff</span>

Torgeir Sæverud Higraff is an explorer, teacher and author with special interest in prehistoric transoceanic contact. Like Thor Heyerdahl, Higraff combines history, anthropology and traditional knowledge with expeditions. In 2002, the year Heyerdahl died, Higraff decided to recreate the Kon-Tiki expedition, and in 2006 the Tangaroa Expedition sailed from Peru to Raiatea in eastern Polynesia. Tangaroa outperformed Kon-Tiki by using an improved sail rig and active use of the guara centerboards.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Pre-Columbian rafts</span> Boats in pre-Spanish and Portuguese South America

Pre-Columbian rafts plied the Pacific Coast of South America for trade from about 100 BCE, and possibly much earlier. The 16th-century descriptions by the Spanish of the rafts used by Native Americans along the seacoasts of Peru and Ecuador has incited speculation about the seamanship of the Indians, the seaworthiness of their rafts, and the possibility that they undertook long ocean-going voyages. None of the prehistoric rafts have survived and the exact characteristics of their construction and the geographical extent of their voyages are uncertain.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Kon-Tiki2</span>

The Kon-Tiki2 Expedition built and sailed two balsawood rafts from Peru to Easter Island in 2015. The goal of the expedition was to show that balsawood rafts can be sailed across long distances, and to collect scientific data in the southeast Pacific. The expedition built two rafts in 30 days and went on to sail the rafts more than 2000 nautical miles before reaching Easter Island after 43 days at sea. No other balsa rafts have sailed to Easter Island in modern times.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Marquesan Dog</span> Extinct Polynesian dog breed

The Marquesan Dog or Marquesas Islands Dog is an extinct breed of dog from the Marquesas Islands. Similar to other strains of Polynesian dogs, it was introduced to the Marquesas by the ancestors of the Polynesian people during their migrations. Serving as a tribal totems and religious symbols, they were sometimes consumed as meat although less frequently than in other parts of the Pacific because of their scarcity. These native dogs are thought to have become extinct before the arrival of Europeans, who did not record their presence on the islands. Petroglyphic representations of dogs and the archaeological remains of dog bones and burials are the only evidence that the breed ever existed. Modern dog populations on the island are the descendants of foreign breeds later reintroduced in the 19th century as companions for European settlers.

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