Thor Heyerdahl

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Thor Heyerdahl
Heyerdahl around 1980
Born(1914-10-06)October 6, 1914
Larvik, Norway
DiedApril 18, 2002(2002-04-18) (aged 87)
Alma mater University of Oslo
Liv Coucheron-Torp
(m. 1936;div. 1947)

Yvonne Dedekam-Simonsen
(m. 1949;div. 1969)

Jacqueline Beer
(m. 1991;his death 2002)
Awards Mungo Park Medal (1950)
Scientific career
Fields Ethnography
Doctoral advisor Kristine Bonnevie
Hjalmar Broch

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


In May 2011, the Thor Heyerdahl Archives were added to UNESCO's "Memory of the World" Register. [1] At the time, this list included 238 collections from all over the world. [2] The Heyerdahl Archives span the years 1937 to 2002 and include his photographic collection, diaries, private letters, expedition plans, articles, newspaper clippings, 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. [3] 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  [ no ], 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.

Just before sailing together to the Marquesas Islands in 1936, Heyerdahl married his first wife, Liv Coucheron-Torp (1916–1969[ dubious ]), whom he had met shortly before enrolling at the university, and who had studied economics there. The couple had two sons: Thor Jr and Bjørn. The marriage ended in divorce.

After the Occupation of Norway by Nazi Germany, he served with the Free Norwegian Forces from 1944, in the far north province of Finnmark. [4] [5]

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. [6]

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 still had been hoping to undertake an archaeological project in Samoa before he died. [7]

Heyerdahl died on April 18, 2002, in Colla Micheri, Liguria, Italy, where he had gone to spend the Easter holidays with some of his closest family members. The Norwegian government gave him a state funeral in Oslo Cathedral on April 26, 2002. He is buried in the garden of the family home in Colla Micheri. [8] He was an atheist. [9] [10]

Fatu Hiva

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, never translated and 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

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 August 7, 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]

Anthropologists continue to believe that Polynesia was settled from west to east, based on linguistic, physical, and genetic evidence, migration having begun from the Asian mainland. There are controversial indications, though, of some sort of South American/Polynesian contact, most notably in the fact that the South American sweet potato is served as a dietary staple throughout much of Polynesia. Blood samples taken in 1971 and 2008 from Easter Islanders without any European or other external descent were analysed in a 2011 study, which concluded that the evidence supported some aspects of Heyerdahl's hypothesis. [17] [18] [19] This result has been questioned because of the possibility of contamination by South Americans after European contact with the islands. [20] However, more recent DNA work (after Heyerdahl's death) contradicts the post-European-contact contamination hypothesis, finding the South American DNA sequences to be far older than that. [21] Heyerdahl had attempted to counter the linguistic argument with the analogy that he would prefer to believe that African-Americans came from Africa, judging from their skin colour, and not from England, judging from their speech.

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 color 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 .

Tiki people

Heyerdahl proposed that Tiki's neolithic people colonized 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 and 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 alternate 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.


Heyerdahl's theory of Polynesian origins has not gained acceptance among anthropologists. [22] [23] [24] 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 Southeast Asia than to people from South America, showing that their ancestors most likely came from Asia. [25]

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." [26]

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." [27]

A 2009 study by Norwegian researcher Erik Thorsby [28] suggested that there was some merit to Heyerdahl's ideas and that, while Polynesia was colonized from Asia, some contact with South America also existed. [29] [30] Some critics suggest, however, that Thorsby's research is inconclusive because his data may have been influenced by recent population contact. [31]

However, more recent work[ when? ] indicates that the South American component of Easter Island people's genomes predates European contact: a 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. [21]

Expedition to Easter Island

In 1955–1956, Heyerdahl organized the Norwegian Archaeological Expedition to Easter Island. The expedition's scientific staff included Arne Skjølsvold, Carlyle Smith, Edwin Ferdon, Gonzalo Figueroa [32] 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. [33]

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 colonized 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, [34] critics conjecture that this was a result of recent events, but 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 invading Polynesian bloodline.

Boats Ra and Ra II

The Ra II in the Kon-Tiki Museum in Oslo, Norway RaII.InMuseum.jpg
The Ra II in the Kon-Tiki Museum in Oslo, Norway

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 (USA), 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.

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. [35] Water and storms eventually caused it to sag and break apart after sailing more than 6400 km (4000 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 of papyrus by Demetrio, Juan and José Limachi from Lake Titicaca in Bolivia 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. [36] 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 cooperate and live peacefully. Additionally, the expedition took samples of marine pollution and presented their report to the United Nations. [37]


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, 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 Iraq and sailed with its international crew through the Persian Gulf to Pakistan and made its way into the Red Sea.

After about five months at sea and still remaining seaworthy, the Tigris was deliberately burnt in Djibouti, on April 3, 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: [38]

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 civilized 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 neighbors 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 industrialized 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 civilization 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 eleven-man crew: Thor Heyerdahl (Norway), Norman Baker (USA), Carlo Mauri (Italy), Yuri Senkevich (USSR), Germán Carrasco (Mexico), Hans Petter Bohn (Norway), Rashad Nazar Salim (Iraq), Norris Brock (USA), Toru Suzuki (Japan), Detlef Soitzek (Germany), and Asbjørn Damhus (Denmark).

"The Search for Odin" in Azerbaijan and Russia


Heyerdahl made four visits to Azerbaijan in 1981, [39] 1994, 1999 and 2000. [40] 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 civilization. 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." [41] (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. [42]

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. [43] He searched for the remains of a civilization to match the account of Odin in Snorri Sturlusson, quite a bit 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. [44] [45]

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 1000 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 2017, Heyerdahl's Odin hypothesis has yet to be validated by any historian, archaeologist or linguist.

Other projects

Heyerdahl also investigated the mounds found on the Maldive Islands in the Indian Ocean. There, he found sun-oriented foundations and courtyards, as well as statues with elongated earlobes. Heyerdahl believed that these finds fit with his theory of a seafaring civilization which originated in what is now Sri Lanka, colonized 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.

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 oriented and being convinced that they were of ancient origin, he claimed that the ancient people who built them were most likely sun worshippers. Heyerdahl advanced a theory according to which the Canaries had been bases of ancient shipping between America and the Mediterranean.

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.


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

In subsequent years, Heyerdahl was involved with many other expeditions and archaeological projects. He remained best known for his boat-building, and for his emphasis on cultural diffusionism.

He died, aged 87, from a brain tumour. [46] After receiving the diagnosis he prepared for dying by refusing to eat or take medication. [47] The Norwegian government granted Heyerdahl the honour of a state funeral in the Oslo Cathedral on April 26, 2002. His cremated remains lie in the garden of his family's home in Colla Micheri.


Although much of his work remains unaccepted within the scientific community, Heyerdahl 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 8000 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 in 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. [48]

Heyerdahl's grandson, Olav Heyerdahl, retraced his grandfather's Kon-Tiki voyage in 2006 as part of a six-member crew. The voyage, organized by Torgeir Higraff and called the Tangaroa Expedition, [49] was intended as a tribute to Heyerdahl, an effort to better understand navigation via centerboards ("guara [50] ") as well as a means to monitor the Pacific Ocean's environment.

A book about the Tangaroa Expedition [51] 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" [52] has also been produced as a documentary DVD in English, Norwegian, Swedish and Spanish.

Paul Theroux, in his book The Happy Isles of Oceania, criticizes Heyerdahl for trying to link the culture of Polynesian islands with the Peruvian culture. However, 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 colonized from Asia, some contact with South America also existed. [29] [30]

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. Thor Heyerdahl Upper Secondary School in Larvik, the town of his birth, is also named after him. Google honoured Heyerdahl on his 100th birthday by making a Google Doodle. [53]

Heyerdahl's numerous awards and honours include the following:

Governmental and state honours

Academic honours

Honorary degrees


See also

Related Research Articles

<i>Kon-Tiki</i> expedition A 1947 journey by raft across the Pacific Ocean from South America to the Polynesian islands

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. Kon-Tiki is also the name of Heyerdahl's book, the Academy Award-winning documentary film chronicling his adventures, and the 2012 dramatized feature film nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

<i>Fatu Hiva</i> (book) book by Thor Heyerdahl

Fatu-Hiva - Back to Nature is a book published in 1974 by archaeologist and explorer Thor Heyerdahl detailing his experiences and reflections during a one-and-a-half-year stay on the Marquesan island of Fatu Hiva in 1937–38. The book was based on Heyerdahl's original report Paa 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 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. By far the greatest part of the book tells of the work on Easter Island, where the expedition investigated the giant stone statues (moai), the quarries at Rano Raraku and Puna Pau, the ceremonial village of Orongo on Rano Kau, as well as many other sites throughout the island. Much of the book's interest derives from the interaction of the expedition staff, from their base at Anakena beach, with the Easter Islanders themselves, who lived mainly in the village of Hanga Roa.

Torstein Raaby Norwegian resistance member

Torstein Pettersen Raaby was a Norwegian telegrapher, resistance fighter and explorer. He is known as a crew member on the Kon-Tiki expedition.

Knut Haugland Norwegian resistance fighter

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.

<i>Kon-Tiki</i> (1950 film) 1950 Norwegian film directed by Thor Heyerdahl

Kon-Tiki is a Norwegian-Swedish documentary film about the Kon-Tiki expedition led by Norwegian explorer and writer Thor Heyerdahl in 1947, released in Sweden, Norway, Finland, and Denmark in 1950, followed by the United States in 1951. The movie, which was directed by Thor Heyerdahl and edited by Olle Nordemar, received the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature for 1951 at the 24th Academy Awards. The Oscar officially went to Olle Nordemar.

Bjørn Agnar Wegge is a Norwegian NGO director.

Tangaroa Expedition

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.

The Kantuta Expeditions were two separate expeditions on balsa rafts led by the Czech explorer and adventurer Eduard Ingris.

Kon-Tiki Museum museum

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 8000 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.

Polynesia Subregion of Oceania

Polynesia is a subregion of Oceania, made up of more than 1,000 islands scattered over the central and southern Pacific Ocean. The indigenous people who inhabit the islands of Polynesia are termed Polynesians, sharing many similar traits including language family, culture, and beliefs. Historically, they had a strong tradition of sailing and using stars to navigate at night. The largest country in Polynesia is New Zealand.

<i>The Kon-Tiki Expedition: By Raft Across the South Seas</i> book by Thor Heyerdahl

The Kon-Tiki Expedition: By Raft Across the South Seas is a 1948 book by the Norwegian writer Thor Heyerdahl. It recounts Heyerdahl's experiences with the Kon-Tiki expedition, where he travelled across the Pacific Ocean on a balsa tree raft. The book was first published in Norway on 2 November 1948, and sold out in 15 days.

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

Erik Hesselberg Norwegian resistance member

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.

Torgeir Sæverud Higraff Norwegian explorer

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.

The Viracocha expedition

In 2000 and 2003, professional explorer Phil Buck led international teams across the Pacific Ocean from South America to Easter Island via two separate ancient style reed rafts. Both vessels were constructed in their entirety from only four Andean materials; totora reeds, natural fiber rope, cotton sails and wood.

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.


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.


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Further reading