“We seem to believe that the ocean is endless…we use it like a sewer”. Thor Heyerdahl
Thor Heyerdahl was born with a natural curiosity and eagerness to explore. This amazing man, born in Norway in 1914, became a: scholar, sailor, author, ethnologist, philosopher, archaeologist, and environmentalist. Here are a few of his amazing voyages.
American Presidency Project
His theories about cross-cultural migration are still considered controversial, but the success of his voyages and the results of his archaeological expeditions are undeniable. His life and work provided a wealth of examples to support his belief that ancient people sailed and explored more of the world than was thought possible.
Heyerdahl sailed under the United Nations (UN) flag, and always recruited a multi-cultural, diverse team. This proved his theory that people could live and work together as a group regardless of cultural backgrounds and opinions.
Kon-Tiki Voyage 1947
His first voyage was on the Kon-Tiki, a balsa raft fashioned after South American style vessels. The goal of the journey was to test his theory of eastern migration by South Americans to colonize the Polynesian Islands. The accepted scientific theory of the era claimed Asians migrating from the west had colonized the islands. This 101 day voyage of over 4,000 miles proved the possibility of trade and cultural exchanges between Africans, South Americans, and the Pacific Islanders.
Film footage of the voyage won an Academy Award in 1952 for Best Documentary. His book about the Pacific voyage has been translated into 67 languages and captures the imagination of all ages of readers.
Galapagos Islands Expedition
Voyage number two provided evidence of visitation by South Americans to the Galapagos Islands and verified visits pre-dating the Columbians. Heyerdahl demonstrated that balsa rafts equipped with primitive technology like guara keels could sail into the wind and be maneuvered through the currents, challenging conventional ideas about ancient sea travel.
Easter Island, North American Archaeological Expedition 1955-1956
Easter Island, with a dependable water supply, was the logical destination for Heyerdahl’s next voyage. His prevailing theory at this time was that prehistoric people in reed boats could have migrated eastward to the island. Showcase discoveries were pre-Incan type statutes and houses.
Aymara Reed Boat Builders
Heyerdahl’s next challenge was sailing reed (papyrus) boats like the ancient Egyptians. He retraced their route from Africa to the New World, providing documentation Egyptians could have safely sailed in open vessels for long distances.
Ra I completed 5,000 miles before bursting. Ra II was built with supervision provided by Aymara Indian experts, and completed a successful journey. Heyerdahl had more supporting evidence for the possibility of cross-cultural migration and influence patterns.
Heyerdahl believed Sumerians had sailed from their home port to Polynesian islands. Tigris was patterned after ancient Sumerian boats and followed Heyerdahl’s projected migration route – from Iraq in the Persian Gulf to the Indian Ocean and Indus Valley to the Red Sea.
The voyage was terminated abruptly in 1978 because of war -North Yemen denied passage. Heyerdahl and his crew wrote the UN a letter protesting the war, then burned the Tigris as a symbol of their protest.
Heyerdahl’s UN Letter
Heyerdahl Burns Tigris
Thor Heyerdahl sailed on many more voyages and archaeological expeditions in his productive life; his achievements are not limited to these voyages. Highlights of his career are:
1. Constructing and sailing replicas of ancient sea vessels
2. Providing archaeological and logical evidence for his migration theory
3. Showed that populations could move with ocean currents just like plants and animals
4. Worked to eliminate ocean pollution