Thor Heyerdahl: Modern-Day Columbus
Born in 1914 in Lanvik, Norway, Thor Heyerdahl exhibited a precocious interest in nature and animal life. As a child, he created a small museum in his home. Educated at the University of Oslo, he majored in zoology and geography. Heyerdahl mounted several expeditions over the course of his life. Although some of his ideas were not considered worthy by academics of the time, Heyerdahl was a man of great conviction and courage. The following highlights some of his most well-known and controversial expeditions:
Polynesia and Northwest America
From 1937 until 1941, Heyerdahl began an ethnographic study of the Polynesian culture, living amidst the Polynesian people. He postulated that settlers to the area had come from the west, not from Southeast Asia as was popularly thought. Following this theory, Heyerdahl came to believe that Polynesia was settled by two different groups- the first group through Peru and Easter Island, and the second group from British Columbia, who reached Hawaii. Scholars did not embrace his theories. Undaunted, Heyerdahl continued his studies.
In 1947, Heyerdahl led an expedition from Peru to Polynesia aboard the Kon-Tiki, a replica of the original balsa raft, to prove that ancient Peruvians could have reached Polynesia aboard such a craft. He and his five fellow explorers traveled eight thousand kilometers in total. Such a journey was unheard of at the time, and the voyage captured the attention of people all over the world. This was perhaps his most famous and celebrated journey.
In 1952, continuing his success on the Kon-Tiki expedition, Heyerdahl led a group to explore pre-Columbian habitation sites in the Galapagos Islands. This represented the first time that South American archaeology was extended this far in the open Pacific and was another amazing achievement for Heyerdahl and his team.
In 1955 to 1956, Heyerdahl and a group of expeditioners explored Easter Island and discovered that the Island had been inhabited approximately 1000 years prior to what scientists had previously known. This was an important and unexpected discovery.
Heyerdahl led later expeditions to the Maldives and to the Tigris River.
Heyerdahl passed away in 2002; however, his work lives on. Heyerdahl has been a significant force in the study of the Pacific, aboriginal technologies, and the Polynesian people, among other important findings. He was awarded many honors and continued to be active in the fields of archaeology, geography, and ethnography until he died.