Thor Heyerdahl (1914–2002) was a Norwegian ethnologist, anthropologist, voyager, explorer, and writer. He undertook ocean voyages in primitive boats to prove his theories of cultural diffusion, the best known of which was that of the balsa raft Kon-Tiki from Peru to the islands east of Tahiti in 1947. Heyerdahl’s theories have not been broadly accepted by anthropologists.
Born in Larvik, Vestfold og Telemark county, and educated at the University of Oslo, Heyerdahl served with the free Norwegian military forces during World War II. In 1937, he led his first expedition to Fatu Hiva in the Marquesas Islands of the Pacific. During his year there developed the theory that certain aspects of the Polynesian culture owed their origins to settlers from the Americas, possibly the pre-Inca inhabitants of Peru. To prove this, in 1947, he and five colleagues sailed a balsa raft, Kon-Tiki, from Callao, Peru, to Tuamotu Island in the South Pacific, spending 101 days adrift. Heyerdahl related the story of the voyage in the bestselling book Kon-Tiki: Across the Pacific in a Raft (1948) and a documentary motion picture of the same name.
Heyerdahl’s success in this venture and on subsequent archaeological expeditions to the Galapagos in 1953 and Easter Island in 1955 won him widespread fame and several awards. In 1970, to test the theory that ancient Mediterranean people could have crossed the Atlantic to Central America before Christopher Columbus, he sailed from Morocco to the West Indies in a papyrus-reed boat Ra II, reaching Barbados in 57 days.
Heyerdahl’s subsequent journey (1977–78) from Iraq to Djibouti in the reed-ship Tigris shows that these crafts could be maneuvered against the wind and complete two-way trips via the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea. The political conflict in Ethiopia, Somalia, and Yemen led them to burn the Tigris in protest at Djibouti. He led an archaeological expedition to the Maldive Islands (1982–84,) organized a Norwegian-Chilean team to Easter Island (1986–88,) and in 1990 began to supervise an investigation into archaeological remains in Tenerife, Canary Islands.
Norwegian writer Arnold Jacoby wrote Señor Kon-Tiki: The Biography of Thor Heyerdahl (1967.)
Progress is man’s ability to complicate simplicity.