Thor Heyerdahl 1914-2002

The Norwegian explorer, Thor Heyerdahl, died in his sleep on Wednesday night, aged 87.

Thor Heyerdahl leapt into the headlines of the international press when in August. 1947, his hand-made raft called Kontiki arrived in Peru, having crossed the Pacific Ocean. He had left the Polynesian island of Raroia 101 days previously and the raft was constructed according to traditional methods.

Quite apart from being an amazing piece of seamanship, Thor Heyerdahl single-handedly showed that migration theories would have to be re-thought, since mankind would have been far more mobile in the past than had been imagined possible.

Born in Larvik, southern Norway, in 1914, Thor Heyerdahl studied geography and zoology at Oslo University before travelling to Polynesia to study the flora and fauna. It was here that he became interested in demography, as he began to wonder how the Polynesian Islands had become populated.

Scientists had believed that it had been populated by migrations from the west, yet Heyerdahl noticed that the ocean currents and flora indicated that the first inhabitants had come from the east – South America. It was for this reason that he based the construction methods of his raft, the Kontiki, on traditional Indian balsa craft, used for hundreds of years by Indian fishermen. Having proved that the journey could be made on such a craft, Thor Heyerdahl wrote many chapters of history with this expedition.

He made many other expeditions after this, the most famous being with the crafts RA I, RA II and the Tigris, always proving that ancient construction and navigational methods had been severely underestimated by modern maritime authorities.

In 1999, he launched the Thor Heyerdahl International Maritime Environmental Award, together with the Norwegian Shipowners’ Association. This award is attributed annually for those who contribute towards the improvement of the global environment, act as an inspiration for new environmental measures to be implemented or who enhance shipping as a means of transport.

More than a great sailor, Thor Heyerdahl was a pioneer in the rediscovery of ancient techniques which prove that the world is, and has always been, a global village. He rediscovered for us knowledge long since lost.


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