Thor Heyerdahl’s “Kon-Tiki”: 6980 kilometers across the Pacific

story Thor Heyerdahls “Kon-Tiki”

With an antique raft 6980 kilometers across the Pacific

Thor Heyerdahl set sail in April 1947 to prove his thesis that Polynesia was settled from America. His raft “Kon-Tiki” consisted only of balsa wood and hemp ropes. But after 101 days, the crew reached their goal.

With “Kon-Tiki” across the Pacific

The feature film: In 1947, the young researcher Thor Heyerdahl (Valheim Hagen) crossed the vastness of the Pacific Ocean on a self-built raft made of balsa wood, called “Kon-Tiki”, with an uncertain outcome.

Dhe thesis was too steep for the established scientists: the island world in the endless Pacific was not settled from Asia, but from South America, claimed a young man with no academic stable smell in an essay that he offered to the professional world in the 1940s. The editors of magazines therefore refused to print it in their offices. But the sender was not put off by that. He replicated a vehicle the migrants were said to have traveled in and piloted it on their route. The man’s name was Thor Heyerdahl (1914–2002).

As the son of an entrepreneur from Larvik in southern Norway, the then 32-year-old was able to afford it. He studied the descriptions left by the Spanish conquistadors of the watercraft they found in South America in the 16th century. Based on their models, he connected nine trunks of balsa wood about 13 meters long and some crosspieces with ropes made of hemp, erected a hut with a roof made of banana leaves and a nine meter high mast and named the whole thing “Kon-Tiki” – after an Inca god , who is said to have come over the sea.

Thor Heyerdahl (1914–2002) on his “Kon-Tiki”

Quelle: picture-alliance / dpa

Nails and other Old World materials were forbidden. Only 1000 liters of drinking water as well as coconuts, pumpkins and sweet potatoes were bunkered as food. The only modern additions were US Army emergency rations and survival kits and three radios. On April 28, 1947, the “Kon-Tiki” set sail from Callao in Peru.

“He was a scientist, not an adventurer as is commonly believed. He led an adventurous life, but he didn’t seek adventure for adventure’s sake,” says Liv Heyerdahl about her grandfather. “Scientific curiosity was his driving force.” The granddaughter is in charge Kon-Tiki-Museum in Oslo.

epa00995162 (FILES) A file photograph dated 1947, of Peruvian sailors building the Kon-Tiki raft in the port of Callao, Peru, before departing with Norwegian explorer and writer Thor Heyerdahl, that same year to the Polynesian islands in the South Pacific. A photographic exhibit, Peruvians remembers, 28 April 2007, the 60th anniversary of the Kon-Tiki expedition, in which Heyerdahl sailed for 101 days over 4,300 miles before smashing into a reef at Raroia in the Tuamotu Islands on 07 August 1947. EPA/PERUVIAN NAVY / HO EDITORIAL USE ONLY

Just logs and ropes

Quelle: picture-alliance/ dpa

He had already extensively demonstrated his curiosity beforehand. In 1937 he and his wife set out for the Maquesas Islands in eastern Polynesia and spent eight months exploring them. The two had largely dispensed with modern tools. When the Wehrmacht occupied Norway in 1940, the couple stayed in Canada to study. Heyerdahl volunteered to fight the invaders and received radio operator and parachutist training. However, it was only used for a short time.

In addition to Heyerdahl, the “Kon-Tiki” crew included five other men. Second commander on the raft was Herman Watzinger. He was born in Wiesbaden, grew up in Norway and met Heyerdahl while studying in New York. He later ran a fishmeal factory in Chile and was Deputy Director General of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in the late 1970s.

epa00995164 (FILES) A file photograph dated 1947,of Norwegian explorer and writer Thor Heyerdahl on the Kon-Tiki raft that same year, sailing to the Polynesian islands in the South Pacific. A photographic exhibit, Peruvians remembers, 28 April 2007, the 60th anniversary of the Kon-Tiki expedition, in which Heyerdahl sailed for 101 days over 4,300 miles before smashing into a reef at Raroia in the Tuamotu Islands on 07 August 1947. EPA/PERUVIAN NAVY / HO EDITORIAL USE ONLY

Heyerdahl an Board of “Kon-Tiki”

Quelle: picture-alliance/ dpa

epa00995163 (FILES) A file photograph dated 1947, of five Norwegian mariners sailing on the Kon-Tiki raft that same year, to the Polynesian islands in the South Pacific with Norwegian explorer and writer Thor Heyerdah (not shown). A photographic exhibit, Peruvians remembers, 28 April 2007, the 60th anniversary of the Kon-Tiki expedition, in which Heyerdahl sailed for 101 days over 4,300 miles before smashing into a reef at Raroia in the Tuamotu Islands on 07 August 1947. EPA/PERUVIAN NAVY / HO EDITORIAL USE ONLY

life on board

Quelle: picture-alliance/ dpa

In ARTE on 03/14/1998 at 20:45 KON-TIKI documentary by Morten Kolstad La Sept ARTE Norway 1997

“Kon-Tiki” at sea

Quelle: picture-alliance / obs

Not only scientists considered their start in 1947 to be a crazy adventure. Before the raft was towed offshore, Heyerdahl had to sign a statement absolving the Peruvian military of any responsibility for the venture. But to the surprise of the critics, the “Kon-Tiki” did surprisingly well: It was a “fantastic, seaworthy raft,” Heyerdahl wrote in his log book after two weeks at sea.

Even in heavy seas, the men did not lose their good humor: “Heavy seas. good wind. Today I’m a cook and I found seven flying fish on deck, an octopus on the roof and an unknown fish in Torstein’s sleeping bag,” Heyerdahl noted in mid-May. That was almost three more months ahead of them.

On August 7, 1947, after 101 days and 6,980 kilometers, the “Kon-Tiki” finally ran aground off a coral reef in Raroia Atoll in eastern Polynesia. Although the superstructure broke, the raft itself remained relatively intact. This was at least the technical proof that seafarers could have sailed from South America to Polynesia in pre-Columbian times.

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The film

Heyerdahl’s travelogue became a bestseller and was translated into more than 60 languages. An Oscar-winning documentary film followed in 1950. Western European children could act out the tour using a “Kon-Tiki” kit. In 2012, the Norwegian cinema drama “Kon-Tiki” caused a sensation in cinemas.

Recent DNA analysis supports at least Heyerdahl’s assumption that native peoples from South America reached Polynesia long before the arrival of Europeans. The Mexican Geneticist Andres Moreno-Estrada identified genetic material from indigenous peoples from South America in DNA samples from people on Easter Island and Polynesia. In eastern Polynesia, the first common descendants of Polynesians and South Americans were born between 1150 and 1230, as is documented in the 2020 in the journal “Nature” published study is called.

ARCHIVE - The papyrus boat Ra II on the high seas, photographed in April 1970. On a papyrus boat across the Atlantic: Thor Heyerdahl did it exactly 40 years ago with the

Heyerdahl’s “Ra II” in 1970 in the Atlantic

Quelle: picture alliance / dpa

Despite all this, many scientists still believe that most of the Pacific islands were settled from western Polynesia – and thus from Asia – by people who already had developed farming skills and domesticated animals. Other theses of Heyerdahl have long since disappeared from the discussion.

In 1970 he tried to prove that seafarers could have reached America in ancient times. With them, the idea of ​​pyramid building came across the Atlantic. To do this, he started with the papyrus boat “Ra II” in Morocco and landed safely on the Caribbean island of Barbados after 6100 kilometers and 57 days. However, Heyerdahl could not answer the question of how the subjects of the pharaohs got to Morocco maybe 4000 years ago. On the other hand, Heyerdahl set lasting standards in his commitment to nature and in the organization of archaeological experiments and their media processing.

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