Thor Heyerdahl and his legendary Kon-Tiki expedition was a great part of my youth, reading most of his books, and I consider myself a huge fan. Meeting his son Thor Heyerdahl Junior, at the Kon-Tiki museum in December 2021, was a big moment for me. He sure had some good stories to tell about his father, and is today working as a Senior Adviser at the museum.
In this article you’ll find some photos and an introduction to Thor Heyerdahl and one of my favorite museums in Oslo.
Thor Heyerdahl – The Man, The Legend
So who was Thor Heyerdahl Senior? Thor was born in Norway in the city of Larvik in 1914, and passed away 87 years old in Colla Micheri in Italy. Many things can be said about Thor, but he was certainly a great adventurer. He had an interest for ethnography, and the systematic study of individual cultures. Coupled with some ground breaking theories (at that time), it led him on some quite adventurous expeditions.
Thor Heyerdahl’s theories
Early on in his life, Thor developed theories that there had been contact between ancient civilizations. Back in the 1940s this was not an accepted theory among scientists, and it was believed that world oceans had kept widely separate civilizations apart. Thor however was sure that people of ancient cultures could have made long sea voyages, and that way creating contact between societies.
The Kon-Tiki Expedtion
After having lived on the Polynesian Island of Fatu Hiva in his early 20s, Thor developed a theory that Polynesia had been settled from the east and not from the west. In other words, that people from what is today South America, had crossed the pacific ocean and settled on these islands in pre-Columbian times.
To prove his theory, he decided to build a raft in Peru, made out of balsa wood. He named the raft Kon-Tiki, after the Inca god Viracocha. The raft was built using only materials and technology known to people at those times.
With a crew of six, including 5 Norwegians and 1 Swede, they spent 101 days from departing Peru, until they beached on an uninhabited islet off the Raroia atoll in the Tuamotus. This was a truly remarkable journey and made Thor Heyerdahl world famous, which he still is today.
Fun fact: Thor Heyerdahl Junior told med that according to his calculations, he was conceived at Fatu Hiva in 1938, when his father Thor Heyerdahl and his mother (Thor’s wife) Liv spent a year there.
Books & Films from the Kon-Tiki
Thor wrote a book from the Kon-Tiki journey called Kon-Tiki: Across the Pacific in a Raft (buy on Amazon), which has become an international bestseller, translated to more than 70 languages.
His documentary film from the journey won an Oscar in 1952 (click here to watch it on Amazon Prime)
A more recent movie was made in 2013, named “Kon-Tiki”. This one is based on the book, but with certain modifications to dramatize the storyline. Still a good movie! (click here to watch it on Amazon Prime)
A classic and one of my favorite “adventure” books
The Kon-Tiki Museum in Oslo
This museum is situated on the peninsula of Bygdøy, a 25 minute ride from downtown Oslo with the number 30 bus (stops outside the museum). The main attraction is the Kon-Tiki raft, but the museum also displays artifacts, pictures and descriptions from several of his other expeditions and scientific explorations. See further below for a description of the other expeditions.
The Easter Island expedition
In 1955-56 Thor organized an expedition to the Easter Island. One of the main goals were experiments in the carving, transport and erection of the notable moai (big head statues). The book Aku-Aku (buy on Amazon) became Heyerdahl’s most popular book on the subject, and is an international bestseller.
RA I, RA II & the Tigris expedition
These are names of other boats that Thor Heyerdahl used for his sea crossing expeditions. With the RA boats, he wanted to show that civilizations, on both sides of the Atlantic, could have been in contact with each other by means of reed boats. In 1969 he departed from Safi, Morocco with a crew of seven, heading for Barbados. However, after 5000 kilometers in eight weeks, the reed fiber had absorbed too much water, and just one week away from Barbados they had to abandon ship. Ten months later Thor Heyerdahl launched an improved RA II, and they managed to sail from Morocco to Barbados in 57 days.
The idea that there could not have been any contact between the Mediterranean region and South or Central America prior to Columbus’ discovery, was disproved. The RA II is exhibited at the Museum in Oslo.
For further reading check out Thor’s book: The RA Expeditions (Buy on Amazon)
With the Tigris, Thor wanted to prove if the early civilizations that emerged in Mesopotamia, the Indus Valley and Egypt had contact with each other via the nearby seas.
With a crew of eleven the journey went from the river Shatt al-Arab in Iraq and continued down the Persian Gulf and out into the Arabian Sea. Despite difficulties with navigating the boat, they managed to reach the Indus Valley in what is today Pakistan as well as Djibouti in the Horn of Africa.
Due to armed conflicts at the Horn of Africa at that time, Djibouti was the only place they were allowed to moor, and as a protest against war and violence, Thor Heyerdahl decided to set Tigris on fire. The crew also sent a letter to the UN Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim with a call to citizens of all industrialized nations: “We are all complicit unless we demand from those responsible for decisions made on our behalf that modern weaponry must no longer be made available to any peoples whose forefathers denounced simple swords and hatchets.” And so then on the 3rd of April 1978 the Tigris was engulfed in flames outside the port at Djibouti.
All that is left from the Tigris is an oar, which is today exhibited at the museum. For more about the Tigris expedition, I recommend reading the book: The Tigris Expedition: In Search of Our Beginnings (Buy on Amazon).
I hope you enjoyed this article. Please share it with friends, and if you travel to Oslo I highly recommend visiting the Kon-Tiki Museum.