Skip to comments.Kon-Tiki tour draws to a close (Thor Heyerdahl just about dead)
Posted on 04/17/2002 9:32:14 AM PDT by dead
One of the greatest adventure stories of all time is about to end with the death of a controversial Norwegian explorer.
Thor Heyerdahl, 87, who won worldwide acclaim in 1947 for his daring Kon-Tiki expedition, is greeting his demise with all the eccentricity with which he lived his life. Heyerdahl lapsed into a coma on Tuesday, a week after he started refusing food, water and medical treatment.
The scientist and adventurer had been taken to the Santa Conora hospital on the Italian Riviera over Easter after becoming ill during a family gathering at Colla Michari, an ancient Italian village he bought and restored in the 1950s.
He was diagnosed with incurable brain cancer and returned to his Italian home to spend his last hours with his family. "Last week, doctors said it was a question of days or hours," Thor Heyerdahl jnr said. "[But] he is so strong that he warned us that it could take a long time."
He said his father was not sorry to die. "He is very satisfied with his life. He is happy and leaves a happy family behind."
Heyerdahl snr has risked his life several times to show that conventional theories might be wrong.
It was in April 1947 when Kon-Tiki and its crew of six left the Peruvian port of Callao, acting on Heyerdahl's radical idea that ancient Peruvians could have made the same trip 1400 years earlier, settling Polynesia 600 years before the Hawaiians conquered the region.
The idea was ridiculed by mainstream scientists who said the logs would waterlog and the raft would sink. But the postwar public, anxious for peacetime heroes, thrilled at the audacity of the young men, risking their lives for science. The voyage was the moon landing of its time.
They braved raging storms and ocean calms, with a shortwave radio their only contact with the outside world and their breakfast often flying fish found on deck.
Giant whales played games with the raft and circling sharks were constant companions. At the end of the 4300-nautical-mile voyage, wind and currents forced them aground on uninhabited Raroia atoll in the Marquesas Islands.
A black-and-white documentary film of the journey won an Oscar in 1951, while Heyerdahl's book on the voyage, published in 67 languages, has become a classic. By one account it has sold 20 million copies.
Heyerdahl's foreword to the book's 35th edition said: "The Kon-Tiki expedition opened my eyes to what the ocean really is. It is a conveyor and not an isolator. The ocean has been man's highway from the days he built the first buoyant ships, long before he tamed the horse, invented wheels and cut roads through the virgin jungles."
After capturing the world's imagination with the Kon-Tiki voyage, Heyerdahl made expeditions aboard the reed rafts Ra, Ra II and Tigris.
In 1970, he crossed the Atlantic from Africa on the Ra II to show that ancient Egyptians might have beaten Columbus and the Vikings to America. His wide-ranging archaeological studies were often controversial and challenged accepted views.
In one of his last interviews Heyerdahl expressed his views that the earliest known civilisations in Mesopotamia, Egypt, China and the Mediterranean sailed in reed ships, as depicted in their ancient art.
"That's how civilisation grew. By sea, you got contact, new raw materials and inspiration," he said.
"I believe that these first navigating people were sun worshippers and that their form of temple was a step pyramid, sometimes built over the tombs of some important royalty and always astronomically oriented with ceremonial stairways or ramps to the summit where ceremonies were performed to the rising sun."
He added that "these navigators ... also made links with Mexico and Peru possible and from Peru again all the way [across the Pacific] to Western Samoa".
He scoffed at the idea that Leif Ericsson or Columbus was the first to sail to America.
"We Europeans are so one-track minded when it comes to our own history that we say to the world that Europe discovered the whole world," he said. "I say that no European has discovered anything but Europe."
Heyerdahl maintained a high pace of research, lectures and travel until his sudden illness. Earlier this year, he travelled to Samoa in the Pacific, where he took part in archaeological studies of a discovery that could be an ancient pyramid.
Rightly so. He did what he wanted to do, and made us change our ways of thinking.
I just finished Starship Troopers....WOW! I hope his other books are this good...'Stranger in a Strange Land' is next...
I've read all his books several times. Stranger in a Strange Land is something else. Grok it well:)
Years later I became well known in aspects of marine engineering and materials. I often thought of Stevens at his Vermont farm. He, and John Gardner were among the best of gentlemen.
But Kon Tiki was fascinating, too. I went to the Kon Tiki museum, which actually has the original raft. If y'all ever happen to be in Oslo, Norway, check it out:
P.S. The whaling museum in Oslo is also cool.
Well, I hated school and I have very few pleasant childhood memories, - but that was certainly one of them!
He was a maverick, and he will be missed. JMHO, - Jesse.
Thor served as an exciting inspiration to young minds. His "legend" will not be forgotten.
Heyerdahl stopped taking food, water or medication in early April after being diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor.
Experts scoffed at Heyerdahl when he set off to cross the Pacific aboard a balsa raft in 1947, saying it would get water logged and sink within days.
After 4,900 miles, he proved them wrong by reaching Polynesia from Peru in a bid to prove his theories of human migration.
His later expeditions included voyages aboard the reed rafts Ra, Ra II and Tigris. His wide-ranging archaeological studies were often controversial and challenged accepted views.
After Heyerdahl's 1947 voyage, conventional anthropologists dismissed the college dropout's theories, saying they were only the work of a gifted amateur. But he gained worldwide fame. His book sold tens of millions of copies and his 1951 movie about the voyage won an Academy Award for best documentary.
His later studies focused on ancient step pyramids - including those in Peru and on the island of Tenerife off Africa - which he believed could be evidence of maritime links between ancient civilizations.
Before Heyerdahl made his voyage on the Kon-Tiki, he was deathly afraid of water. He had nearly drowned twice as a child in Larvik, Norway, and overcame his fear only at age 22, when he fell into a raging river in Tahiti and swam to safety.
I think he did more than other single individual to shake up the stupidities and academic hubris surrounding the peopling of the Americas. I have long agreed with him about the following:
"The more I do and the more I see, the more I realize the shocking extent of ignorance that exists among the scholarly circles that call themselves authorities and pretend to have a monopoly of all knowledge," he wrote.
Rest in peace and continue your explorations to the end of time, old Mentor.
Ditto. RIP old friend.
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