Thor Heyerdahl


Who: Norwegian adventurer and archaeologist.

What: Famously sailed a raft over 4,000 miles (6,450km) basically to prove a point.

Where: Born in Larvik, Norway.

Why: Famous mainly for his Kon-Tiki expedition and its legacy.

When: October 6 1914 – April 18 2002.

“Progress is man’s ability to complicate simplicity” – Thor Heyerdahl

Thor Heyerdahl is the kind of person you wouldn’t want to start an argument with in a bar. Despite being a World War Two veteran and general hard man, he sought to prove South Americans could have populated the South Pacific in ancient times, and to do so, he hand-built a raft and sailed it over 4,000 miles from Peru to Raroia, an atoll in the Tuamotus in French Polynesia. The Kon-Tiki was a 40 foot raft made from balsa logs and hempen rope, and the 4,340-mile journey took 101 days. He wrote about his experiences in the best-selling book Kon-Tiki, and a documentary was made chronicling the voyage, winning the Academy Award for Best Documentary in 1951. He later attempted – succeeding on his second attempt in a papyrus boat – to prove the ancient Egyptians could have sailed to the Americas, sailing from Morocco to the Bahamas in 1970 on the Ra II. He excavated pyramid complexes in the Canary Islands and was involved in many archaeological projects, but remained most famous for his sea voyages. He died from a brain tumour in Italy in 2002, aged 87.

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