To Prove a Point
August 7, 1947: Wood Raft Makes 4,300 Mile Voyage
On this day in 1947, Kon-Tiki, a balsa wood raft captained by Norwegian anthropologist Thor Heyerdahl, completes a 4,300-mile, 101-day journey from Peru to Raroia in the Tuamotu Archipelago, near Tahiti. Heyerdahl wanted to prove his theory that prehistoric South Americans could have colonized the Polynesian islands by drifting on ocean currents.
Heyerdahl and his five-person crew set sail from Callao, Peru, on the 40-square-foot Kon-Tiki on April 28, 1947. The Kon-Tiki, named for a mythical white chieftain, was made of indigenous materials and designed to resemble rafts of early South American Indians. While crossing the Pacific, the sailors encountered storms, sharks and whales, before finally washing ashore at Raroia.
Heyerdahl, born in Larvik, Norway, on October 6, 1914, believed that Polynesia’s earliest inhabitants had come from South America, a theory that conflicted with popular scholarly opinion that the original settlers arrived from Asia. Even after his successful voyage, anthropologists and historians continued to discredit Heyerdahl’s belief. However, his journey captivated the public and he wrote a book about the experience:
…that became an international bestseller and was translated into 65 languages. Heyerdahl also produced a documentary about the trip that won an Academy Award in 1951.
Official Trailer of – Kon-Tiki
New research indicates Polynesian ancestors settled in Samoa around 800 BC, colonized the central Society Islands between AD 1025 and 1120 and dispersed to New Zealand, Hawaiʻi and Rapa Nui and other locations between AD 1190 and 1290.
Most historians consider that the Polynesians from the west were the original inhabitants and that the story of the Hanau epe is either pure myth, or a memory of internal tribal or class conflicts. However, in 2011 Professor Erik Thorsby of the University of Oslo presented DNA evidence to the Royal Society which whilst agreeing with the west origin also identified a distinctive but smaller genetic contribution from South America.