Into the Invisible: Dr. Thor Heyerdahl and the Kon-Tiki Expedition


Often a scientist is comfortable within his or her academic field. They work where the grant money is and stay within its provided boundaries. Dr. Thor Heyerdahl could not stay so comfortable. A Norwegian anthropologist, archaeologist, geographer, ethnographer and zoologist, he did not confine his life studies to fit within the ordinary scope of work. Ancient civilizations traded and migrated across oceans, he believed, and so he added “explorer” to his job description in order to pursue his research.

The Kon-Tiki expedition in 1947 showed that it was possible on primitive materials to sail from Peru to Polynesia across the Pacific Ocean, a route that Dr. Heyerdahl believed was used for trade and migration between ancient South American and Polynesian civilizations. Most scientific evidence points out that these civilizations had little in common, and despite this rejection from the academic and scientific communities, Dr. Heyerdahl completed the expedition. The success inspired him to sail across the Atlantic on papyrus boats, Ra and Ra II, to prove that Egyptian mariners could have journeyed to the Americas.

On these expeditions and others around the Polynesian islands he noticed the polluted condition of the Pacific Ocean. Dr. Heyerdahl spoke to the Secretary-General of the United Nations and became a key player in developing a United Nations program on the environment.

His great imagination and confidence in his views inspired him to defy the commonly held scientific and academic beliefs and follow his own missions and explorations. He was willing to take a large risk that the expedition would not work successfully, and that his research would then fail. Despite the odds he followed through and began to expand his vision of the Earth and its communities as a global unit, whether for issues of ancient civilizations, world peace or the environment.

Dr. Thor Heyerdahl, Mrs. Heyerdahl, Maki, and Akio

Akio had the pleasure of meeting with Dr. Thor Heyerdahl in his home years ago. Throughout the conversation Akio uncovered the difference between an adventurer and an anthropologist. An adventurer, said Heyerdahl, looks at a risk and wishes to conquer it for the sake of conquering. Heyerdahl looked at the Pacific Ocean and wanted to raft across to expand his global perspective. Akio’s great admiration for Thor comes from his willingness to push beyond the visible realm of science.

By taking great risks and defying the odds, Dr. Heyerdahl was able to enter the invisible realm of science, and see the greater concepts at play, not just the pieces that comprise them.

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