100 Years of Kon-Tiki Adventurer Thor Heyerdahl

Today, Google created an interactive doodle to celebrate ethnographer and explorer Thor Heyerdahl’s one-hundred-year birthday anniversary. Born in 1914, in Larvik, Norway, Heyerdahl studied zoology and geography at the University of Oslo and is most recognized for navigating across the Pacific Ocean on a hand-built raft in the Kon-Tiki expedition of 1947.

For his impressive journey, Heyerdahl recreated a Peruvian raft, constructed of balsa wood and other native materials inspired by old drawings of Inca rafts made by the Spanish Conquistadors. Along with his crew of five, the adventurer sailed 5,000 miles westwards from Peru towards French Polynesia in an attempt to prove that ancient people could have successfully prepared long sea voyages (and communicated with geographically separated cultures) by using the material and technology available to them circa 1492. According to The Independent, Heyerdahl, “…hypothesized that the islands were colonized from the Americas, rather than from the Asian mainland, as had previously been thought.”

At the time of the expedition, many believed that such basic components would not be able to withstand extensive distances on water. However, on August 7, 1947, the Kun-Tiki arrived in the Tuamoto Islands after 101 days at sea. Proving most wrong, the makeshift raft was highly resourceful; throughout the four months, fish congregated between the nine balsa logs in great numbers, meaning that ancient sailors could have possibly relied on fish for food and fresh water hydration in the absence of other sources.

Google’s doodle also illustrates moia, one of the most significant sculptures found on Rapa Nui (Easter Island). Heyerdahl visited the site in 1955 for an entire year on an archaeological expedition, once again on a quest to prove that the Pacific island had been settled from the east rather than the west.

Though, scientific testing has not largely backed up his theories, his many expeditions and critical ideas made him one of those most famous anthropologist’s of the century. He wrote a number of books and even made an Academy Award-winning 1951 documentary film about the Kon-Tiki trek.

In 2002, Heyerdahl passed away in Colla Micheri, Italy at the age of 87. Nine years later, in 2011, the Thor Heyerdahl Archives were added to UNESCO’s “Memory of the World” Register; the archives span the years 1937 to 2002 and include his photographic collection, diaries, private letters, expedition plans, articles, and more, keeping his legacy in tact and alive.