Thor Heyerdahl: Google Doodle celebrates 100th birthday of explorer who headed the Kon-Tiki expedition

Norwegian ethnographer and explorer was born on this day in 1914

Jonathan Gibbs
Monday 06 October 2014 16:30

Google has used its latest animated home page doodle to celebrate the life of Norwegian ethnographer explorer Thor Heyerdahl, best known for leading the Kon-Tiki expedition of 1947, who was born on this day in 1914.

In the expedition, Heyerdahl and his crew of five sailed a balsa wood raft 5,000 miles westwards from Peru towards French Polynesia in an attempt to prove his hypothesis that the islands were colonised from the Americas, rather than from the Asian mainland, as had previously been thought.

The point of the journey was to travel on a raft built using materials and technology that would have been available to pre-Colombian Americans, i.e. those living on the continent before the arrival of Europeans, headed by Christopher Columbus, in 1492.

People found it hard to believe that such distances could be covered using such basic vessels. The journey was successful, with the Kon-Tiki making landfall in the Tuamoto Islands on 7 August 1947, 101 days after setting sail.

The doodle also shows a moai, one of the huge sculptures found on Rapa Nui, or Easter Island, which Heyerdahl visited from 1955-6 on an archaeological expedition. Again, he was keen to prove that the island had been settled from the east rather than the west. Heyerdahl's theories have largely not been backed up by DNA testing.

Heyerdahl was born in Larvik in southern Norway and studied zoology and geography at the University of Oslo, while studying Polynesian culture in his spare time. He fought during the Second World War with the Free Norwegian Forces, following the Nazi occupation of the country. He married three times, and died in 2002.

Heyerdahl's expeditions made him one of the most famous anthropologists in the world, writing a number of books that became huge-sellers, and making a 1951 documentary film about the Kon-Tiki expedition, which went on win an Academy Award. The story was adapted again into a feature film in Norway in 2012, which was both the country's most expensive and highest-grossing movie.

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