1. Thor Heyerdahl: NYTimes.com Article
2. The Azerbaijan Connection: Challenging Euro-Centric Theories of Migration
by Dr. Thor Heyerdahl
Thor Heyerdahl, the Norwegian anthropologist
whose imagination and vigor brought him acclaim navigating
the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans to advance his
controversial theories of ancient seafaring migrations,
died yesterday. He was 87.
Mr. Heyerdahl died of cancer in Italy, where he had been
vacationing, his family said. He had lived in recent years
in Güímar, Tenerife, in the Canary Islands.
Fame came to Mr. Heyerdahl in 1947, at the age of 32. A
tall, lean man in an appropriately Viking mold, he and five
others crossed a broad stretch of the Pacific in the
balsa-log raft Kon-Tiki, seeking to prove that the
Polynesian islands could have been settled by prehistoric
South American people.
The 101-day, 4,300-mile drifting voyage on the
40-square-foot raft, a replica of pre-Inca vessels, took
them safely from Peru to Raroia, a coral island near
Tahiti. This demonstrated to Mr. Heyerdahl's satisfaction
that his theory could be fact. He was convinced that
Polynesia's first settlers had come from South America, and
not from Asia by way of the western Pacific islands, as
nearly all scholars thought.
Mr. Heyerdahl was an ardent exponent of the "diffusionist"
school of cultural anthropology, which holds that cultural
similarities between geographically separated societies are
not necessarily spontaneous coincidence but sometimes are
the result of contacts in antiquity. Diffusionism has
largely fallen out of favor among most anthropologists and
Few scholars at the time - and almost none today - endorsed
the idea that American Indians peopled Polynesia. They
discount the Heyerdahl hypothesis largely on linguistic,
genetic and cultural grounds, all of which point to the
settlers having come from the west, not the east.
The epic voyage, nonetheless, caught the imagination of the
world. Mr. Heyerdahl was an instant popular hero. And his
storytelling skill turned the book "Kon-Tiki" into an
international best seller that was translated into 65
languages. A documentary movie of the exploits won an
That was only a beginning. Mr. Heyerdahl invested much of
his book royalties in further expeditions. The most
important was a 1970 voyage across the Atlantic in a
papyrus boat to show that ancient Egyptians could have
introduced pyramid-building technologies to pre-Columbian
Americans. In 1977 he set out in a reed boat of ancient
design to discover how Mesopotamian mariners of 5,000 years
ago might have navigated the Indian Ocean.
Two years later, Mr. Heyerdahl, well into his 60's, said in
an interview that he was retiring from such seagoing
"There are no other oceans to cope with, and also I know of
no other kind of early boat that hasn't been tried by
others," he said. "I have challenged a lot of old dogma,
and this has stimulated a lot of discussion. And in science
you need discussion."
But he continued writing books, traveling far and wide and
defending his theories. Earlier this year he went to Samoa,
in the Pacific, to inspect archaeological excavations of
what could be an ancient pyramid. His son Thor Heyerdahl
Jr. told Reuters that his father, until his death, held
firm to his belief that intercontinental sea migrations
helped spread human culture.
Nor did he let age discourage him from new quests. In
recent months, he was writing a new book contending that
Odin, the god of Norse mythology, might have been a real
Thor Heyerdahl was born Oct. 6, 1914, in Larvik, in
southern Norway. He once noted that he did not share from
birth the affinity for the sea that his Norwegian heritage
and lifelong work might have suggested.
"All my ancestors came from inland," he said in 1979. "I
was dead scared of the water as a young man. If I had been
a sailor, I would have believed that you couldn't cross the
ocean in the Kon-Tiki. My ignorance was very lucky."
Young Thor's father owned a brewery and his mother was head
of the local museum. It was her influence that led him to
the study of nature and zoology. At the University of Oslo,
he specialized in zoology, as well as geography, but before
graduating left on his first expedition to Polynesia, in
He went with his bride, Liv Coucheron Torp Heyerdahl, "to
spend a year living as Adam and Eve," as he wrote, on Fatu
Hiva in the Marquesas Islands. They lived there under
primitive conditions, conducting research on the flora and
fauna. (They were later divorced.)
There he also began to contemplate the question of how the
Pacific inhabitants reached these widely scattered islands.
He came to believe that human settlers had arrived with the
ocean currents from the east, just as much of the
vegetation and animal life had done.
The time on Fatu Hiva - described in his 1974 book, "Fatu
Hiva: Back to Nature," and recalled again in a 1996 book,
"Green Was the Earth on the Seventh Day" - turned him to
the study of anthropology. He pursued his research in Peru,
which made firmer his conviction that a group of tall, fair
pre-Inca people, under the leadership of the legendary
Kon-Tiki, sailed westward across the ocean to Polynesia.
During World War II, Mr. Heyerdahl served in the Free
Norwegian armed forces, mostly as a parachutist. After the
war, he tried to interest publishers and scientists in his
Polynesian theory, but came to realize that prevailing
opinion was so strongly against it that a practical
demonstration of its feasibility was the only answer.
He raised the money, overcame innumerable practical
obstacles right down to the cutting of the long balsa logs
he needed, recruited five friends to go with him and set
off on the Kon-Tiki.
Mr. Heyerdahl's book "Kon-Tiki" was praised by Lewis
Gannett in The New York Herald Tribune as "a superb
adventure story." Harry Gilroy, in The New York Times,
wrote: "Their saga, told by the expedition's organizer, is
a revelation of how exciting science can become when it
inspires a man with the heart of a Leif Ericsson and the
merry story-telling gift of an Ernie Pyle."
The book was less successful with the scientific community.
In 1958, for example, Dr. Alan S. C. Ross, a linguist at
the University of Birmingham in England said language
studies provided "an absolutely decisive disproof" of Mr.
Heyerdahl's theory. There was, Dr. Ross wrote, no
relationship between Polynesian and any American language
Mr. Heyerdahl insisted, however, that in his mind he had
proved his thesis - not that the crossing had been done,
but that it could have been done.
Next, Mr. Heyerdahl led an archaeological expedition in
1953 to the Galápagos Islands, 700 miles off the coast of
Ecuador. He found evidence that convinced him that
predecessors of the Incas had visited the islands, and that
they had had the nautical sophistication to be able to
return home against the wind.
In 1955 and 1956, Mr. Heyerdahl tackled the mystery of
remote Easter Island. He experimented with the techniques
that might have been used in creating and placing upright
the enormous stone figures for which the island is famous.
"Aku-Aku," published in 1958, was a vivid account of the
expedition. He later published scholarly accounts of this
and the Kon-Tiki voyages.
Mr. Heyerdahl argued that Easter Island was also colonized
by South Americans, which led one critic, the British
archaeologist Paul G. Bahn, to write, "It is unfortunate
that he has allowed his obsession with a South American
connection to overshadow the far more interesting and
important subjects of the islanders' cultural history, way
of life and destruction of their environment."
Mr. Heyerdahl then turned his attention to the possibility
of a migration from Egypt to America, because of what he
felt were striking cultural parallels, notably pyramid
building. Most scholars doubted that the Egyptians had
ships capable of so long a voyage. So Mr. Heyerdahl decided
on a practical demonstration. Using ancient representations
of Egyptian reed boats as his guide, he had a reed ship
built and named it Ra, after the Egyptian Sun god.
The first attempt, in 1969, fell short. The waterlogged
ship had to be abandoned 600 miles from its destination in
Barbados. Undaunted, Mr. Heyerdahl tried again the next
year. He said it was on this successful 57-day journey, on
Ra II, that he first noted the "alarming" pollution of the
ocean, a subject he continued to raise forcefully.
Political strife shortened his 1977-78 voyage with another
reed boat in the Indian Ocean and Red Sea. Reaching the
coast of Ethiopia, he was refused permission to land
because of warfare. He then abandoned the voyage, setting
fire to the boat "to protest against the inhuman elements
of the world of 1978."
With these expeditions, Mr. Heyerdahl said: "I have proved
that all the ancient pre-European civilizations could have
intercommunicated across oceans with the primitive vessels
they had at their disposal. I feel that the burden of proof
now rests with those who claim the oceans were necessarily
a factor in isolating civilizations."
Most anthropologists think otherwise.
Mr. Heyerdahl's first wife, whom he divorced in 1949, died in 1969. He was
also divorced from his second wife, Yvonne Dedekam-Simonsen
Heyerdahl, who survives. In 1996, he married Jacqueline
Beer Heyerdahl, a French-born Hollywood actress, who also
Other survivors, besides his son Thor, of Lillehammer,
Norway, are another son, Bjorn, who lives near Allassio,
Italy; two daughters, Marian and Helene Elisabeth, both of
Oslo; seven grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
In recent years, Mr. Heyerdahl received many honors,
including the distinction, according to a public opinion
poll, of being "Norwegian of the Century." And in recent
months, he visited Cuba and Norway, as well as Samoa. He
sponsored excavations in southern Russia in search of
artifacts to support his last obsession, that Odin was a
historical personage from what is now Russia who began a
Scandinavian royal line in the first century A.D.
As with his theory on the peopling of the Pacific, his case
for Odin has been largely dismissed by establishment
academics, but as always, he seemed to thrive in the
limelight of controversy and the telling of a good story.
The Azerbaijan Connection
Challenging Euro-Centric Theories of Migration
by Dr. Thor Heyerdahl
<http://126.96.36.199/graphics/gifs-mixed/atransparent.gif> Thor Heyerdahl
In late November 1994, Dr. Thor Heyerdahl
visited Azerbaijan where, among
other things, he wanted another chance to see the boat petroglyphs of the
ancient caves of Gobustan not far from Baku.
Here, in the pages of Azerbaijan International,
Heyerdahl makes public for
the first time his "growing suspicion" that Azerbaijanis may be ancestors
of the Scandinavians including his own native countrymen in Norway.
In the global research that I've been
involved with for many years,
Azerbaijan is beginning to play a rather pivotal role. My growing suspicion
is that what today is left as the little Republic of Azerbaijan around the
capital Baku is only vestiges of what was once a large and dynamic nation
bordering on an inland sea but transmitting merchandise and even colonists
to remote outposts in both Asia and Europe.
For a long time, I've been puzzled by
the fact that three great
civilizations surrounding the Arabian peninsula appeared in about 3,000
B.C. as ready-developed, organized dynasties at the same astonishingly high
level and all three were remarkably alike. The definite impression is that
related priest-kings at that time came from elsewhere with their respective
entourages, and imposed their dynasties on areas formerly occupied by more
primitive or, at least, culturally far less advanced, tribes.
But where could they have come from? Is there a "zero hour for civilized
man"? I've been convinced for quite some time that the clues to this
mystery, no doubt, lie in the prehistoric boat petroglyphs which are found
on widely scattered continental shores and islands all over the world and
even near dried-out waterways deep inside the Sahara Desert. Petroglyphs
and rock paintings of watercraft represent the earliest known illustrations
of human architecture and even predate pictures of dwellings or temples.
I've seen such sketches from below the equator in Polynesia to above the
Arctic Circle in Northern Norway. Everywhere they testify to the fact that
boats were of extreme importance to early man as they provided security and
transportation millennia before there were roads through the wilderness.
Our lack of knowledge about our own
past is appalling. In the course of two
million years of human activity, ice has come and gone, and land has
emerged and submerged. Forest humus, desert sand, river silt and volcanic
eruptions have hidden from view large portions of the former surface of the
earth. The sea level has altered; 70% of our planet is now below water, and
underwater archaeology has barely begun in coastal areas. We are accustomed
to finding sunken ships with old amphora and other cargo beneath the sea,
but speculation as to the discovery of other human vestiges on the bottom
of the ocean still remains a subject for science fiction writers.
Identical Petroglyphs in Norway and
It may not be pure coincidence that the ship petroglyphs that the early
Azeri depicted while navigating on the Caspian Sea and up the Russian
rivers are identical to those of the ancestors of the Vikings along the
fjords of Norway millennia later. In Scandinavia, there are two different
types of boat petroglyphs, both well represented in Norway. One is similar
to those at Gobustan and is drawn as a simple sickle-shaped line which
forms the base of the ship with vertical lines on deck to illustrate crew
or raised oars.
Famous "Foldable Boats"
The other ship type probably represents a "skin boat" with a rather short
and bulky hull and an interior framework of wood, appearing on the
petroglyphs as if viewed from outside. Such a boat is mentioned in early
Norwegian sagas written down by the Icelander, Snorre Sturlason, before his
death in 1241, (Snorri, The Sagas of the Viking Kings of Norway. English
translation: J. M. Stenersens Forlag, Oslo 1987). According to the saga,
the Viking kings descended from Odin, an immigrant hierarch who came in a
vessel called Skithblathnir (Skidbladner) which could be folded together
like a cloth. Odin came from the land of the "Aser", and is, therefore,
frequently referred to as "Asa-Odin". The legendary land of the people
known as Aser is given a very exact location in Snorre's saga as east of
the Caucasus mountains and the Black Sea.
From there, according to the same saga,
Odin, owner of the foldable boat
migrated with all his people northwestwardly through Russia, Saxland, and
Denmark into Sweden where he died and lay buried in a huge funerary mound
at Sigtuna. Asa-Odin's saga with his boat and his itinerary has been
considered by Nordic historians as a myth concocted in medieval times,
although they consider the Nordic people as Caucasians. But, perhaps,
Odin's boat may indicate that the land of the Aser really lay by the
Caspian Sea east of the Caucasus. In fact, in the 5th century B.C., the
Greek historian, Herodotus, described such marvelous foldable boats used
precisely in the area referred to in Asa-Odin's saga as the home of th
Aser, namely the land of the present day Azeri and Armenians.
In this area, Herodotus wrote, traveling
merchants used boats built with a
framework of wood and canes covered with skin, and of such great size that
they carried one or more donkeys in addition to crew and cargo. They
navigated down river to Babylonia where they sold their merchandise and the
framework (wood), then they folded the skins and loaded them on the donkeys
for their return upstream in preparation for the next voyage.
Oral Tradition or Fairy Tale?
I'm personally convinced that Snorre recorded oral history rather than a
concocted myth, and I think it's time to look for the land that my
Scandinavian ancestors came from and not merely where they subsequently
went on their Viking raids and explorations. They certainly did not come
out from under the glaciers when the ice-age ended so they must have
immigrated from the south. Since their physical type is referred to as
Caucasian and their very own descendant preserved an itinerary from south
of the Caucasus and north of Turkey, I suspect that the present Azeri
people and the Aser of the Norse sagas have common roots and that my
ancestry originated there.
The unwritten history of both the Scandinavians
and the Azeri doubtlessly
began with ships and navigation. Both had access to waterways which
permitted them to explore and travel far and wide. The Azeri could easily
have sailed across their inland sea to the great centers of civilization in
antiquity and up the river Volga which was navigable past present-day
Moscow to its sources which are suspiciously close to the sources of the
river Dvina which empties into the Baltic Sea at Riga, where the first
Christian Norwegian Viking king, Olav Trygvason, was born.
Azerbaijan as Spreading Center of Caucasians,
This would mean that Azerbaijan and not northern Europe was the spreading
center of the Caucasian people buried in northwestern China some 4,000
years ago and now discovered by Chinese archaeologists who theorize
(probably wrongly) that they came from northern Europe because they were
tall, blond, blue-eyed and with Caucasian features. According to modern
scholars in Azerbaijan, there used to be a strong blond and fair-skinned
element in the aboriginal Azeri population, as illustrated by the stone-age
hunters at the Gobustan Museum. Subsequent invasions by Romans and Arabs
have somewhat modified the original Azeri type.
As to the remarkably high level of culture
evinced by the 4,000 year old
mummies in China, no people in Northern Europe had reached a corresponding
cultural level at that early time. But the merchants of Azerbaijan could
have, due to their long-range trade by skin-boats with Babylonia.
Beyond a Euro-Centric Perspective
We must as scientists get beyond the dogmatic medieval view of history
printed by us in Europe in which we describe our own ancestors as the
discoverers of the rest of the world. There were advanced civilizations
with navigators and script in Asia, Africa and Middle America before
mariners from Crete brought script and civilization from the Middle East to
southern Europe. Before European history began, mariners from Africa had
settled the Canary Island, voyagers from America had settled the West
Indies, and every inhabitable island in the Indian Ocean and the Pacific
had been peopled from Asia and America. Azerbaijan, and not Europe, was
part of the fermenting kettle of brewing civilization with navigators that
spread early trade and cultural impulses far and wide.
Many clues are still invisible about
the human history prior to the sudden
cultural bloom in Egypt, Sumer and the Indus valley some five millennia
ago. But with advanced technology, some day the answers may be found under
the sand and sea. The challenge for scholars is to look deeper into foreign
relations in the region of present-day Azerbaijan to determine what those
prehistoric roots and linkages were.
From Azerbaijan International (3.1)
© Azerbaijan International 1995. All rights reserved