Thor Heyerdahl, Ph.D (October 6, 1914 - April 18, 2002) was (originally) a marine biologist with a great interest in anthropology, born in Larvik, Norway, who became famous for his Kon-Tiki Expedition in 1947. This expedition demonstrated there were no technical reasons to prevent people from South America from having settled the Polynesian Islands. Nevertheless most anthropologists continue to believe, based on physical and genetic evidence, that Polynesia was settled from west to east, migration having begun from the Asian mainland.
In the Kon-Tiki Expedition, he and a small team went to South America where they used trees and other native materials to construct a raft, which smashed into the reef at Raroia in the Tuamotu Islands on August 7, 1947 after a 101 day 4,300 mile journey across the Pacific Ocean, proving that pre-historic peoples could have traveled from South America. The only modern technology they had was communications equipment. For food, they lived off the fruit of the ocean. The documentary of the expedition won an Academy Award in 1952.
"If you had asked me as a 17-year-old whether I would go to sea on a raft, I would have absolutely denied the possibility. At that time, I suffered from fear of the water," Heyerdahl once said.
In subsequent years, Heyerdahl was involved with many other expeditions and archaeological projects. However, he remained best known for his boat-building, and for his emphasis on cultural diffusionism. He built the boats Ra and Ra II in order to demonstrate that Ancient Egyptians could have communicated with the Americas. His boat Tigris was intended to demonstrate that trade and migration could have linked the Indus Valley Civilisation in India with Mesopotamia. The Tigris was deliberately burnt in Djibouti, on April 3, 1978 as a protest against the wars raging on every side in the Red Sea and Horn of Africa. In Heyerdahl's open letter to the Secretary of the United Nations he said in part:
Heyerdahl's expeditions were spectacular, and his heroic journeys in flimsy boats caught the public imagination. But his diffusionist theories were considered eccentric and old-fashioned by most archaeologists. His central claims that migrations linked comparable ancient civilisations have not been supported by more recent evidence. He has even been accused of an 'imperialist' mentality. However Heyerdahl undoubtedly increased public interest in ancient history and in the achievements of various cultures and peoples around the world.