Thor Heyerdahl Biography

(Norwegian Adventurer and Ethnographer Known for His ‘Kon-Tiki’ and ‘Ra’ Transoceanic Scientific Expeditions)

Birthday: October 6, 1914 (Libra)

Born In: Larvik, Norway

Thor Heyerdahl was a Norwegian explorer, adventurer, and ethnologist. He orchestrated many transoceanic expeditions in primitive boat replicas and contributed several substantial theories to the geographic and scientific communities. He documented his many travels in multiple books and documentaries, and has given important lectures worldwide on the basis of migratory patterns of early civilizations. Always having been interested in zoology, he spent many years of his childhood exploring the wilderness of his family’s summer log cabin. Following in his mother’s footsteps, he went on to pursue a degree in zoology, as well as geography, before turning to ethnology. His constant travels impacted his personal life deeply,leading to several unsuccessful relationships.He fathered five children over his lifetime. Heyerdahl’s studies have influenced several institutes, museums, and have been the basis of many other published works regarding his theories. One of his own grandchildren went on to replicate one of his earliest transoceanic expeditions. His work inspired multiple scientific studies, into the migration patterns of the South American people, by several independent scientists over the last 100 years. He has been bestowed over twenty-one scientific honors and awards, as well as earning over eight National Decorations from a handful of countries.
Quick Facts

Also Known As: Thor Heyerdahl Jr.

Died At Age: 87


Spouse/Ex-: Jacqueline Beer, Liv Coucheron-Torp, Yvonne Dedekam-Simonsen

father: Thor Heyerdahl Sr.

mother: Alison Lyng

children: Annette Heyerdahl, Bjørn Heyerdahl, Helene Elisabeth Heyerdahl, Marian Heyerdahl, Thor Jr Heyerdahl

Quotes By Thor Heyerdahl Ethnologists

Died on: April 18, 2002

place of death: Colla Micheri, Italy

Cause of Death: Brain Tumor

Notable Alumni: University Of Oslo

More Facts

education: University Of Oslo

awards: Mungo Park Medal - 1950
Patron's Gold Medal - 1964

Childhood & Early Years
On October 6th, 1914, this pioneering ethnologistwas born in Larvik, Norway. He was born to Thor Heyerdahl, a master brewer, and Alison Lyng, a zoologist and museum chairman.
Interested in zoology from a young age, he created a museum in an outhouse located at his father’s brewery at age seven. The small museum contained specimens of butterflies, seashells, lemmings, bats, and hedgehogs. Pursuing his passion he studied zoology and geography in the University of Oslo.
Alongside, he privately studied Polynesian culture through the use of the largest known private collection of books and papers on Polynesia.
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In 1936, Heyerdahl decided to quit college and begin his career in ethnography. He set out on an expedition to the Marquesas Islands in the South Seas. While on his trip, he discovered evidence that Peruvian aboriginals had previously visited the islands.
He spent the years 1939-1940 researching his proposed theory of ‘two waves of migration’ from the Americas from his mountain home in Lillehammer.
In 1947, he assembled a crew and sailed from Peru to the Tuamotus in French Polynesia. To prove his theory of ancient migration patterns, he conducted this voyage on a pae-pae- a raft made from Balsa wood and other native materials. They named the raft the ‘Kon-Tiki’ and the journey was detailed in his book, ‘The Kon-Tiki Experiment’.
On an expedition in 1953 to the Galapagos Islands, he discovered evidence of South American natives paid visit to the islandsmuch before the Incas claimed to set foot on the land.
During 1955, he organized the ‘Norwegian Archaeological Expedition’ to Rapa Nui (Easter Island). During his explorations, he uncovered proof that South Americans had visitedisland as early as the 4th century.
Over the span of 1969-1970, he commissioned two boats, the Ra and Ra II, using papyrus reed. Setting sail from Morocco, the crew attempted to cross the Atlantic Ocean. The first boat, Ra, did not make the entire trip. The second attempt, Ra II, made it to Barbados. The voyages were chronicled in both a book and a film documentary.
In order to prove another theory, that trade and migration could have connected Mesopotamia with the Indus Valley, he built another reed boat, entitled the Tigris. In December of 1977, they sailed through the Persian Gulf to Pakistan, and then went on to the Red Sea.
He spent the years, 1981-2000, researching a proposal that Azerbaijan was the home of advanced, ancient people. His theory was based on the concept that Odin, a Scandinavian God, was substantiated truth and not a myth, and had led people from Saxony to Sweden.
He organized an excavation of an area in Azov, Russia during 2001-2002. He was hoping to uncover remains of the advanced civilization of Odin.
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Major Works
Heyerdahl wrote a large collection of books related to his research and explorations. The books were translated into several different languages.
On April 3rd, 1978, he and his crew burnt the Tigris at sea in protest of the wars raging in Africa. He wrote a highly publicized letter to the UN’s Secretary-General detailing his ‘protest of inhumane elements in the world in 1978’.
Heyerdahl was responsible for a monumental discovery in Tenerife in 1991. He determined that the ‘Pyramids of Guimar’ were in fact actual astronomically designed pyramids and not just stone heaps.
Awards & Achievements
‘The Kon-Tiki Experiment’ sold over 20 million copies. The book was later turned into a movie and in 1951 earned Heyerdahl an academy award.
In 1953, he was awarded the ‘Grand Cross of the Order of Merit of Peru’. Later that year, he was made an honorary member of ‘Geographical Societies of Norway and Peru’.
Personal Life & Legacy
Heyerdahl married his first wife, LivCoucheron-Torp, in 1936. They had two children together. The marriage ended in divorce.
In 1949, he married Yvonne Dedekam-Simonsen and they went on to have three daughters. This marriage also ended in divorce.

His marriage to his third wife, Jacqueline Beer, began in 1991 and continued until his death.
‘The Thor Heyerdahl Institute’ was founded in 2000. Located in his hometown of Larvik, Norway, the Institute strives to develop and nurture the founder’s ideals and concepts.
Google selected this famous explorer as one of their noted achievers. They commemorated his 100th birthday by making a Google Doodle on October 6th, 2014.
Recent genome testing on 27 native Rapanui people revealed that there is some truth to this famous ethnologist’s theory on Polynesian origins. Blood testing has revealed that 8% of the DNA structure in those tested was South American.

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