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Lately I’ve been thinking and giving some talks about Scandinavian pseudoarchaeological writers, that is, people who publish books on the past with unsubstantiated claims to scientific credibility. The beyond all comparison most famous of them is the Norwegian Thor Heyerdahl (1914-2002).

Heyerdahl is mostly known not as an archaeologist, but as a great navigator, being the organiser of numerous projects where he would have a reconstruction built of some ancient boat and make an ocean voyage with it. Most famously, he travelled by balsa raft from Peru westwards to Tuamotu in 1947 (with my countryman Bengt Danielsson on board). What may not be apparent to everyone is that almost everything Heyerdahl did throughout his professional life was motivated by one overarching archaeological hypothesis: hyperdiffusionism.

Diffusionism is the view that ideas (such as tech inventions) travel. If I invent something good or interesting, then people who see it may pick up the idea and run with it, and the idea will propagate across the world like rings on a pond do when you drop a prosthetic silver nose into it. Ideas will diffuse like drops of watercolour in a glass of water. It is generally accepted among scholars that this does happen to some extent in real cultures, with the important caveats that sometimes inventors will try to keep their ideas from propagating, and in many cases potential receivers will refuse to pick up certain ideas. An important example of the latter is what happened to the diffusion of agriculture when it reached northern Germany. The Linearbandkeramik culture had agriculture, and their Ertebölle culture neighbours to the north were well aware of it, but they refused to copy it for a thousand years. They were happy to continue with their fishing and oyster-collecting Mesolithic lifestyle despite having an alternative. Apparently, people in the past did not always feel that steps that led in the direction of modern civilisation were very attractive.

Another important argument against diffusionism as a wholesale explanatory model is that if one group can invent agriculture / pottery / pyramids / irrigation / writing / metalworking, then clearly it wouldn’t be too hard for a similar group somewhere else to make the same inventions on their own. This has been proved to have happened, for instance with agriculture in the Americas, where the cultivated crops are completely different from the ones in the Old World. Biologists will recognise this as convergent evolution: every marine top predator throughout geological history ends up looking pretty much the same regardless of its ancestry, simply because of hydrodynamics.

Thor Heyerdahl could not accept the idea of independent inventions, of convergent cultural evolution. His thinking wasn’t just diffusionistic on the small-to-middle scale. Every one of his boat trips revolved around hyperdiffusionism, being designed to show that it was possible, more specifically regarding the package of ideas that we call state civilisation. And that’s where he went wrong. Instead of searching for evidence that diffusion had taken place (e.g. Egyptian pottery in Mexico), he spent his life “testing” whether the needed sea travel could have taken place in antiquity. This is still apparent even in his last book, “The Hunt for Odin”, where he goes back to some euhemeristic ideas of Snorri Sturluson and argues that a real person named Odin brought civilisation to Scandinavia from the Middle East.

Thor Heyerdahl’s forays into archaeology were pseudoscience because he had a single favourite model that he refused to let go of. But he also displayed another typical trait among pseudoarchaeologists: hostility against mainstream academia. With Heyerdahl, we are looking at a man with a great many honorary doctorates, but no university degree. He was unwilling to work within the confines of science with its peer review, its debates and its career structure, and he got a lot done beyond that world. But while many Norwegians celebrate him as a national hero and a conqueror of the seas, one whose memorial museum is (tellingly) located a stone’s throw from the Viking Ship Hall in Oslo, scientific archaeology and ethnography and biology have all but forgotten him.

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Comments

  1. #1 Birger Johansson
    November 4, 2010

    Heyerdahl was an adventurer -and quite sympathic as such- but obviously not a scientist. There are others that are worse, at least Heyerdahl did not deliberately lie (Uri Geller and von Dänken springs to mind).
    On a related note: Bad Faith awards:
    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2010/11/bad_faith_awards.php

  2. #2 Deborah
    November 4, 2010

    I agree dudes like von Däniken are a bit worse, if only because people do remember him as being “an archeologist.” Altogether though, I cringe at this entire “it could have been” attitude as expressed within pseudoscience, which so often & so easily transforms to “must have been.” My neighboring state is saddled with an official State Park built around the supposed (and clearly fraudulent) “Viking runestone” (the Heavener Runestone) thanks in part to our own hyperdiffusionist, Gloria Farley—who didn’t even build a raft. Then there are the ones who especially love to pick on rock art, these epigrapher hobbyists.

  3. #3 codero
    November 4, 2010

    Is that bit about the silver nose a nod to Tycho Brahe? Or Pangloss?

  4. #4 owlfarmer
    November 4, 2010

    To give Heyerdahl a bit of credit for bucking the system, I always saw him as a maverick adventurer who inspired folks to think in divergent directions–even though he wasn’t willing to think beyond his own rather narrow perspective. For example, his books made me consider (during my archaeological phase of existence in the ’60s and ’70s) the possibility that people from Asia might have taken a different route than the land bridge in Alaska to make their way to South America (hugging the coast in boats rather than trekking by foot). The recent controversies surrounding pre-Clovis occupation of the Americas seem to have generated discussion along those lines (although I can’t cite anything specific off the top of my head).

    I’m also a bit hesitant to compare biological and cultural evolution too closely, although your agricultural analogy works (and is partly biological). Around here people are quick to disparage biological evolution by equating it with bad social Darwinism, so I might be just a tad sensitive.

    Living in a cultural/intellectual backwater is so much fun.

  5. #5 Richard D
    November 4, 2010

    As I think I mentioned once before on here, it a shame to me when I became a ‘proper archaeologist’ to find just how dodgy Heyerdahl’s escapades actually were. They certainly captivated the young me.

    I suppose it is unsurprising that people who try and do a bit of ‘extreme experimental archaeology’* will get a lot of publicity because of the feat itself. Annoying for the rest of us though.

    *I should point out I am not trashing the entirety of the experimental archaeology field here.

  6. #6 kevin
    November 4, 2010

    I read Thor Heyerdahl’s kon-tiki book (nearly all of it, anyway) to one of my kids last year over the course of a few weeks, and we really enjoyed it. A neat real-life adventure, very appealing to a 7 year old boy.

    Regarding the diffusion via travel from South America to the Polynesian islands he advocated. If I recall the book, he spends some time saying, essentially, that his ideas were dismissed on the grounds of “what you are proposing did not happen, because it physically could not have happened”. At least the way I recall the book spinning the story, the kon-tiki trip was a rebuttal to such arguments.

    Gathering the positive evidence that diffusion happened in the way he proposes is another matter, and apparently Heyerdahl wasn’t up for that. But it seems strange to fault Heyerdahl for just being incomplete. Or perhaps Heyerdahl’s book is misleading and I am missing something here.

  7. #7 ZooGuard
    November 4, 2010

    Didn’t Heyerdahl write a book debunking Däniken? :)

  8. #8 dogteam
    November 4, 2010

    @ Kevin:
    I’m with you, I think. To call what Heyerdahl did “archaeology” or even “pseudoarchaeology” is a stretch, and I’m not even sure that he intended it to be such. He speculated that relatively primitive civilizations could have been responsible for the diffusion of their culture and technology despite seemingly impossible distances over water, and was told point blank… by the “real” archaeologists….that it couldn’t have happened. He set about proving them wrong.
    Again, maybe like you I’m missing something…but is that not a valuable bit of information? Would that not allow serious researchers to view both artifacts and data in a whole new light?

  9. #9 Jonathan Jarrett
    November 4, 2010

    … argues that a real person named Odin brought civilisation to Scandinavia from the Middle East

    Oh good heavens, that makes me realise that I’ve never recommended Votan by John James to you, Martin, or indeed to anyone else here. Fantastic historical novel about a Greek swindler and half-criminal who becomes the source of the Odin legends. It was published in 1966 so now I have to wonder if it’s where Heyerdahl got his inspiration for that project…

  10. #10 Peter Lund
    November 4, 2010

    Pff! You make it sound like Ertebølle is in Germany. And didn’t Saxo claim that Odin was Man, not God, before Snorri?

  11. #11 Tim Dean
    November 4, 2010

    I agree that Heyerdahl’s intention wasn’t to test hypotheses, it was to demonstrate that certain hypotheses were worthy of testing. When someone says it’s impossible for migration to have occurred from point A to point B, it stifles any further investigation of other hypotheses that hinge on this one element. By demonstrating it was *possible*, Heyerdahl opened up these new avenues for testing.

    Sure, many idolise Heyerdahl for being a great scientist; he wasn’t. He was a great adventurer and pioneer, who set out to demonstrate certain ideas in the concrete and pave the way for further research, not to be the last word in justifying a theory.

    Besides, I always considered Heyerdahl was an anthropologist or ethnographer not an archaeologist.

  12. #12 SM
    November 4, 2010

    The problem is that Heyerdahl didn’t prove some of the things he thought he did. For example, I think I remember his Egyptian reed boat would have had to be launched in north west Africa to make it across the Atlantic, but the right type of reeds don’t grow there. He had to import his from A thousand miles away using motor vehicles. Its like the longbow enthusiasts who test at very short ranges, against badly made armour without the historical cloth padding, and conclude that arrows could punch through medieval armour easily.

  13. #13 the other kevin
    November 4, 2010

    I too read Kon-Tiki and Aku-Aku and a couple others that escape me as a kid and found them fascinating, they totally fired my imagination — they’re part of the reason I’m here reading this blog. Thor Heyerdahl did more to popularize archaeology than a hundred academics of his generation.

    I don’t think archaeology (the academic discipline) is harmed in the least by crackpot populists. Rather, there’s a kind of dialectical argument between populists and scholars that keeps nonacademics like me interested. The public likes big ideas and likes to hear them debated — that’s the basis of nearly every one of those horrible pseudodocumentaries on the History channel now. Sure I cringe, but they’re entertaining as hell. I think most of us are sophisticated enough to be able to tell the difference between wild conjecture and solid scholarship.

    I know one thing: you wouldn’t have caught Thor Heyerdahl carefully excavating and cataloging bits of wattle and daub. Somewhere in between is the way.

  14. #14 jbuhler
    November 5, 2010

    Almost ashamed to say that my first reaction to the silver nose was “Kid Shaleen!”

  15. #15 scidog
    November 5, 2010

    Kevin sort of has the gist of it,if Heyerdahl had not removed the archaeological items from the sea side caves in the manner that he did the voyage would have just been a sidelight to real science.

  16. #16 Martin R
    November 5, 2010

    Codero, yes, Brahe.

    Richard, what Heyerdahl did doesn’t quite qualify as experimental archaeology as he had no actual archaeological materials that he was trying to replicate and understand.

    Kevin and Dogteam, I don’t know exactly what Heyerdahl’s detractors were saying before 1947. But in my opinion a discussion where one side is saying “maybe this happened in antiquity” and the other replies “it cannot have happened” is not scientific. I suspect that what Heyerdahl’s critics really said was “We have been digging for a while, and we have found no evidence to suggest that people brought civilisation from South America to Polynesia in antiquity”. The rafting project did not change that. There is still no such evidence. But poultry genetics have recently actually suggested that Polynesians visited South America!

    Peter Lund, though most of the Ertebølle culture is on current or former Danish soil, there is quite a bit of it along the coast of NW Germany as well. About Saxo, I don’t know but it sounds highly likely.

    Scidog, what caves? What archaeological finds?

  17. #17 csrster
    November 5, 2010

    “memorial museum is (tellingly) located a stone’s throw from the Viking Ship Hall in Oslo”

    Maybe my memory is playing tricks but wouldn’t it have to be a pretty long throw? Otoh, my nine year old daughter could hit the Fram museum with a stonethrow from the the Kon Tiki and that’s approximately twenty times as interesting an exhibition. One of the most frustrating aspects of my three years in Oslo was trying to persuade visitors to skip the Heyerdahl monument and visit Nansen’s instead. Actually there was one exhibit in the Kon Tiki museum that I liked – the Oscar statuette they won for the Kon Tiki documentary.

    However I will give the Kon Tiki museum credit for one thing. They’re very careful in all their labelling of the exhibits never to actually suggest that Heyerdahl was right about anything. It’s always “thus he demonstrated that X _could_ have crossed Y in a small Z”.

  18. #18 Martin R
    November 5, 2010

    Yes, it’s a long stone’s throw. 600-700 m as the crow flies judging from Google Maps.

  19. #19 Birger Johansson
    November 5, 2010

    In regard to cultural diffusion, it would be interesting to get a *more detailed* picture of DNA among the paleolitic resp. neolithic Europeans to see to what extent farming was spread through diffusion and to what extent by migration. Linguistic data are much harder to interpret, since a population may swutch language at a much later date.

  20. #20 Martin R
    November 5, 2010

    Not sure if the molecular clock is accurate enough to distinguish Early Neolithic population movements from later ones. The Y chromosome, maybe. But not the mitochondrion.

  21. #21 Lassi Hippeläinen
    November 5, 2010

    Heyerdahl was no archeologist, and AFAIK he never claimed to be one. He always had some real archeologists with him to do the real digging. And the finds were made available to everybody.

    He was a biologist by training. Kon-tiki was at least in part inspired by the strange appearance of South American plants in Polynesia. The most famous is the sweet potato. Even its Polynesian name is derived from Quetchua, the language spoken in Peru. As a navigator he didn’t believe that the Polynesians could have sailed against the winds and currents to South America, so he concluded that the contact was made in the other direction. Hence Kon-tiki.

    Eventually he was proven wrong. The Hawai’ian traditional catamaran Hokule’a (which was inspired by Kon-tiki) has showed that the Polynesians could have sailed to South America, and the recent findings of Polynesian poultry remains there seal the case.

    For me Heyerdahl was a good inspirator. Without him many things that we know about ancient technology might still be unexplored. In many cases his conclusion were wrong, but in the big picture he was a good influence. Someone was needed to kick butts.

    In Aku-aku he claims that nobody believed that there was anything worth digging in Polynesia, because there are no rivers to generate sediments. He soon found out that the constant wind generates aeloian sediments, which proved the previous thinking wrong. I’m not sure if all of that is true, but the way he tells about it – his wife complaining about the ever-present dust in the camp – shows that he was an excellent popularizer.

  22. #22 Martin R
    November 5, 2010

    Heyerdahl was no archeologist, and AFAIK he never claimed to be one.

    But his projects only make some kind of scientific sense if seen as attempts to amass evidence for an archaeological hypothesis. Without hyperdiffusionism, Heyerdahl would just be a funny guy who sailed on primitive boats. And I’m pretty sure that he did not see himself as just a funny guy.

  23. #23 dave chamberlin
    November 5, 2010

    I find it very sad that in my common trips to my local book store I find as little as ten books under the subject of archeology-anthropology and half of them are along the lines of Von Danikan’s “Chariot of the Gods” crap.

    But things aren’t all bad, the internet has become the meeting place for serious thinkers. You no longer have to be associated with a university to have easy access to the cutting edge of real science. We will always need Heterdal’s to bring a sense of scientific wonder to the masses. We don’t have to look down on them, if they are honest in their lack of true expertise.

    Wringing our hands because we live in a rediculously commercial world full of gullible people is a fruitless excersize. It is what it is, and I am just grateful to be alive in the present in a world of exploding information sources and a brain smart enough and playful enough to revel in it.

  24. #24 dogteam
    November 5, 2010

    @jbuhler – Yeah, Kid Shalleen was my first thought, too. God, I loved that movie. :)

  25. #25 frog
    November 5, 2010

    Wow — this is really stretching the concept of “pseudo-science” to include anything outside of the mainstream.

    Is it a scientific question whether pre-columbian transoceanic trips where possible? Yes — as a history of engineering question. Does it have implications? Yes — if it’s positively known to be possible, then it must be kept in mind until evidence shows that it never occurred.

    Just look at the SA chicken problem — how much weight do you give to the hunt for Polynesian predecessors? Well, if it seems incredibly improbable that Ps could have made the trip, you invest little effort, while if you have good engineering reasons to believe that it is reasonable, you make more effort.

    Why this frankly silly effort to throw everything just a bit cranky and non-mainstream into “pseudo-science”? Everything outside of academia? We can agree that folks like Daniken are clearly pseudo-scientific — but to have no other categories than “pseudo-science” and “academic science” is plainly stupid. Engineering experiments are scientific too — even when they’re not clearly academic science.

  26. #26 Martin R
    November 5, 2010

    Check out Heyerdahl’s opinions about Odin and about alleged pyramids on the Canary islands, and I think you’ll agree that his books should be shelved with von Däniken’s.

    I’m all for engineering. But whether something is technologically possible or not is really not of great interest to archaeologists if there is nothing to suggest that it actually happened. To study how Polynesia was colonised you need to dig in Polynesia, period.

  27. #27 Lassi Hippeläinen
    November 5, 2010

    To study how Polynesia was colonised you need to dig in Polynesia, period.

    Ironically, it was Heyerdahl who first did it. And he had to seek private funding, because the archaeologists of the time said that everything worth seeing is on the surface.

  28. #28 murmel.jones
    November 5, 2010

    this so-called chicken evidence for Polynesian-South American contacts has not been that conclusive finally (see http://www.pnas.org/content/105/30/10308)

  29. #29 ancientarch
    November 5, 2010

    He may have had hostility toward mainstream academics and it was most likely warranted. Although I don’t agree with his unwavering approach towards diffusionism he certainly had a significant part in shaping archaeological theory despite criticism from obscure academics with contradictory interpretive theories that are just as much pseudoscience as his approach. Peer review is overated and in many instances counterproductive to the growth of the science of archaeoology by steering free expression of academic thought.

  30. #30 German Dziebel
    November 5, 2010

    Hi Martin,

    Thanks for your blog. In the case of Heyerdahl, I’ll have to side with some of the commenters above who protect Heyerdahl against your scathing critique. His value to science lies not in his ideas (those can always go wrong in the field of prehistory) but in his practical actions directed at academic obscurantism, arm-chair epistemological bigotry and the illusion of expertise in the situation of objective lack of reliable evidence.

    Times are changing: I have two doctorates and I believe that available data suggests that humans colonized the Old World from the New World. So, my major quibble with Heyerdahl is that he chose to traverse the Pacific instead of Beringia. In the future, bold ideas and thorough interdisciplinary training are going to go hand-in-hand more and more. So, Martin, I’m afraid you are falling into the dark side of pseudohistoriography and pseudocriticism by attacking Heyerdal instead of salvaging the spirit of his efforts.

  31. #31 Martin R
    November 6, 2010

    Congratulations on your double doctorate! What disciplines are the two of them in?

  32. #32 German Dziebel
    November 6, 2010

    History and anthropology. You can click on my name and read more. I published a book a couple of years ago.

  33. #33 Ponto
    November 7, 2010

    I like the others read some of Thor Heyderdahl’s books as a child. Kon Tiki at least. While fascinated that men would set out on a raft to prove some theory, it also frightened me. The idea that tall blond or red haired men ventured off in the past and bequeathed civilization to the Amerindians struck me as stupid and yes, childish. The racism involved also disgusted me. The negative references to how poor the Amerindians were, the way the Europeans just throw things about without a care for the environment, and it was obvious that Heyerdahl despised anyone of sub Saharan African origin no matter how partial.

    Heyerdahl desires to be forgotten with his crackpot ideas.

  34. #34 ohwilleke
    November 8, 2010

    “[S]cientific archaeology and ethnography and biology have all but forgotten him.”

    I’ve never met an archeologist, ethnographer or educated layperson interested in those subjected who wasn’t familiar with him. Many of his hypotheses have largely been rejected (although Kon-Tiki influences the credibility given to a sweet potato transmission to Oceania from South America by boat even if he very likely got the identity of the boatmakers wrong), but the “could have happened” part of his method still have validity.

    His work has also probably opened our minds to other possiblities of long distance cultural transmission like the demographic formation of Madagascar from Indonesia.

    The idea that Odin could have been the embodiment of a real person is hardly outside the mainstream of anthropology, and the idea that Scandinavian culture may have important roots in cultural transmissions from Indo-Europeans in Southeastern Europe is also hardly radical. Giving those ideas flesh by putting together a story that merges them is speculative, but not in a pseudo-scientific way, just in a way that isn’t confined to the same think inside the box boundaries of academia. It isn’t pseudo-science to focus on what could be, rather than what we know to be. It is just a different part of the enterprise.

    Pseduo-science, in contrast, generally claims to be proven definitively things that we know to be false, or to contradict actually proven points.

  35. #35 Martin R
    November 8, 2010

    Pseudo-science, in contrast, generally claims to be proven definitively things that we know to be false, or to contradict actually proven points.

    … as seen in Heyerdahl’s lifelong refusal to abandon hyperdiffusionism. And in his ridiculously uninformed approach to the study of Snorri Sturluson’s works.

  36. #36 German Dziebel
    November 8, 2010

    “And in his ridiculously uninformed approach to the study of Snorri Sturluson’s works.”

    I agree with this one. Heyerdahl’s ignorance of linguistics is a clear parallel to Fomenko’s “New Chronology,” which has also been classified as either pseudoscience or a mix of science fiction and science satire. I would still caution, however, against writing historiography only from a singular “etic” perspective of an offended scientist, without offering an “etic” perspective that contextualizes any writing – from scientific to fictional – as a legitimate manifestation of historical structures of thought and action. For instance, I wouldn’t contrast Heyerdahl’s ignorance of linguistics with the competence of a professional linguist, but I would look at it through the prism of the general trend of science to create silos between disciplines, so archaeologists are not trained in linguistics, geneticists are not trained in archaeology, etc. Heyerdahl transgressed these silos with childish innocence and lots of errors, thus parodying narrow specialization that so often comes in the way of a holistic approach to a problem.

  37. #37 Sandgroper
    November 10, 2010

    “the general trend of science to create silos between disciplines” Yes, as one of my engineering colleagues from Texas remarked to me “The boundaries are the growth areas”. (He was referring to education and employment – people who can span between disciplines in an informed way.

    Giant Polynesian catamaran canoes were much more seaworthy than a balsawood raft, and much more suitable craft for crossing vast distances on the open ocean, as the Polynesians demonstrated by getting to Easter Island. Heyerdahl seems to have completely missed that as at least suggesting that, if there was contact between Polynesia and South America, it was the Polynesians who were more lkely to have been the travelling salesmen.

  38. #38 Carl H
    November 14, 2010

    I actually think Heyerdahl is a crackpot and should be utterly discarded. I see no reason to celebrate his pseudo-scientific exploits as more than a novelty. They aren’t worth anything in my book.

    I didn’t read his books as a kid, but I watched some documentaries about it then. What come across me as a kid was that he was cheating on his adventures. Using modern technology for communication, as well was he in contact with modern ships. For me as a kid, this struck me as very counter-productive to the ends of the expedition. It was rather disappointing. He cheated.

    I actually remember that in some popular rendition of his Kon-Tiki travel it actually said “the expedition proves that the population on Polynesia came from South America”.

    I had no reason to doubt this a kid. But I later saw a critical documentary where genetic and other evidence proved Heyerdahl wrong. In interviews with him he couldn’t really see past the genetic evidence when confronted with it, he simply seemed annoyed by it.

    His argument become really silly in light of for simple linguistic evidence, which you don’t even have to dig for. I think his crack pot theories actually isn’t even exiting in comparison to reality: The Austronesian-language group originally coming from a single island: Taiwan, and subsequently colonizing The Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, much of Oceania and Madagaskar.

    An experimental journey with a primitive boat from Borneo to Madagaskar, which actually happened would be much more interesting (the Malagasy languages actually stem from South-Western Borneo dialects).

  39. #39 Nomen Nescio
    November 15, 2010

    I didn’t read his books as a kid, but I watched some documentaries about it then. What come across me as a kid was that he was cheating on his adventures. Using modern technology for communication, as well was he in contact with modern ships.

    in his defense, you really don’t want to navigate the oceans these days without being able to contact your fellow navigators to explain who you are and what you’re doing there. by the time you approach some foreign country’s shores, at the very latest, not answering radio hails could be taken rather badly.

  40. #40 dogteam
    November 16, 2010

    “An experimental journey with a primitive boat from Borneo to Madagaskar, which actually happened would be much more interesting…”

    You’re absolutely right. You should do it.

  41. #41 German Dziebel
    November 16, 2010

    “I actually remember that in some popular rendition of his Kon-Tiki travel it actually said “the expedition proves that the population on Polynesia came from South America”. I had no reason to doubt this a kid. But I later saw a critical documentary where genetic and other evidence proved Heyerdahl wrong. In interviews with him he couldn’t really see past the genetic evidence when confronted with it, he simply seemed annoyed by it.”

    This is a good example of how science gets confused with law. Scientific theories, “genetic evidence”, etc. proving dissenters “wrong” are tantamount, in the eyes of some people, to the ruling of a supreme court, a section in the penal code or a verdict of the jury. Whoever thinks differently or remains unconvinced is sentenced to “eternal crackpothood.”

    In fact, when you actually do science and work with data you’ll see how controversial nearly every inch of it is. This is normal. Some people exaggerate the problems and undervalue existing solutions, but there is nothing wrong with it.

  42. #42 BoNo
    January 12, 2011

    “Kevin and Dogteam, I don’t know exactly what Heyerdahl’s detractors were saying before 1947. But in my opinion a discussion where one side is saying “maybe this happened in antiquity” and the other replies “it cannot have happened” is not scientific. I suspect that what Heyerdahl’s critics really said was “We have been digging for a while, and we have found no evidence to suggest that people brought civilisation from South America to Polynesia in antiquity”. The rafting project did not change that. There is still no such evidence. But poultry genetics have recently actually suggested that Polynesians visited South America!”

    After spending one year on the biologically isolated islands of Galagapos Heyerdahl discovered that the Polynesian islands bore signs of contact with the major continents. After a study of the Pacific ocean-currents and wheather he made his thesis of human travels around the Pacific Ocean, showing that longer travels between the islands of the Pacific could be possible, if not probable.

    The reactions to this antropolical thesis, by a young biologist, became a complete and rather harsh – not to say alienating – criticism. The major argument against Heyerdahls thesis was based on the “known fact” that none of the ancient (read “primitive”) peoples could have crossed the Pacific, since they did had neither developed boats of nesseacary size nor sails.

    When Heyerdahl’s plans of building a balsa-fleet was known, a good few “serious” academians within the field flipped quite badly. Kon-Tiki was repeatedly deemed as “crazy”. A respected professor from Finland even made a public attempt to have Mr. Heyerdahl confined and prosecuted – to stop the “irresponsible and relentless adventurer” from jeopardizing the lives of his crew-members…

    Thus we may understand that Heyderahl came from a utterly scientific basis with this theory. The reaction he got was quite a shock to the young academian – and the sad case of his career was that established science did NOT change the hostile attitude to senor Kon-Tiki even after he proved that pre-colombian contacts were possible. That fact was still to controverse for most historians anno 1950.

    Why some still have a problem with Heyerdahls highly interesting research on pre-historic voyages between ancient civilisations beats common sense.

    Since the discovery of stone tools from Hawaiian volcanic rock was discovered in a 5000 year old pit in Tahiti – 4000 km away – it seems clear that the Polynesian double-rigger (katameran) enabled the ancient Asians to explore their oceans. Furthermore it confirms that the old Polyneisan tradition of reading the ocean currents, the wheather-patterns and the stars – to cross the big blue – have roots that take them well before the Phonecians.

    Since Heyerdahls thesis (1942) a massive group of historians refuted his theory, calling it “i-m-p-o-s-s-i-b-l-e”.
    In 1947 he proved them dead wrong – pacific journeys were possible.

    Today we even have to admit that the main ancore of Heyerdahls thesis on “ancient pacific voyages” have proven to be much more than R-I-G-T-H. It’s been constructive, revealing, stimulating, contributing and inspirating – reflecting over and opening a new view to the ancient forefathers of the “primitive” peoples of the Pacific…

    If Martin want to be a real scientist – and not a mere beliver in scepticism – he would not have to debunk Heyerdahls early debunkers – and rewrite the history of Thor Heyerdahl to establish some consequent debunking view-points on Dr. Heyerdahl. Heyerdahls fall-out with established science was nothing he chose or wished for. On the contrary, most of his works after 1950 were geared towards the established community of anthropology and histroy – to gain acceptance for the possibility of his theories on “contact”.
    Unfortunately he spoke to a lot of deaf ears. When our orthodox faculties still did not find place for his efforts and his work he was ulitmately forced to establish his own museum and academy.

    In his own way Heyerdahl and his co-workers looked for a more complete explanation of the various signs of civilization around the globe. Thus they checked out all the “bird-men” and pyramids that appear all around equator – from Bolivia via Tenerife to Samoa. Following these traces and these clues they obviously came into conflict with the “evolution model” of anthropology, that claims “civilization” may occur in a number of isolated cultures, simultaniously. (Reasoning that the (hypothetical) possibility of simultanious incidents are existing, even if the odds are diminishing…)

    Since then there have been an acedemic trend to belong to the “Heyerdahl-debunkers”, which at times excalated to hostile and alianating dimensions. This enigma came to follow Heyerdahl through the rest of his career and unto the final days of his life. That more than 20 universities gave him a honary doctorate or professorship did not change that. So, to blame Heyerdahl for his schism with converse science is like blaming the hare for the chasing flock of dogs…

    When is Dr. Rundquist planning to complete his tale about Dr. Heyerdahl and perform a most thorough and critical check on Heyerdahls foremost critics? There’s quite a few of us that still look forward to hear where Heyerdahl was dead wrong and where his critics were dead rigth…

  43. #43 BoNo
    January 12, 2011

    “… as seen in Heyerdahl’s lifelong refusal to abandon hyperdiffusionism. And in his ridiculously uninformed approach to the study of Snorri Sturluson’s works.”

    1. As far as I know there’s a lot of opinions on this. So, does Maritng think that “hyper-diffusionism” is proven to be dead wrong? Or is it still one of several theories on how civilization may have spread?

    2. I just read through Heyerdahl and Lillieströms books on Oden from Asgard – and his Aser and Vaner. The authors claims that the Aser were a small group of people and the Vaner a very large tribe (alt. confederation of tribes). In Heyerdahls view they were historic groups of people, living to the east of the Baltic Ocean. During mideval times they are called “Vane”/”Wends”/”Vends” and “Ouan”/”Huan”/”Hun” are known as historic populations, sited east and south-east of the Baltic Ocean.

    The only problem left seems to be the location of the Aser and their famous capital called Asgaard. Thus Heyerdahl ended up in the old city of As-ov, where he proved that Nordic (“viking”) influences were clearly present. Just like Schliemann went looking for Troy.

    That both theese explorers found some wrong answers too, is – in the scope of history – besides the point. The point is that they both took the science of history some inches further and the common interest and education in history a good mile onwards. Historians debunking the modern pioneers of historical popularization may at times perform academical cannibalism. Unconsciously perhaps – but still…

  44. #44 Luke Perkins
    April 1, 2012

    Please can somebody tell me what the evidence for S-E Asian colonisation of Polynesia actually IS? I have been searching for some time for an itemized rebuttal of Heyerdahl’s kon-tiki theories without success.

  45. #45 Martin R
    April 1, 2012

    The main evidence behind the consensus opinion that Polynesia was settled from Taiwan is a) the radiocarbon dates of sites with Lapita pottery and b) the genetics of Polynesians and pre-Chinese Taiwanese natives.

  46. #46 Random
    May 14, 2012

    The main evidence behind the consensus opinion that Polynesia was settled from Taiwan is a) the radiocarbon dates of sites with Lapita pottery and b) the genetics of Polynesians and pre-Chinese Taiwanese natives.

    Heyerdahl proposed that the ancestors of the Polynesians sailed to the Pacific Northwest from Asia via the Kuroshio current, lived there for a while, then sailed to Hawaii and expanded throughout Polynesia from there, mixing with a Caucasoid people who were already there, and who had spread into Polynesia from Peru. None of the denunciations of Heyerdahl that I have read over the years have ever bothered to state his theory correctly, and this article is no exception.

    I find it interesting that in the Americas, Haplogroup B is found almost exclusively in the Pacific Northwest, and also at high levels in Polynesia – a strange “coincidence” that just happens to corroborate Heyerdahl’s hypothesis.

    Then there’s the mysterious y-DNA Haplogroup K, also found at high levels in Polynesia. For some reason, the way the tree is drawn, it makes it look as though this haplogroup doesn’t even exist:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haplogroup_K%28xLT%29_%28Y-DNA%29

    The naming of K(xLT) was a “revolution” in haplogroup designation, because prior to that the formula “K(xLT)” never designated a single haplogroup, but instead “everything that belongs to K, but does not belong to LT”. The traditional way would have been to rename haplogroups K1, K2, K3 and K4 into U, V, W and X, and to rename MNOPS into MNOPSUVWX, but the YCC decided otherwise. This poses a great problem, because there is no way to disambiguate between “K(xLT)” in the traditional and in the new meaning. It also creates a confusion whence haplogroups K1, K2, K3, K4 do not belong directly to haplogroup K, but instead to haplogroup K(xLT).

    Ehhh… what? Admittedly I’m just an layman with an interest in ancient migrations and population genetics, but to me this just looks like a way of sweeping a “difficult to explain” haplogroup under the rug. Why else the need for a “‘revolution’ in haplogroup designation”?

  47. #47 Random
    May 14, 2012

    Instead of searching for evidence that diffusion had taken place (e.g. Egyptian pottery in Mexico), he spent his life “testing” whether the needed sea travel could have taken place in antiquity.

    This is flatly untrue. He wrote a lengthy book, American Indians in the Pacific, detailing the cultural parallels between Polynesia and both the Pacific Northwest and Peru. Good luck finding a serious critique of this book anywhere, despite all the ink that has been spilled condemning Heyerdahl. I don’t think his ideas have received a fair hearing at all.

  48. #48 Random
    May 14, 2012

    Instead of searching for evidence that diffusion had taken place (e.g. Egyptian pottery in Mexico), he spent his life “testing” whether the needed sea travel could have taken place in antiquity.

    This is flatly untrue. He wrote a lengthy book, American Indians in the Pacific, detailing the cultural parallels between Polynesia and both the Pacific Northwest and Peru. Good luck finding a serious critique of this book anywhere, despite all the ink that has been spilled condemning Heyerdahl. I don’t think his ideas have received a fair hearing at all.

  49. #49 Kili Sands
    Los Angeles - Honolulu
    December 17, 2012

    HEYERDAHL THE HACK!
    First, last and always, he was WRONG!! About what? take your pick. This discussion will undoubtedly pick up in 2013 with the release of “Kon-Tiki”, the movie (a feature film, not the 1950 documentary). I’ve known about this film for almost a year, it was released late November and I saw it early December (this month). Being the most expensive film production in Norway’s history, the production quality was as good as expected, but that’s where its attributes end. The film does nothing more than perpetuate the misguided hero worship and unearned credit bestowed on him by Norwegians and delusional fans but it does so by exaggeration, over dramatization and added inaccuracy.

    To even credit him with starting a dialog on Polynesian origins would be to credit the man who said the world was flat for discovering the world is round! Adventure is not archeology, get that right! You can read all the books you want and TRY to hold him out as some sort of messiah or even TRY to sing his praises, but at the end of the day, he was WRONG and any discussion to the contrary is pointless.

    Kon-Tiki did NOT “inspire” Hokulea! This is EXACTLY the kind of two-digit I.Q. assumption that he and his supporters created and perpetuated! While NORMAL people and REAL scientists have always known the truth, it was Heyerdahl, Andrew Sharp and the rest of their ilk that force fed the masses to think and assume what they saw in theaters (and read in his books) was true when it actually did nothing but muddy the waters through deception,quibbling and half-truths.

    I could easily go on, but I think you get my drift… pun intended!

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