Where would you rather be? On a spacecraft heading towards a lifeless moon or planet or aboard a bouncing raft constructed as in ancient times? An unabashed romantic. But, complete escape is impossible though the very attempt has its infectious delights.Thor Heyerdahl was the anti-hero seeking existential authenticity. A rejection of every known ethos in favor of his own idiosyncratic subjective pathology. An overly subjective and bourgeois rebelliousness. But compelling. Not everyone gets to build a papyrus boat beneath the pyramids of Giza. He was a dauntless sailor who could not sail. He was a fugitive from modernity. Yet, what he proved with his queer, seagoing rafts may have been as relevant to the problems of space travel and ecological issues as it was to ancient history. …
In looking backward, Thor Heyerdahl was astonishingly up to date. In circling the globe with primitive vessels, he gave us, paradoxically, a glimpse of the future. He also, at that time, did a great deal in publicizing the doleful fact that we are poisoning our oceans and turning the seas around us into lethal sinks of pollution. Both of these important achievements were incidental benefits of ventures that were scorned as quixotic or suicidal, or both. Before his epic Kon-Tiki expedition in 1947, Heyerdahl was repeatedly warned he was foolishly risking his own life, and the lives of five Scandinavian shipmates, by attempting to cross the Pacific in a balsa raft.
Likewise, before he embraked on the Ra I in 1969, he was solemnly assured by qualified experts that papyrus, the reed from which his boat was made, would disintegrate after a few weeks at sea, just as it did in experimental tubs. Heyerdahl, of course, proved that these forecasts,proffered with vast certitude, were false. His Ra II, a papyrus craft built by Aymara Indians from Lake Titicaca triumphantly completed the 3,270 mile Atlantic crossing in fifty-seven days.
Heyerdahl proved that vessels made of balsa and papyrus were seaworthy, and that even a crew of landlubbers could survive on them in oceanic voyages. It suggested that similar trips could have recurred in remote times. Whatever his own beliefs, Heyerdahl never claimed that his ocean voyages themselves proved any more than this. Still, others have cited his feats as proof of the “diffusionist” theory: that civilization had essentially a single source in the ancient Near East, from which it spread like the widening circle of water stirred by a pebble tossed into a pond.
For Heyerdahl, his dazzling acclaim as an author- over 60 million books sold- was a mixed blessing. Among scholars he was suspect for the seriousness of his purpose was obscured by his celebrity. The press cast him as a carefree Sinbad cavorting on strange floating objects, summoning up slithery spirits from the vasty deep. This obscured a whole dimension of his personality; his brooding melancholy and his profound distrust of the modern era. He showed that people exaggerated the difficulty of crossing the ocean on what seemed like a primitive vessel. The African tribesman who built his Ra I didn’t even know that the ocean was salty, and Heyerdahl claimed a personal mistrust on boats made of wood or metal which he considered risky, preferring something unsinkable like balsa or papyrus.
His career can be seen as a series of attempted escapes from the pervasive prison of the modern world, beginning in 1937 when he decided to live as a stone-age man in Polynesia; a vow to abandon bourgeois comforts for the Stone Age. He believed that for the last five thousand years the brain has made little or no progress, other than altering the environment and without a plan. Ultimately, it was the man himself who was fascinating. He was a throwback to the extinct breed of explorers such as Burton, Livingstone, Scott and Shackleton. Like them. he went his own way with no vast bureaucracy to cosset him. He was the anti-astronaut. But, at the same time was Heyerdahl’s life just a misdirected quest for authenticity? An extremely high-end version of the yuppie in exotic fabrics bribing a sherpa to schlep him up a mountain. Archetype for guy adventure films like Hangover. What Joshua Glenn would call a triumph of fake authenticity. Glenn: So, is there any such thing as authenticity? No, there isn’t. To Baudrillard, whenever “authenticity” is evoked, we are already in the world of the fake. Hermenaut suggests the following update: Whenever “authenticity” is evoked, we are actually in the world of fake authenticity. Although Italians do open restaurants, there is no such thing as an authentic Italian restaurant. Although history, nature, race, and class are very real and very much with us, there is no such thing as an authentic past, an authentic outdoors, nor an
hentic non-white/middle-class style of life. … “Authenticity” is a reality-label from the art world, and as such it cannot be fixed to anything living and vital. For that matter, it’s even difficult to describe a piece of art as “authentic” in the sense of “not fake” .Read More:http://www.hermenaut.com/a5.shtml
Dr. Martin Rundkvist: 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. Read More:http://scienceblogs.com/aardvarchaeology/2010/11/thor_heyerdahl_and_hyperdiffus.php