There once was a man from Norway called Thor Heyerdahl. He has become famous because he led an expedition across the Pacific Ocean from South America to some islands in the Pacific called the Tuamotas. The Kon-Tiki expedition was done on a hand-built raft.
The Kon-Tiki expedition took place in 1947 with five Norwegian men, a Swedish man and a parrot called Lorita.
Thor Heyerdahl loved zoology when he was a child. When he grew to adulthood, he went to the isolated Pacific island groups to study how the local animals had found their way there.
Thor’s first expedition was to the Polynesian Islands. Here he was a popular man and taken under the wing of the Supreme King of Tahiti, Teriieroo. Thor lived with the people for more than one year. He lived just as they did, experiencing a traditional Polynesian life.
Many people believed that the people living on these islands got there from Asia about 6,000 years ago, but while there, Thor began to think that the people actually got there from South America.
He discovered South American artefacts and tools on these islands. He also found out that the sweet potato growing on the islands was the same species as the one from South America. Most scientists thought he had got it wrong, so he set out to prove his point!
Thor was very afraid of the water when he was growing up. He had to overcome this fear as an adult because most of his expeditions involved traveling by raft and boat.
After a lot of trials, he finally set sail from Peru with five other adventurers on a raft built in native style from balsawood, bamboo, and hemp. His main aim for this expedition was to show that people from that pre-Columbian era could make a seaworthy raft using only the materials and technologies of that far off time. His raft did carry modern equipment so they could record what took place as they crossed the ocean.
First, Thor had to find crew members who believed in what he wanted to do. With these crew members, he set off to Ecuador to cut down large balsawood trees.
Then they had to get the huge trunks to Peru where they built the raft with the vines and palm fibre, banana leaves and hemp. They used no modern tools or materials like nails, bolts or fiberglass to build this raft.
The idea was to use only the wind and the current to guide this makeshift raft all the way across the South Pacific. The design used was taken from illustrations of ancient indigenous Peruvian ships that were put down in the records of the Spanish conquistadors. There were no nails, bolts or fiberglass used – the crew literally lashed tree trunks together with hemp ropes.
They built a small shelter on top of the raft from bamboo with a thatched banana leaf roof and fitted a mast to take a large canvas sail. What they did not do was make a way of steering this raft. Thor’s idea about the original way the people got across the ocean was only by drifting with the currents and wind that always happen at the time of year they set off.
After travelling 6,700 kilometres and taking 101 days (that is three months of living close to nature, with whatever the weather threw at them), they made landfall by crashing into a reef on an uninhabited atoll.
The food the sailors took with them was both the modern and the old kind of food. Fresh water they also stored the modern way and the old way. The food was mostly ration packs supplied by the US Army.
The foods the sailors took with them that they believed the ancient sailors would have included were coconuts, sweet potatoes, root vegetables and various fruits. They had plenty of time for fishing, using harpoons, so their diet was mostly fish of all kinds that are found in the Pacific Ocean.
There is a story they tell of seeing a shark swim under the raft; it was so big they could see the head on one side and the tail on the other – was it a whale shark perhaps?
After his success with the raft expedition, Thor also wanted to prove his theory that Egyptians built a papyrus reed ship and sailed it to the Caribbean. His first attempt failed, and the sailors had to be rescued by a passing yacht. Then he tried again and made the trip from the West Coast of Africa to Barbados. The two reed ships were called Ra 1 and Ra 11.
Not all scientists agree with the theory that South Americans sailed across the Pacific Ocean. If they did not, then Thor and his crew were the first to have ever done so!