Posted by: Sarah | October 2, 2011

How The Statues On Easter Island Connected Us To Norway

A few weeks ago Eliot’s parents came to visit so we took them on a trip out to see some of the local museums on Bygdøy (near Oslo) including the Kon Tiki Museum.  Most folks will have heard of the Kon Tiki because of the 1950 documentary film that was made of the famous Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl.   Eliot and I feel a little connected to Heyerdahl mainly because of his work on Easter Island – a place we both visited some 8 years ago when we travelled around the world.

Heyerdahl is most famous for crossing the Pacific Ocean in 1947 on a raft made of balsa wood and other native materials to Peru.  He wanted to prove that there could have been a connection between Polyenesia and South America way before modern transportation.  It took him and his 5 crew 101 days to cross 8,000 km and the adventure was recorded in a book which has since been translated into 67 languages and a documentary film which won an academy award in 1951!

But this wasn’t how Eliot and I got to know of Heyerdahl’s name.  We first came across his name when we visited Easter Island (or Rapa Nui) 8 years ago – every islander knew who he was, not least our very enthusiastic tour guide who had photos, maps and signed memorabilia from when he met Thor in the 1980’s.   At the time I didn’t realise he was Norwegian!

Between 1955 and 1956 Heyerdahl led a year-long expedition on Easter Island to understand more about the colossal statues of unknown origin which can be found all over the open landscape of Easter Island.  Many Polynesians believe these structures were erected by people who came to the islands very early on.

Thor and his team of archeologists spent a year excavating and revealed that the giant heads were in fact tall statues with huge bodies that had been buried as a result of windblown sand.  This program was funded by Heyerdahl himself who seem to dedicate his life to exploration and patronised by King Olav V.  You can see these statues in museums around the world including The British Museum.

Heyerdahl was an interesting chap.  He really believed in the unity of mankind and actively spent his life building bridges between nations and people of different races, religions and political beliefs.

For this reason he held of number of influential positions in international organisations such as the World Association of World Federalists.  He died in 2002 in Italy whilst on holiday and Norway gave him a state funeral at Oslo Cathedral in honour of the work he did as an adventurer.

The Kon Tiki museum and the Norwegian Film Institute have decided to remake the Kon Tiki film at a cost of 100M NOK (£10M).  You can see an early trailer in the Kon Tiki museum or you can read more about it here.  Here’s the 1947 film in case you’re interested!


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