Saturday, 27 November 2004

Notable Sapiens: Thor Heyerdahl

Thor Heyerdahl: Norwegian explorer, promoter of transcultural understanding, and maverick historical researcher. Sailed the oceans in vessels modeled on ancient designs and proved that travel across the Atlantic and Pacific was possible for ancient people. Traced the origins of the mythological Odin and his Scandinavian aristocracy to present Azerbaijan, and found evidence for Andean influence in Polynesia.

His critics were lazy academics who didn't want their pet theories challenged by fieldwork, and dismissed his ideas without giving them proper consideration. Heyerdahl proved them wrong more than once, and most spectacularly when he crossed the Atlantic in a vessel academic critics universally declared would sink.

This man was a strongly independent thinker who wasn't afraid to get his hands dirty testing his ideas in the field. Heyerdahl's historical theories remain controversial, but his basic idea that man has been (or at least, could have been) more mobile than we believe is refreshing and inspiring.

Recent genetic studies have yielded some tantalizing evidence that Heyerdahl's theories might have had merit. Ancestry By DNA's biogeographical studies have found some affinity with Iranian and Indian populations amongst Scandinavians, and some Amerindian affinity amongst Pacific Islanders. Y Chromosome studies have also found links between Norse areas and Central Asia.

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