A few thoughts on Thor Heyerdahl

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A few thoughts on Thor Heyerdahl

Postby Stephen Morgan » Mon Aug 15, 2011 11:49 am

Thor Heyerdahl has done a number of books, which are generally excellent. The Pyramids of Tucume, often
attributed to him, is actually a compilation of other people's work on the excavations at Tucume, he
just wrote three chapters.

The first book he wrote was about him and his woman wandering off to a remote pacific island. It was
only published in his native foreign, but a revised later translation is available under the title of
Fatu Hiva, or Journey to Fatu Hiva. They had a bit of trouble finding an island which had water, food,
no people and no horrible infections. That was when he met a Tahitian chieftain and came to his ideas
about pre-Columbian transpacific travel.

That's normally forgotten being overshadowed by the more famous Kon-Tiki Expedition, in which they head
across to post-War South America to grab some balsa wood logs surplus to the aircraft industry and rope
them together for a gang of Scandianvians to float across the Pacific on. Which they succeeded in doing.
Wisely ignored the engineers who told them to use metal cable to tie the logs together, as even the
vines they used cut great trenches in the soft wood.

Aku-Aku was about an expedition to Easter Island for archaeological purposes, on a rented fishing boat.
They were the first moderns to reerect a big giant head, complete with top-knot. The discovered stone
carvings in various hidden caverns, at least one of which could be accessed only while dangling from a
cliff. They also got their hands on a manuscript allegedly translating rongo-rongo, which has been
alleged to consist of the same set of symbols used by the Indus Valley script. Didn't find any other new
rongo-rongo tablets, though. Point out that Totora reeds, among other plants, have obviously been
imported from South America in pre-modern times. The slopes of Easter Island formerly terraced for
intensive cultivation. Before, of course, the collapse of their civilisation in what was probably ethnic
warfare also, legendarily, leading to the destruction of their forestry to form fortifications and a
rather large bonfire.

The Ra Expeditions is back to the adventurous raft travels. Basing their designs and construction on
wall paintings of ancient Egyptian boats and the modern construction techniques of the reed boat
buildings of Lake Chad and Lake Titicaca. They think there's something anomolous about the boats found
buried near the pyramids, plank boats rather than reed rafts. Those plank boats were built with high
prow and stern indicating a design to cope with waves, of which there aren't many on the Nile. He
assumed it couldn't function on the open sea because of the flimsy construction of planks tied together
with twine. The problem is that such boats have been found on the banks of the Humber, a few thousand
sea miles away through the Mediterranean and the North Atlantic. So they were perfectly capable of sea
travel. They transported the papyrus reed ship to the Atlantic coast of Africa, the launch from near a
long abandoned megalithic city. Book contains an early account of oceanic polution, as they sail through
field of "tar balls" in the Atlantic, making it difficult to wash and brush their teeth. The food and
water is all in ceramic jars. Ancient recipes. Cheese and olive oil in big pots. Boat falls apart before
arriving at destination. Turns out a little detail left of the boat because they couldn't see what
purpose it could serve, but which was always on the ancient drawings, had a purpose: holding the whole
boat together.

So they had a second go, without the original style food, or the Chadian boat builders. Easier these
days to get to Egypt from the altiplano than from Chad in the interior. Modern infrastructure, for you.
Fed largely on fish they caught on Kon Tiki, doesn't work anymore on Ra. Not enough fish. Second raft
works. South Americans have superior construction techniques for reed rafts. Still not like the
ancients, though.

Finally, The Tigris Expedition. They built another reed raft like Ra in Iraq, when Saddam was our
friend, and sailed in down the Euphrates, or possibly Tigris, to the sea, then to Africa. Further than
the Ra went. Dodging oil tankers. Nearly sinking when the reeds were damaged by outflow from a paper
factory. Visited the ancient sites of probable refernces in ancient documents, the Oman, Pakistan,
eventually the coast of Africa before being stopped by Politics from entering the Red Sea. I didn't know
that the Camel originated in pleasant grass land rather than desert and their are large abandoned cities
in Arabia. Lovecraft was right! I knew it. Visit Dilmun, which is to say Bahrain, where the port is set
up to receive only buoyant reed craft rather than normal boats. Very illustrative, that in ancient times
the wine dark sea was no impenetrable barrier or unknown and dangerous way, it was the link between
settlements. A plain and open way. An easy and reliable way, the only safe way to travel. And quick,
linking together all the major places, which were arranged around the sea routes.

Better to sail than to traipse.
Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that all was vanity; but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dream with open eyes, and make it possible. -- Lawrence of Arabia
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Stephen Morgan
 
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