What’s Kon-Tiki?

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In 1947, Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl sailed the Kon-Tiki raft from South America to the Polynesian Islands to prove that pre-Columbian people could have traveled from east to west. The raft was made of native materials and contained no metal. The crew of five survived on coconuts, yams, and fish. The journey took 101 days and covered 4,300 nautical miles. The expedition was financed by private loans and the US military donated some equipment. The original raft is now on display in Oslo at the Kon-Tiki Museum.

The Kon-Tiki was an experiment by Thor Heyerdahl, a 32-year-old Norwegian explorer and writer. In the mid-1940s, he built a raft, called the Kon-Tiki, using materials and technologies available in pre-Columbian times. Along with a small crew, he sailed the raft in 1947 from South America to the Polynesian Islands.
Heyerdahl’s goal was to demonstrate that during the pre-Columbian period, man could have traveled from east to west and that people from South America could have settled in the Polynesian islands. The Kon-Tiki Raft itself was built with Ecuadorian balsa, hemp, pine, and other native materials, including mangrove, bamboo, and fir wood. The raft contained no metal.

The expedition began in Callao, Peru on April 28, 1947. Heyerdahl sailed with a crew of five. The journey took 101 days and finally landed near Raroia Island on August 7, 1947. The party made brief contact with the natives of Angatau Island on August 4, but failed to land safely. The total distance of the voyage was 4,300 nautical miles (7,964 km). Average speed was 1.5 knots.

Once on the islet near Raroia, the Kon-Tiki team spent a few days alone, until inhabitants of a nearby island arrived by canoe. The natives took the crew to their village and celebrated with traditional dances and feasts. The raft was then towed to Tahiti by a French schooner.

Kon-Tiki’s crew included Bengt Danielsson, a Swedish sociologist and the only non-Norwegian crew member. Norwegian crew members included Knut Haagland, a radio expert, Erik Hesselberg, navigator and artist, Torstien Raaby, also a radio expert, and Herman Watzinger, an engineer. The expedition was financed by private loans, although the US military donated some equipment.

For food, the crew packed coconuts, yams, and some field rations, supplied by the US Army. Their water was stored in bamboo tubes. Along the way, they caught fish, especially yellowfin tuna, sharks, dolphins, and flying fish.
Heyerdahl wrote a best-selling book about his expedition, which was made into an Academy Award-winning documentary. Since 1950, the original raft has been on display in Oslo, Norway at the Kon-Tiki Museum.

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