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Clark Erickson: Great Voyages: Thor Heyerdahl and Kon Tiki


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Scholars have long debated the possibility of long distance travel between continents and its impact on the development of cultures. Similarities between specific objects or complexes of cultural traits often lead to hypotheses about the dating, nature, and direction of journeys, and the identification of possible colonists. In this lecture, Dr. Erickson discusses Thor Heyerdahl’s mid-20th-Century proposal of a bold experiment to show that South Americans could have colonized Pacific Islands using indigenous boats and navigation. Although many of his specific ideas about pre-Columbian trans-Pacific journeys remain speculative, new archaeological and genetic evidence from Chile suggests early and sustained contacts with Polynesian peoples.

The University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology is dedicated to the study and understanding of human history and diversity. Founded in 1887, the Penn Museum has conducted more than 400 archaeological and anthropological expeditions around the world. Three gallery floors feature materials from Egypt, Mesopotamia, the Bible Lands, Mesoamerica, Asia and the ancient Mediterranean World, as well as artifacts from native peoples of the Americas, Africa and Polynesia.