Story: Pacific migrations

Norwegian Thor Heyerdahl, 1990

Norwegian Thor Heyerdahl, 1990

Thor Heyerdahl was an adventurer and amateur archaeologist. He was convinced that the Pacific was peopled from Peru and that these South American people had brought the kūmara (sweet potato) with them. To prove this, in 1947 he constructed from balsa wood what he believed was a traditional South American raft (named Kon-Tiki) and set off from Peru. After three months drifting with the South Equatorial Current and sailing with the south-easterly trade winds, he washed up in the Tuamotu archipelago. This voyage, and others like it, merely showed that if a tugboat towed a craft 100 kilometres from the coast of Peru to escape the northerly flowing Peru Current, it was possible for the craft to then drift westward across the Pacific.

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Alexander Turnbull Library, Dominion Post Collection (PAColl-7327)
Reference: EP/1990/3250/18
Photograph by John Nicholson

Permission of the Alexander Turnbull Library, National Library of New Zealand, Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa, must be obtained before any re-use of this image.

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How to cite this page:

Geoff Irwin, 'Pacific migrations - Pacific navigation and exploration', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 7 June 2023)

Story by Geoff Irwin, published 8 Feb 2005, reviewed & revised 8 Feb 2017