Thor Heyerdahl isn’t exactly a household nametoday, but readers of National Geographic in the second half of will remember his particular brand of science. Essentially, he was the precursor of the Mythbusters, except he didn’t use a safety net. His crazy experiments were extreme examples of science at work.
And they were fascinating. From the perusal of an National Geographic in grade school–already old when I saw it–I was aware of the Ra expeditions in which he tried to sail across the Atlantic in a boat of ancient Egyptian design.
Apparently, he also sailed from the American coast to Polynesia on a raft of even more ancient design. That takes a certain amount of balls.
What brings us here today, however, is his 1950s expedition to Easter Island (and other places as well, but Easter Island, as you can see from the cover, is the main course). The book is entitled Aku-Aku, and it’s a fascinating glimpse into what happens when an archaeological expedition is led by someone who thinks outside the box.
Now, before we talk about the aliens, I want to say that I don’t think I could ever be an archaeologist. Though I’m not claustrophobic, I would not willingly jam myself into a cave where I can only advance by shrugging my shoulders. Not for a few ancient artifacts, anyway.
Heyerdahl does this quite often.
But he also teaches us about how an archaeological expedition to cultural sites with a nearly westernized local population was run in the 1950s. It’s interesting to see the combination of sensitivity to local people while at the same time recognizing and acknowledging that superstitions and certain behaviors belong to the past for a reason. I wonder if a modern expedition would be that honest.
If you enjoy archaeology, or learning about ancient civilizations, this book is a good read. Not necessarily a textual joy (although I can’t comment on the merits of the original Norwegian version), but a wonderful look at a team obsessed with looking into the past.
Now, some of Heyerdahl’s conclusions about the origin of the Easter Island natives has been challenged by a genetic study (limited in scope, so there may be hope yet), but one thing is no longer in doubt: aliens had nothing to do with the construction or transport of the island’s famed stone faces.
Essentially, he just told one of the townsfolk on the island descended from the statue-building part of the population that he’d give him a hundred dollars if he stood one of the stones in its pedestal.
So the man did. I won’t tell you how because that is the ultimate spoiler for this book, but the method he used was something that any ancient civilization with access to rocks and a dozen workers could have managed.
When asked to show how the huge stone blocks could have been transported, they used an equally simple and ingenious method.
While this doesn’t prove that the method illustrated is necessarily the one that was employed, it makes it clear that anyone insisting that aliens had something to do with this is worse than a kook… he is an ignorant kook!
So if any of that seems like it might interest you. Go forth and get yourself a copy. You’ll enjoy it.
At the very least you can show the photos to your local alien apologist and watch him go into deep denial. That should be worth the price of admission.
Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine novelist. His novel Timeless serves as an outlet for his love of ancient culture. Set in a monastery complex in Greece, it’s a fast-paced, sexy thriller. You can check it out here.