What is the Kon-Tiki?

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  • Written By: Cathy Rogers
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 18 September 2019
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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, named the Kon-Tiki, using materials and technology that were 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 prove that during the pre-Columbian time period, man could have traveled from East to West and that people from South American could have settled in the Polynesian Islands. The Kon-Tiki raft itself was constructed from balsa from Ecuador, as well as hemp, pine, and other native materials, including mangrove wood, bamboo and fir. The raft contained no metal.

The expedition began in Callao, Peru on 28 April 1947. Heyerdahl sailed with a crew of five men. The trip took 101 days and eventually landed near Raroia Island on 7 August 1947. The group made brief contact with natives of Angatau Island on 4 August, but was unable to land safely. The total distance of the journey was 4300 nautical miles (7,964 km). The average speed was 1.5 knots.

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


The Kon-Tiki crew included Bengt Danielsson, a Swedish sociologist and the only crew member not from Norway. The Norwegian crew members included Knut Haagland, a radio expert, Erik Hesselberg, a navigator and artist, Torstien Raaby, also a radio expert, and Herman Watzinger, an engineer. The expedition was funded by private loans, although the US Army donated some equipment.

For food, the crew packed coconuts, sweet potatoes along with some field rations, provided by the US Army. Their water was stored in bamboo tubes. Along the way, they caught fish, specifically yellow fin tuna, shark, dolphin and flying fish.

Heyerdahl wrote a best-selling book about his expedition, which was turned into an Academy Award-winning documentary. Since 1950, the original raft is on display in Oslo, Norway at the Kon-Tiki Museum.


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