Updated: May 11
Ferrari and Saab debut their first cars, Edwin Land introduces the world to something called the instant camera, and the first prototype AK-47 is built, to history’s eternal detriment.
Meanwhile, Thor Heyerdahl sails five-thousand miles across the Pacific, in a raft built by hand from balsa wood, from South America to the Tuamotu Islands.
Why did he do that, you may ask, while sitting comfortably in your reading chair, with the gentle breeze from your slightly-open living room window fanning your evening martini.
He did that because he believed.
He believed in the ability of ancient civilizations to undertake astonishing sea journeys that would explain the similarities between their societal and environmental infrastructure, cultures and lifestyles, religious beliefs and traditions.
He called his raft Kon-tiki, after the high priest and sun-king of the legendary mythical fair-skinned people of Peru. They disappeared in time, but not before leaving those staggering collection ruins on the shores of Lake Titicaca.
Heyerdahl’s theory was met with the same derision as Alfred Wegener’s idea that the Earth’s continents used to be a solid, single mass that drifted apart, or Charles Robert Darwin’s bizarre musings on the origin of our disbelieving species, or Nicolaus Copernicus’ Earth-around-the-Sun devilishness, or even Joseph Lister’s crazy antiseptic notion which The Lancet published strong warnings against.
The Lancet didn’t write about Heyerdahl, but anthropologist Robert Suggs did, determining that "The Kon-Tiki theory is about as plausible as the tales of Atlantis, Mu, and Children of the Sun. Like most such theories, it makes exciting light reading, but as an example of scientific method it fares quite poorly."
So Suggs and everyone else who watched Kon-Tiki make that epic voyage would be delighted to read this week that a genomic study has confirmed that there is conclusive evidence that the two groups met, interacted and reproduced around eight-hundred years ago.
Even better for Heyerdahl, who believed Americans sailed to Polynesia as well as the other way around, research has traced at least some of this coupling to the Eastern Islands of Polynesia, in about 1200 CE.
It took seventy-three years for Heyerdahl's visionary theory to be proven. An entire lifetime. He died in 2002, at the age of eighty-seven, and if the Rapa Nui were still carving and erecting he’d have a statue of his own on the island.
And no-one would pull that one down.