Heyerdahl’s theories win support

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Thor Heyerdahl, arguably Norway’s most famous explorer, had to endure a lot of criticism over his theories of migration in the South Pacific and elsewhere but genetic testing and new research may help prove him right.

Thor Heyerdahl's theories are still being debated. PHOTO: Kon-Tiki Museum

Heyerdahl, who died in 2002, mounted his famed expedition on his Kon-Tiki raft to prove that Polynesia could have been colonized by South American natives and not by Asians. Now a professor at the University of Oslo, Erik Thorsby, says he has found evidence that supports Heyerdahl’s theory.

“We found, for the first time in our examinations, early genetic traces of native Americans on the Easter Islands,” Thorsby told web site forskning.no. “And they probably came before Europeans discovered the island in 1722.”

Thorsby and his colleagues took their first genetic samples through blood tests in 1971 of a family that could be traced through four generations. Some of the family members had genes that were only found among Native Americans.

New gene tests conducted in 2008 also showed genes from Native Americans, but this time the volunteer subjects weren’t in the same family. “Therefore we couldn’t trace the family backwards,” Thorsby told forskning.no. “But we have more signs that genes from the American mainland aren’t just found in one family.”

He thinks there’s now many signs that Polynesians sailed to South America before Columbus arrived in the New World, “perhaps as early as 1200,” he said. With a new film in the works about Heyerdahl’s life, Thorsby said he thought it was “nice” to be able to share his new findings.

Thorsby’s findings as reported by forskning.no attracted several comments, also from some who continue to scoff at Heyerdahl’s theories. Forskning.no bills itself as the largest Scandinavian online news service covering Norwegian and international research. It currently is offered only in Norwegian, but has announced that it intends to launch a new site in English with Nordic partners this autumn called sciencenordic.com that will cover Nordic research in English.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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