He became notable for his Kon-Tiki expedition, in which he sailed 8,000 km (5,000 mi) by raft from South America to the Tuamotu Islands.
In May 2011, the Thor Heyerdahl Archives were added to UNESCO’s “Memory of the World” Register. Currently, this list includes 238 collections from all over the world. The Heyerdahl Archives span the years 1937 to 2002 and include his photographic collection, diaries, private letters, expedition plans, articles, newspaper clippings, original book and article manuscripts. The Heyerdahl Archives are administered by the Kon-Tiki Museum and the National Library of Norway in Oslo.
Heyerdahl’s youth and personal life
Heyerdahl was born in Larvik, the son of master brewer Thor Heyerdahl and his wife Alison Lyng. As a young child, Heyerdahl showed a strong interest in zoology. He created a small museum in his childhood home, with a Vipera berus as the main attraction. He studied zoology and geography at the University of Oslo. At the same time, he privately studied Polynesian culture and history, consulting what was then the world’s largest private collection of books and papers on Polynesia, owned by Bjarne Kropelien, a wealthy wine merchant in Oslo. This collection was later purchased by the University of Oslo Library from Kropelien’s heirs and was attached to the Kon-Tiki Museum research department. After seven terms and consultations with experts in Berlin, a project was developed and sponsored by Heyerdahl’s zoology professors, Kristine Bonnevie and Hjalmar Broch. He was to visit some isolated Pacific island groups and study how the local animals had found their way there.
Just before sailing together to the Marquesas Islands in 1936, Heyerdahl married his first wife, Liv Coucheron-Torp (b. 1916), whom he had met shortly before enrolling at the university, and who had studied economics there. Though she is conspicuously absent from many of his papers and talks, Liv participated in nearly all of Thor’s journeys, with the exception of the Kon-Tiki Expedition. The couple had two sons; Thor Jr and Bjørn. The marriage ended in divorce.
In 1949 Heyerdahl married Yvonne Dedekam-Simonsen. They had three daughters: Annette, Marian and Helene Elisabeth. They were divorced in 1969. Heyerdahl blamed their separation on his being away from home and differences in their ideas for bringing up children. In his autobiography, he concluded that he should take the entire blame for their separation.
In 1991, Heyerdahl married Jacqueline Beer (b. 1932) as his third wife. They lived in Tenerife, Canary Islands and were very actively involved with archaeological projects, especially in Tucume, Peru, and Azov until his unexpected death in 2002. He still had been hoping to undertake an archaeological project in Samoa before he died.
Heyerdahl died on April 18, 2002, in Colla Micheri in Italy where he had gone to spend the Easter holidays with some of his closest family members. The Norwegian government gave him a state funeral in Oslo Cathedral on April 26, 2002. He is buried in the garden of the family home in Colla Micheri.
Thor Heyerdahl grew up in Steingata 7. From his childhood home he had a view over the town of Larvik, the Larvik Fjord and the open sea. Perhaps this was his source of inspiration and sparked his sense of adventure? He was interested in nature and animals and created a museum in his bedroom in Steingata 7.
The restoration of Thor Heyerdahl’s childhood home was part of the “Heyerdahl Town” project. Work started in 2007 and is now complete.
The official opening of Thor Heyerdahl’s childhood home in Steingata 7, Larvik, took place in October 2011.