David’s Weapon of Mass Destruction: The Reception of Thor Heyerdahl’s ‘Kon-Tiki Theory’

Victor Melander*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    1 Citation (Scopus)


    From the late 1930s to his death in 2002, Norwegian adventurer and amateur ethnologist Thor Heyerdahl struggled to find academic acceptance for his Pacific Islands settlement theory. He even went as far as using the biblical story of David and Goliath as a metaphor for his struggle against academia. However, there are numerous reasons to question the accuracy of Heyerdahl’s description of his relationship to the scientific community. This paper discusses the reception of Heyerdahl’s ‘Kon-Tiki theory’ among Pacific scholars in the late 1940s and early 1950s. By analysing contemporary reviews of Heyerdahl’s 1952 book American Indians in the Pacific and comments on early drafts of the theory, this paper demonstrates that the material substantially differs from Heyerdahl’s own claims. He was not excluded by the Pacific scientific community, but welcomed and encouraged. Above all, reviewers of Heyerdahl’s theory praised the importance of the challenge he had posed to the established research narrative. However, Heyerdahl’s academic amateurism failed to convince the scientific community of the accuracy of his theory.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number6
    JournalBulletin of the History of Archaeology
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 2019


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