As a young boy, Thor Heyerdahl was extraordinarily fond of animals. Growing up in Larvik, he even had his own little zoological garden.
Thor grew to love the wilderness as well; as a youth, he was often to be found in the mountains taking long treks, both on foot and on skis. He was as content on his own as he was with friends. And when Thor and Liv Coucheron Torp met and began dating, they invariably headed straight for forests and fields.
Early in their courtship Thor Heyerdahl asked the two-year-younger Liv if she would travel with him to a South Sea island. He wanted to retreat from Western civilization and instead live a life of simplicity, hand to mouth, as folk still did on islands in the southern Pacific Ocean. Liv was not hard to ask.
The young couple decided on Fatu Hiva, the southernmost of the Marquesas Islands in French Polynesia, and the day after their wedding, Christmas Day in 1936, they departed Norway. Thor was 22 years old, Liv just 20.
While living a life of adventure on Fatu Hiva, Thor was also on assignment to collect samples of land snails and insects on behalf of Professor Kristine Bonnevie of the Zoological Department of the University of Oslo’s Natural History Museum. This material would constitute the basis of a doctoral dissertation. Liv, on the other hand, gave up her studies in economics.
Soon after arriving on the island, Thor and Liv became curious about where the native’s ancestors had come from. The prevailing consensus among anthropologists was that all of Polynesia had originally been populated by folk from eastern Asia. Thor began to doubt that this was the entire truth, as prehistoric art he had seen on Fatu Hiva and on a neighboring island strongly resembled art from ancient America.
One day Liv observed that waves always crashed against the eastern coastline of Fatu Hiva. Both she and Thor began to surmise: Could indigenous peoples from South America, in pre-Colombian times, have sailed with the wind and ocean currents and populated Polynesia?
Experts in the field did not believe that South American peoples had vessels capable of voyaging so far out into the Pacific. But Thor Heyerdahl was not convinced, and thus the foundation of his most renowned scientific theory was born.
Life on the island was more difficult than Thor and Liv had imagined, and after roughly one year on Fatu Hiva, they made their way back to Norway. Scarcity of food and primitive conditions were among the reasons they bid farewell to their “idyllic paradise”.