Research

Thor Heyerdahl’s Research Foundation is the library, archives and research department of the Kon-Tiki Museum.

Thor Heyerdahl’s Research Foundation have actively organized and participated in field research projects, mainly in the Pacific. The museum funds research related to Thor Heyerdahl’s life and work on maritime experimental archaeology or cross-cultural contact, and welcomes applications. The museum issues two series of research publications, Occasional Papers, and KTM Field and Archive Report Series.

Our library, photo- and document archive, and collections is open to students and researchers. Explore the Thor Heyerdahl ArchiveArchives and Collections, or our Publications.

A. Skjølsvold, T. Heyerdahl, and K. M. Haugland, during a board meeting on Rapa Nui in 1986. This was the year when the Kon-Tiki Museum established an independent research departement and the Kon-Tiki Museum Occasional Papers.

In 1950, when Thor Heyerdahl donated the Kon-Tiki raft to the recently opened museum, he stipulated that any proceeds generated by the museum should be converted into grants for research in ethnology and geography.

The museum awarded its first grant two years later. Subsequently, then around 70 fieldwork and research projects have received funds close to NOK 10 million by todays market value.

The Kon-Tiki Museum launched its first archaeological investigations, following the suggestion of the Tenth Pacific Science Congress in Honolulu in 1961, on Hiva Oa in the Marquesas Islands. The archaeological survey and excavations was a collaboration between The Kon-Tiki Museum, Museum of Anthropology of Kansas University, and the B.P. Bishop Museum.

Arne Skjølsvold, left, was head of research department from 1986 to 1997.

Paul Wallin, archaeologist and head of the Kon-Tiki Museum research department from 1998-2000.

Ingjerd Hoëm, currently the chairwoman of the board was head of the research department from 2001 to 2007.

In 1985 Arne Skjølsvold, Heyerdahl’s long-time collaborator, was hired by the museum to build-up the Institute of Pacific Archaeology and Cultural History. The following year, Skjølsvold launched the archaeological investigation in Anakena, Easter Island, from 1986-88. The museum also supported long-time archaeological excavations in Tucume from 1988-92.

In the 1990s and 2000s, the Kon-Tiki Museum also supported linguistic and anthropological research in Western Polynesia. The museum also continued to launch archaeological fieldwork on Easter Island, Christmas Island, and the Galapagos.

Ingjerd Hoëm, the head of the Institute of Pacific Archaeology and Cultural History, launched a cross-disciplinary research project in collaboration with the University of Oslo, in 2001 to 2008 termed Identity Matters. Movements and Place.  In 2009, the museum changed the name of its research department to Thor Heyerdahl’s Research Foundation. At the same time, a new policy increasing support for research done outside the museum came into effect.

Field work undertaken by the Kon-Tiki Museum

The Kon-Tiki Museum have since 1963 funded and organized a number of research projects, mainly archaeological field-work, on islands in the Pacific, in the Maldive Islands, and in Peru.

The most extensive is the archaeological excavations at ahu Naunau, Anakena, Rapa Nui, 1986-88, and the archaeological investigations of a pyramidal complex at Túcume, Peru, 1988-92.

Below you may read about these projects and their findings. More projects will be added occasionally.

  • Archaeological excavations in the Puamau and Hanapete'o Vallies, Hiva Oa, Marquesas Islands 1963

    View of Atuona with the grave of Paul Gauguin in the front.

    The 1963 campaign in the Marquesas represented a unique venture. This field-work was the first serious research-commitment by the newly founded (1950) Kon-Tiki Museum, with the objective to continue Thor Heyerdahl’s research in the Pacific, after his Galapagos (1953) and Easter Island and the East Pacific (1955-56) expeditions. The project also was the first collaboration between Thor Heyerdahl and B.P. Bishop Museum in Hawai’i.

    The plans for these investigations was conceived at the 10. Pacific Science Congress in Honolulu in 1961, which named the Marquesas Islands as key to understanding the Polynesian migration into the East Polynesian islands. A joint venture between the Bishop Museum, the Kon-Tiki Museum, and the Museum of Anthropology, University of Kansas resulted in three fieldwork teams heading towards these islands in early 1963.

    Arne Skjølsvold and Gonzalo Figueroa, from the Thor Heyerdahl’s expedition to Easter Island in 1955-56, met each other in Papeete in order to organize a survey and archaeological excavations in the Puamau Valley. The objective of the field-work was to look for early habitation sites and long development sequences in ceremonial architecture. Before boarding a coopra schooner heading to the Marquesas, the two archaeologists had dinner with Marlon Brando

    Gonzalo Figueroa aboard a copra schooner on his way to Hiva Oa.

    The expedition arrived in Puamau Valley October 28th and left for Atuona on February 4th 1964. Archaeological prospecting were done in Puamau, Eiaone, and Hanamenu Vallies, in addition to a short visit to Tahuata. Most of their time were spent excavating a ceremonial dance-ground, or tohua, in Puamau Valley, and a rock-shelter in the neighbouring valley, Hanapete’o (Skjølsvold 1972).

    Site “Mohi” or tohua at site Tohe Pati’i

    This site is situated on the slope south of the house of a local policeman called Mohi, about 500 meters from the beach, and very close to the present settlement.

    Site Tohe Pati'i, behind Mohi's house during excavation (from north).

    Site Tohe Pati'i, behind Mohi's house during excavation (from south).

    The site covers an area about 100 x 50 m and consists of three low east-west running platforms or terraces, one above each other and several minor stone structures of different kinds. The terrain of the site is sloping towards north. On both sides of the site run two creeks, one of which seems to have permanent water.

    Plan drawing of tohua Tohe Pati'i, Puamau Valley, scale 1:100.

    Six test-pits and five trenches were excavated, the main effort being trench 1 which crossed the main terrace, north-south for 31 meters.

    Radiocarbon dates

    Skjølsvold initially defined a sequence of two distinct construction phases for the main platform of this tohua: 1) First, a dirt-platform was built on the site with a wooden structure at the side of this platform; 2) Second, the dirt-platform was converted into the stone platform of a classic tohua with a dance ground enclosed, possibly at a later stage, by a stone wall (Skjølsvold 1964; Skjølsvold n.d.-a:22-23).

    Phase 1 was constructed between AD 1350-1400 and AD 1600. The construction of the surface stone platform being part of a classic tohua structure did not occur until after AD 1431-1651.

Research grants

The Kon-Tiki Museum, Thor Heyerdahl’s Research Foundation, give out grants to research done on maritime experimental archaeology and cultural history. Usually, the amounts awarded are between US$ 4-15.000. In total more than NOK 11 mill. have been awarded to researchers.

Applications can be sent at any time, to by e-mail, and after review, the application is brought before the museum board of directors.

An application should contain an application, a CV, a short projects description, and a budget. Regarding archaeological fieldwork projects, the applicant must show that all necessary permits are obtained. The museum will demand copies of all publications and reports generated by the projects, and access to data obtained based on agreements with each individual project.

A list of awarded grants can be downloaded here.