Uncovering Pacific Pasts: A unique international collaboration tells stories of how archaeology in the Pacific developed

Objects have many stories to tell. The stories of their makers and their uses, stories of exchange.

Get access to all the exhibitions and view the objects used at www.uncoveringpacificpasts.org.

Uncovering Pacific Pasts

Uncovering Pacific Pasts is a unique collaboration between 25 museums and research institutions in the Pacific, America, and Europe to tell stories about the development of archaeological research in the region. Each institution has one small exhibition telling one part of the large story.

The Uncovering Pacific Pasts exhibition focus on revealing the stories of how the objects displayed were interpreted and reinterpreted by collectors and archaeologists in the past. This is a way of exploring the ideas, people and networks that were pivotal in the development of the discipline of archaeology and that continue to affect the ways in which we all understand the deep history of the Pacific.

The exhibition is organised by professor Matthew Spriggs of the Collective Biography of Archaeology in the Pacific (CBAP) Project. The project was based in the School of Archaeology and Anthropology, College of Arts and Social Sciencesat The Australian National University in Canberra, Australia.

Get access to all the exhibitions and view the objects used at www.uncoveringpacificpasts.org.

The new temporary exhibition at the Kon-Tiki Museum, waiting for visitors.

Close-up of the artefacts.

A magnificent carved adze-handle bought by Thor Heyerdahl in the Marquesas in 1956.

The exhibition at the Kon-Tiki Museum

Our exhibition presents Thor Heyerdahl’s role of introducing modern sub-surface archaeology to islands in the southeast Pacific, and the little known role he and the Kon-Tiki Museum played in developing an archaeological reseearch program for the Marquesas Islands after the 11th Pacific Science Congress in 1961 in collaboration with the Bishop Museum.

Thor Heyerdahl presents a paper at the 11th Pacific Science Congress in Honolulu, 1961.

During 1955 and 1956, Thor Heyerdahl organized and led the privately funded Norwegian Archaeological Expedition to Easter Island and the East Pacific. The expedition undertook archaeological excavation, mainly on Rapa Nui, but also on Pitcairn, Raivavae, Rapa Iti, Hiva Oa and Nukuhiva. Fieldwork on Rapa Nui developed the first sound cultural chronology of the island, and was a solid foundation guiding future research for decades.

Publishers ad for Thor Heyerdahl (and his collaborators) most consequential scientific publication: Archaeology of Easter Island, published in 1961.

At the 11th Pacific Science Congress in Honolulu in 1961, Thor Heyerdahl became involved in developing an archaeological research program for the Marquesas Islands. The Kon-Tiki Museum, which had only become a permanent museum in 1956, funded two archaeological fieldwork expeditions to Hiva Oa in 1963. However, the same year American Anthropologist published a review of the 1955-56 expedition’s monograph Archaeology of Easter Island (1961). Heyerdahl considered the review as a consious attack to smear the professional job done by the five expedition archaeologists. In order to defend the reputation of his friends, Thor Heyerdahl withdrew from the project. The two expeditions planned by the Kon-Tiki Museum were undertaken, but the project lost the drive, fame, and talent for organization and funding that Thor Heyerdahl could provide.

Excavation at Site of Paeke, Taipi Valley, Nukuhiva, 1956.

How to see the exhibition?

Due to a lock-down of most social, cultural and business activities in Norway, as a consequence of the spread of Covid-19, the museum is closed until restrictions are lifted.

You are very welcome to see the exhibition, which will be open for three months after the museum reopens. In the meantime, you may read a short paper written for the Uncovering Pacific Pasts project: Thor Heyerdahl and the Kon-Tiki Museum’s research in the Marquesas and on Easter Island 1955-63.

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