Christopher Wordsworth

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 227

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Thor Heyerdahl's latest feat is to have reconstructed a papyrus ship from Egyptian tomb-reliefs and crossed the Atlantic in it with a polyglot crew, a stirring enough enterprise in itself, related with his own brand of visionary robustness [in The Ra Expeditions]. But those who know their man will not need telling that his primary motive was not to get from A to B. By demonstrating the unguessed sea-going capabilities of papyrus he has exposed a chink in one of the strong points of an argument that rules out all possibility of early contact between the Mediterranean civilisations of antiquity and the New World. (p. 638)

Kon-Tiki had a specific theory, scientific evidence and a logical conclusion: Ra admits to chronological snags and inexplicable contradictions in its general drift. We knew that Egyptians and Phoenicians rounded the shoulder of Africa; it is reasonable to suppose that some vessels were carried off-course by the Canary current; now we have seen it proved that papyrus could have stood the Atlantic passage. Has Heyerdahl succeeded in putting another cat among the ethno-anthropological pigeons? It is pleasant to picture that gurgling hamper of reeds bearing down on the pundits like Columbus's doom-burdened caravels. But somehow, this time, one doubts it. (p. 639)

Christopher Wordsworth, "Straws in the Wind," in New Statesman (© 1971 The Statesman & Nation Publishing Co. Ltd.), Vol. 81, No. 2094, May 7, 1971, pp. 638-39.


Philip Morrison


The Times Literary Supplement