Christopher Wordsworth

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 227

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)

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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.

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Philip Morrison


The Times Literary Supplement