Thursday, August 7, 2014

Thursday in History: Arrival

I always used to enjoy listening to my anthropology professors discuss the different ways that ancient peoples made their way to live in what is now North and South America. Of course we have evidence of Viking settlements arriving from the east, but most of my professors enjoyed talking about incursions from the west.
The two most popular theories were that ancient people traveled across the land bridge which is now the Bering Strait, or that they sailed across the Pacific Ocean, settling any islands they found on the way.
On this day in history in 1987, American long distance swimmer Lynne Cox improved relations between the Soviet Union and the USA by swimming the Bering Strait from Little Diomede (belonging to the US) to Big Diomede (territory of the Soviet Union). Her accomplishment wasn’t meant to be anthropological, but the reason it’s linked in my mind is because of what happened on this day in history in 1947.
Thor Heyerdahl, a Norwegian ethnographer (a way of studying cultures that looks at things from the prospective of those who lived in it) had arranged an expedition to travel from Peru to Polynesia. The Kon-Tiki was built out of materials native to the area that Heyerdahl believed could have been used by pre-Colombian peoples. In 101 days, he and his crew of 5 sailed across the Pacific to prove that the raft could have made the trip. It did, but its landing was far from safe. On this day in history in 1947, the Kon-Tiki was crushed by a reef off the Tuamotus islands in Polynesia.
It makes me wonder if any of my anthro professors are aware of the events of August 7th: Heyerdahl proved that it was probably possible to sail across the Pacific (though perhaps not safely), and Cox proved that it was still possible to get across the Bering Strait (though you have to swim).

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