Ethnographer, experimental archaeologist and author Thor Heyerdahl sailed into history with his many discoveries and excavations. The August issue of Viking highlights several of his expeditions, from the revelations of the lava tuff moai on Easter Island to the fiery conclusion of the Tigris.

But beyond the balsa wood rafts and papyrus reed boats, Heyerdahl was simply a man from Larvik, Norway. Want to learn more about him? Read on!

  • Heyerdahl was born on Oct. 6, 1914. His father, also named Thor, was president of a brewery and mineral water plant. His mother, Alison, was chairman of the town museum. She studied zoology, folk art, and primitive cultures, which greatly influenced her son. His father was an enthusiastic outdoorsman. By age seven, the young boy started his own “museum,” filled with specimens of seashells, butterflies, bats, lemmings and hedgehogs. He housed the collection at his father’s brewery.
  • Despite many of his expeditions across vast oceans, ironically, Heyerdahl was terrified of water. He nearly drowned twice as a child and didn’t overcome his fear until age 22.
  • Thor enjoyed cross-country skiing, hikes in the mountains and camping in snow caves. Many times, he was accompanied on these trips by his beloved Greenland husky, Kazan.
  • While he’s known for writing books, producing films and giving lectures, Heyerdahl was also an artist. He loved to draw and pain. His early drawings were imaginative pictures of south sea islands or treks into the Norwegian wilderness. While traveling the South Pacific with his first wife, Liv, in 1937-38, Heyerdahl made a series of caricature drawings based on their expeditions. He also enjoyed wood carving. Later in life, he carved two Kon-Tiki heads on the entrance portal to Casa Kon-Tiki, his home in Túcume, Peru.
  • In 1991, Heyerdahl married his third wife, Jacqueline Beer. She was a beauty queen and Hollywood actress. She played Suzanne on the television series “77 Sunset Strip.” They remained together until his death on April 18, 2002, in Colla Micheri, Italy.