Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Kon-Tiki Sets Sail - 63 Years Ago

April 28, 1947: Thor Heyerdahl and a crew of five set sail on a raft made of balsa wood to prove a point: peoples from South America could have originally settled Polynesia. He had published his theory earlier, but it had received scant acknowledgement in the scientific community, which felt that balsa – the wood available to build ships in the South America hundreds of years earlier – would only float for two weeks.

Heyerdahl and his crew of four Norwegians and one Swede, went to the Ecuadorian forest to cut down balsa trees, hauled them to the Peruvian coast, and built the Kon-Tiki, which was modeled after rafts that had been common in Peru when the Spanish first arrived in Peru hundreds of years earlier. The Kon-Tiki was named after a legendary pre-Incan sun-king, who ruled the land, and then migrated westward across the sea.

They set sail from Callao Harbor, Peru, on a difficult journey – the raft was not easy to maneuver, it could only sail in trade winds and drift with the current. The adventure took 101 days, covering 4,300 miles, and ended when the Kon-Tiki made landfall on a coral reef near the uninhabited Polynesian island of Raroia.

An Academy Award winning documentary was made of the voyage, and can be viewed on YouTube here. The crew was made up of Norwegians Thor Heyerdahl, Herman Watzinger, Torstein Raby, Knut Haugland, Erik Esselberg, and Swede Bengt Danielsson. Knut Haugland was the last of the original crew of the Kon-Tiki to pass away – on December 25, 2009, at the age of 92.

Heyerdahl also authored Kon Tiki: Across the Pacific By Raft, a best selling story of the journey.

As we celebrate the sixty-third anniversary of the beginning of the journey of the Kon-Tiki, we realize that we have new adventures taking place now. With the advent of these new adventures, such as the journey of the Jewel of Muscat (a replica of a 9th century Arab merchant) or of the Talisker Bounty (recreating the voyage of Captain Bligh after he was set adrift through the mutiny on the Bounty), it does well to remind ourselves of the brave sailors who expand the horizons of human knowledge and endurance through their efforts.

All to often we might look at an event, such as the journey of the Kon-Tiki, and say something like "men like that don't exist any more" - but we find in the news today that they do.

The potential of engaging the students in discussions of these voyages in the classroom is enormous, bringing in math, science, geography, history, sociology, psychology – and much more. These are things our kids need to be exposed to in order to have a better appreciation of the historiography that surrounds us all, and it’s interrelatedness with other academic endeavors.


Kon Tiki at sea: Wikipedia
Photo of Thor Heyerdahl: Great Dreams
The Kon Tiki on the open waters: Yachtpals
Crew of the Kon Tiki: Kon Tiki Museum
Map of the route of the Kon Tiki : Kon Tiki Museum

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Bounty and the Jewel

In trying to keep you up-to-date in the continuing voyage of the Jewel of Muscat: She reached the second port in her trip after a nine-day voyage. On April 19 she docked at Galle, Sri Lanka – and planned on a five-day stay to re-provision and replace a mast that was damaged in storms encountered on the voyage from India. If all goes well, she will set sail on her longest stretch of the open-water voyage this weekend. Be sure to check the daily voyage log entries for updates.

Her next port of call will be at Georgetown, on Pinang Island, Malaysia – a trip of over 1500 miles.

BBC news put up some pictures from the trip. More can be found on the Jewel’s website, where they also have an educator’s link, allowing you or your class to ask a question… and much more.

The BBC also announced an upcoming attempt by some adventurers to replicate the epic journey of Captain Bligh and his loyal crewmembers, who were put adrift after the famed Mutiny on the Bounty in 1789. A crew of four will be sailing in an open boat from Tonga to West Timor without using modern navigational aids, hoping to make the trip in seven weeks. A replica of the Bounty is based in Florida.

Often castigated for creating the conditions that caused the infamous mutiny, Bligh’s navigational skills and capabilities are often overlooked. He, and eighteen loyal crewmen, were put adrift in the South Pacific in a 45-foot open longboat – and through his skill as a navigator guided the open boat to a British outpost in then Timor (now West Timor) on a 47-day, 4400-mile voyage. They survived by catching fish from the sea and rainwater from the sky.

The voyage recreating Bligh’s incredible journey will have far less members than the original – 4 to Bligh’s 18. The boat (the Talisker Bounty) they are using is also smaller – at 25 feet it is almost half the size of Bligh’s vessel. However, to add to the authenticity of the voyage, the crew is planning on taking approximately the same amount of provisions that Bligh had.

Their supplies include 150 pounds of ship biscuits, 16 pounds of pork, six quarts of rum, six bottles of wine and 28 gallons of water.

The crew – originator of the idea Don McIntyre, David Bryce, David Wilkinson, and Chris Wilde - hope to start the voyage from near the site of the mutiny around April 28th – commemorating the 221st anniversary of the mutiny.

While the journey has been done twice before by other adventurers, the avowed purpose of this trip is, according to the Times Online, to “recreate the hardships suffered by Bligh and his crew of 18 to the letter.”

Hopefully they wont encounter the hostile natives that killed one of Bligh’s crew, or prevented their landing on other islands for provisions.

Both of these adventures are ones that our Social Studies teachers, no matter which discipline they teach – might want to follow during class. It should certainly open up the opportunity for some discussion and thoughts among the students, no matter what their ages - as well as provide opportunities to study geography, human nature, history... and much more.


Jewel in Sri Lanka
The Multinational Crew of the Jewel
The Taliskar Bounty
Captain Bligh
1790 illustration of Bligh and loyal crewmembers being set adrift
Map of Bligh’s voyage


Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Viking deaths

In June 2009, a group of 51 decapitated skulls were found in Dorset, U.K., suring the construction of a new road.

No, this is not a modern serial killer mystery… but it is a mystery none-the-less.

The skulls were of young men, and originally believed to have been buried there almost two millennia ago. Who were they? Why the mass burial – of skulls?

A U.K. news article from the Guardian stated:
“Archaeologists have called the discovery extraordinary, saying it could be evidence of a disaster, a mass execution, a battle or possibly an epidemic.”
Now, nine months later, more information is in – giving us a look at what happened, who was involved, and when the event occurred.

In March 2010, a BBC article provided many, but not all of the answers. The article stated that:

"Analysis of teeth from 10 of the men revealed they had grown up in countries with a colder climate than Britain's.”
After doing a number of scientific studies, the final thought is that the men were from Scandinavia. Based on their ages – most were in their teens and twenties, with a few in their thirties – they were very likely part of Viking raiding parties who were terrorizing the Anglo-Saxons in England. The final conclusion:

“Archaeologists from Oxford believe the men were probably executed by local Anglo Saxons in front of an audience sometime between AD 910 and AD 1030.”
While the scientific investigation is not yet complete, at least there is now a reasonable explanation as to the who, how, when, and why of the skeletal remains.

The site will have notoriety for an additional reason: According to the BBC,

“The mass grave is one of the largest examples of executed foreigners buried in one spot."

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Jewel of Muscat Sets Sail for Sri Lanka

As those of you who read this blog know, I’m very excited about the journey of the Jewel of Muscat. Their website is well-organized and has a special educator’s page. I

The Jewel of Muscat came out of dry-dock and set sail for Sri Lanka on Saturday, April 10. That means that you have the opportunity to follow the adventures of this 9th century Arab merchant ship replica as it sails for its next port. The site has many photos, a daily log, and more – and would be useful in practically any Social Studies classroom. The photo is from the Jewel of Muscat website.

From today's log:

"Jewel of Muscat is making excellent progress on her second leg to Sri Lanka
with strong winds helping her make good speeds of up to 6 knots and more."

This is a seldom-experienced event – similar to the Kon Tiki journey fifty years ago – and if you get your students involved, it is a journey that could create memories that will last their entire lives.

Go to the website – check it out daily – and use your LCD projectors to keep the students posted on the journey.

War of 1812 Website

I don’t think you can fully realize the scope of history that New York has until you read the New York History Blog. It is an excellent source for updates on the status of history in New York, history related events, and much more.

A short time ago it had an entry on a War of 1812 website. I would encourage our Social Studies teachers to look at the site and see what is there that they might use to enhance their studies of this era of history. The site has a virtual digital collection of items to show the students (the picture is from that site); resources for teachers; and much more.

Again – a good site to incorporate into your studies. Thank you, New York History blog.