NY Times Obit
NY Times Obit
September 30, 2001
Michael L. Katzev, Underwater Archaeologist, Dies at 62
By DOUGLAS MARTIN
Michael L. Katzev, an archaeologist who combined luck, scholarship and eight years of meticulous toil to raise, preserve and interpret one of the oldest and most intact seagoing cargo vessels ever discovered, died on Sept. 8 at his home in Southport, Me. He was 62.
The cause was a stroke, his wife, Susan, said.
Mr. Katzev led the team that found the 2,300-year-old ship off the town of Kyrenia on the north coast of Cyprus in 1967 and then worked eight years to delicately recover and reconstruct it. The home port and name of the vessel could never be discerned, so the vessel came to be called the Kyrenia Ship.
For New Yorkers who saw an exact reproduction of the tubby, 47-foot, single-masted vessel with a rectangular sail glide through the parade of ships honoring the Statue of Liberty's 100th birthday in 1986, the vessel perhaps floats in memory as the smallest in the procession. But for students of the ancient Mediterranean, it looms large.
Though much older seagoing ships have been found since - including an intact 13th century B.C. vessel off southern Turkey in 1984 - Mr. Katzev's discovery, at the time, was the best-preserved ship of the late classical period of Greek civilization.
"It told us how the Greeks built their ships," said J. Richard Steffy, an archaeologist at Texas A&M University. "We had suspicions, but this really confirmed it."
The wreck also provided clues to the puzzles archaeologists love to solve, largely because it had been buried in sand, which protected it from oxygen and worms. The main cargo of more than 400 wine jars, mostly made in Rhodes, indicated the ship had stopped at that island. Ten jars in different shapes suggested a different port of call, perhaps Samos to the north.
Markings on millstones indicated that they came from the island of Nisyros, while 10,000 almonds had probably just been collected from Cyprus. The fact that there were four each of plates, bowls, saucers and drinking cups was persuasive evidence that there was a crew of four.
Most intriguing, the team was able to theorize that the vessel had been attacked and sunk by pirates, which ancient literature says were a scourge in the area. Spearheads were found embedded in the hull, and there is tantalizing evidence that a hole was made to sink the boat. No reefs are nearby.
But what was missing was equally persuasive. There were few coins, and the captain's purse, which would have been expected, could not be found, said Mrs. Katzev, an archaeologist who worked on the project with her husband. She said the absence of bones suggested that the crew had been taken as slaves.
Still, she acknowledged, the vessel might simply have died of old age. Carbon dating indicates that the trees used to build the ship were felled in 389 B.C., while the fresh- harvested almonds in the cargo gave a date of 288 B.C. That would suggest the ship was a century old, she said.
Michael Lazare Katzev, the son of a magazine distribution executive, was born in Los Angeles on July 25, 1939. He studied economics at Stanford University, then earned a master's degree in art history at the University of California at Berkeley. He went to Columbia to study ancient bronze sculpture, but transferred to the University of Pennsylvania after realizing that such sculpture was most often found in shipwrecks.
George F. Bass, considered the father of underwater archaeology, taught at Penn. Mr. Katzev went as a graduate student to work with Dr. Bass on Roman and Byzantine shipwrecks at Yassi Ada, Turkey.
Mrs. Katzev recalled how he arrived on a hot, dusty day in 1964 in his red Mercedes sports car to join the project, where she had worked since 1961. She was covered with an oozing black compound used to make molds of objects.
"I don't know how he could get by that, but he did," she said.
They were married two years later. He is also survived by a brother, Richard, of Portland, Ore.
After they married, Dr. Bass dispatched the couple to visit other Mediterranean countries eager to have their coasts scoured for antiquities. In Cyprus, they learned that a sponge diver had found an intriguing pile of wine jars on the sea bottom. He took the newlyweds, both scuba divers, to have a look.
"It was like the most beautiful thing we had ever seen," Mrs. Katzev said.
Then the work started. Using sophisticated methods of photography and instrumentation, they recorded the position of each object before touching it. Then, they picked everything up by hand, feeding it gently into an underwater vacuum cleaner.
For years, they grappled daily with the painstaking task of reconstructing and stabilizing the artifacts. All that was left of iron objects were the sandy, cementlike incrustations that had enshrouded them. These casings had to be carefully filled with a casting compound to be used as molds to reconstruct the objects.
The wood itself, which at first had the quality of wet bread, was impregnated with a waxlike compound to give it solidity. The process took a few months for the smaller pieces and two years for larger ones.
The vessel, which had been 75 percent intact, was placed on display in the medieval Crusader castle of Ky renia, which is in a part of Cyprus now controlled by Turkey.
Mr. Katzev then directed the reconstruction of the vessel for the government of Greece, which sent it as its representative to New York's tall ships parade and other events. As closely as could be learned or surmised, it was built according to traditional methods.
Scholars had long assumed that ancient mariners had hugged the coasts at a lumbering speed, but the modern vessel, known as Kyrenia II, could travel at 12 knots, or nearly 14 miles an hour, in the open sea.
Mr. Katzev, a connoisseur of horse racing, said, "With a fair wind over her stern, Kyrenia II sails like a filly thoroughbred breaking track speeds, speeding well beyond our highest expectations."
NY Times Obit
October 19, 2001
Kenneth L. Hale, 67, Preserver of Nearly Extinct Languages, Dies
By WOLFGANG SAXON
Dr. Kenneth Locke Hale, a master of more than 50 languages and the keeper of aboriginal tongues in danger of vanishing with their speakers, died on Oct. 8 at his home in Lexington, Mass. He was 67.
The cause was prostate cancer, said the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he was a professor of linguistics.
Dr. Hale's knack for quickly picking up a language and conversing in dozens of them earned him an international reputation. His theoretical interests focused on linguistic universals, prompting him to learn as many disparate languages as possible and investigate laws or structures they might have in common.
His studies contributed to the continuing quest for a general theory of the human capacity for language. But he was best known for his commitment to keep alive the unwritten speech of peoples at risk of extinction by assimilation or other means.
Dr. Hale learned some of the ancient languages of the American Indians and the Australian Aborigines, and he saw some of the languages and their speakers disappear after he had learned them.
Throughout his career he promoted linguistic training for speakers of languages of indigenous peoples so that they could preserve them and pass them on to another generation. According to M.I.T., two of his graduate students, a Hopi and a Navajo, were the first Native Americans to receive doctorates in linguistics.
"Ken viewed languages as if they were works of art," said Dr. Samuel Jay Keyser, a friend and M.I.T. colleague. "Every person who spoke a language was a curator of a masterpiece."
Another colleague, Dr. Philip Khoury, an M.I.T. dean, said he once asked Dr. Hale about his ability to speak languages by the dozen. "The problem is," he quoted Dr. Hale's reply, "that many of the languages I've learned are extinct, or close to extinction, and I have no one to speak them with."
Kenneth Hale grew up on a ranch in Canelo, Ariz., and attended a one- room grade school he reached on horseback every morning. Sent on to school in Sedona, Ariz., he learned Hopi and Jemez from roommates and figured out how to write languages that had no letters.
"I learned faster by working on more than one language at a time," he recalled later. Since high school, he said, he quickly moved on to Navajo, O'odam, Papago, Pachuco, Polish and whatever came along, including eight Australian Aboriginal languages.
As an undergraduate at the University of Arizona he studied anthropology and Native American languages. He also rode rodeo bulls, won the university's bull-riding event as a senior and kept the buckle of his trophy belt for the rest of his life.
After graduating in 1955, he received a master's degree in 1956 and a doctorate in 1958 in linguistics at Indiana University. He researched Australian Aboriginal languages on a National Science Foundation grant for three years and worked at the University of Illinois and the University of Arizona before moving to M.I.T. in 1967.
He retired from teaching in 1999.
Over the years he trained Walpiri- speaking teachers in Central Australia and taught linguistics in Arizona for the Navajo Language Academy. He was involved in a language revitalization project for the Wampanoag tribe of New England and for the last 15 years visited the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua to teach linguists in four indigenous languages.
He was the editor most recently, with Dr. Leanne Hinton, of "The Green Book of Language Revitalization," published this year. Another book he recently completed with Dr. Keyser, "Prolegomena to a Theory of Argument Structure," is to be published by M.I.T. Press.
He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1990.
Dr. Hale is survived by his wife of 46 years, Sara Whitaker Hale; four sons, Whitaker, of Arlington, Mass., Ian, of Tucson, Caleb, of Atlanta, and Ezra, of Lexington; and a brother, Stephen F., of Tucson.
Dr. Hale was modest about his polyglot accomplishment. "It's more like a musical talent than anything else," he told The New York Times in 1997. "When I found out I could speak Navajo at the age of 12, I used to go out every day and sit on a rock and talk Navajo to myself," he recalled.
He said he could never learn a language in a classroom, but only one on one with a person. He said he would start with parts of the body, common animals and objects, learn nouns, pick up sound systems and write it all down.
"If it's not a written language, like Nggoth, which is spoken in Australia," he said, "I make up how to write it. I can learn that in one or two hours.
"Then I start making complex sentences because the complex sentences are more regular than the simple ones. Then pretty soon I can name anything in the world."
NY Times Obit
October 28, 2001
Marvin Harris, 74, Is Dead; Professor Was Iconoclast of Anthropologists
By DOUGLAS MARTIN
Marvin Harris, an anthropologist who spent his career adding fuel to the fires of academic controversy, as when he theorized that the cannibalism of the Aztecs was motivated by protein deprivation, died on Thursday in Gainesville, Fla., where he lived. He was 74.
His daughter, Susan, said the cause was complications after hip surgery.
Dr. Harris, called "one of the most controversial anthropologists alive" by Smithsonian magazine in 1986, believed that human social life was shaped in response to the practical problems of human existence. He argued essentially that cultural differences did not matter much, a novel approach in a discipline dedicated to studying cultural differences.
The Washington Post described him in 1983 as "a storm center in his field." And the Smithsonian article said he pitted himself "against the mainstream of anthropological thought."
He even took on anthropology's godmother, Margaret Mead, though he was quick to point out that in this he was hardly alone. "There's never been anything other than a good deal of disquiet about her methods," he told The New York Times in 1983.
Dr. Harris, who called his approach "cultural materialism," was an anthropology professor at Columbia University from 1953 until 1980, including three years as department chairman. From 1980 until 2000, he held a graduate research professorship at the University of Florida.
But his provocative ideas, and equally provocative presentation, gave him a sphere of influence greatly exceeding that of an ordinary academic. Many of his 17 books were aimed at general audiences.
The Hindu ban on killing cows? Absolutely necessary as a strategy of human existence, Dr. Harris contended: they are much more valuable for plowing fields and providing milk than as a one-time steak dinner.
"Westerners think that Indians would rather starve than eat their cows," he told Psychology Today. "What they don't understand is that they will starve if they do eat their cows."
In Dr. Harris's view, then, a manufactured "divine intervention" was needed to encourage people simply to do the practical thing.
The Jewish and Muslim bans on eating pork? Pigs eat the same foods as humans, he reasoned, and are expensive to keep. Sheep, goats and cattle, by contrast, thrive on grass, and provide wool, milk and labor.
Warfare? A way of curbing population when protein gets scarce. Neckties? A badge men wear to indicate they are above physical labor.
Witchcraft? A convenient culprit for the rising protest that church and state faced from the 15th century to the 17th.
Dr. Harris's zest for controversy was suggested by the title of an article he wrote for The New York Times Magazine in 1977: "Why Men Dominate Women." So was his contention that Aztec cannibalism sprang from a need for protein sufficiency, a view that drew some strong opposition. "It takes an heroic act of utilitarian faith to conclude that this sacrificial system was a way the Aztecs had for getting more meat," Marshall Sahlins wrote in The New York Review of Books in 1978.
Marvin Harris was born in Brooklyn. Growing up in New York City in the 1930's, he wanted to understand the millions of strangers around him. He would stare at the windows of apartment buildings, wondering about the figures behind them. He graduated from Columbia, then earned his doctorate there. As a young professor, he was critical of the university's administration and a strong supporter of student protests of the 1960's. David B. Truman, vice president and provost, accused him of "authoritarian madness."
Though his studies took him throughout the world, from Brazil to Mozambique to India, he kept his own country in his anthropological sights. In "The Anthropology of a Changing Culture" (Simon & Schuster, 1981), he railed against home- grown outrages he perceived, from appliances that did not work to bloated government bureaucracies.
In The New York Times Book Review, Robert Lekachman called the book - which was rereleased in 1987 under the author's original title, "Why Nothing Works: The Anthropology of Daily Life" - a "remarkably concise, angry outcry at the current condition of America."
His other books included "Cannibals and Kings" (Random House, 1977) and "Culture, People and Nature," which became a widely used anthropology textbook.
In addition to his daughter, who lives in the San Francisco area, he is survived by his wife, Madeline.
NY Times Obit
November 9, 2001
Patricia Locke, Champion of American Indians, Dies at 73
By MATT SEDENSKY
Patricia A. Locke, who worked for decades to preserve American Indian languages and became a pioneer in an effort to grant the tribes greater authority in the education of their children, died on Oct. 20 at a hospital in Phoenix. She was 73 and lived in Wakpala, S.D., on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation.
The cause was heart failure, said her daughter, Winona Flying Earth.
Ms. Locke, of Lakota and Chippewa heritage, won a MacArthur Foundation fellowship in 1991 for her work to save tribal languages that were growing extinct throughout the United States.
The award followed more than two decades of her advocacy for better education of Indians. In the 1970's, she was appointed to the Interior Department Task Force on Indian Education Policy, and eventually helped write legislation granting tribes the authority to set up their own education departments instead of following state requirements.
Education departments and tribal education codes were ultimately created among more than 30 tribes around the country, and Ms. Locke also helped 17 tribes establish colleges they controlled.
Patricia Ann McGillis was born on Jan. 21, 1928, on the Fort Hall Indian Reservation in Idaho. She earned a bachelor's degree from the University of California at Los Angeles in 1951. She married Charles E. Locke in 1952; they divorced in 1975.
Ms. Locke taught for more than 40 years, from elementary to university level, and lectured on Indian issues throughout the United States. She worked to protect sacred Indian sites and, starting in 1993, was national coordinator of a coalition that pushed for passage of the American Indian Religious Freedom Act Amendments, federal legislation adopted in 1994 that allowed use of peyote for religious purposes.
Ms. Locke's Indian name was Tawacin Waste Win, which, her daughter said, means "she has good consciousness - compassionate woman."
Besides her daughter, who lives in Wakpala, she is survived by a son, Kevin Locke, also of Wakpala, a performing artist who works to preserve Lakota music; five grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren.
NY Times Obit
Seydou Keïta Dies; Photographed Common Man of Mali
By MARGARETT LOKE
Seydou Keïta, whose sure grasp of photographic portraiture and sophisticated understanding of strong graphics in African textiles turned him from a little-known studio artist in Mali to a formidable figure in photography, died on Nov. 21 in Paris. He lived in Bamako, the capital of Mali, and did not know his birth date, but said in a 1997 interview that it was "around 1921."
Mr. Keïta had no formal training in photography, but he had a superb eye, and his art seemed to tap into Mali's distant imperial grandeur. A French colony until 1960, the area that is now Mali includes Timbuktu, the legendary trading center.
In his studio, Mr. Keïta sometimes suggested a pose and offered clothes that his clients could change into. Invariably, the ordinary men, women and children rose majestically and delightfully to the occasion. The results were elegantly stylized portraits whose visual complexities heightened a certain grandness in the faces, a proud carriage, a striking je ne sais quoi.
Among Mr. Keïta's memorable images is one of a jovial giant of a man in flowing robes holding a jolly baby in one arm.
Seydou Keïta (pronounced SAY- doo kay-EE-ta) had set out to be a carpenter, having learned the trade from his father. That changed when he was about 14. He went to see an uncle who had returned from a trip to neighboring Senegal with a large- format camera. The uncle gave the camera to Seydou. Despite a lack of formal education, the teenager taught himself the rudiments of large-format photography.
He photographed his family and the people he worked with. Photographing others for a living was quite another matter. He was too green and nervous. His sitters moved, and some of the early portraits were so bad that his angry clients demanded their money back. But he had no money to refund because he had already used it to pay for the black-and-white prints from a photo shop. The shop owner came to the youth's rescue by showing him how to make prints.
In 1948 Mr. Keïta opened a studio near a busy part of town. There were several other photographers in Bamako, but Mr. Keïta easily trumped the competition by being unusually inventive. He had his clients recline on makeshift chaise longues. Or stand, like August Sander's three farmers, one in front of the other. Or pose with one foot on the ground, the other on a chair. Or sit in cars or on scooters. Sometimes Mr. Keïta took straight frontal portraits. Other times, he took them at an angle.
He paid special attention to props and backdrops. The pattern-on-pattern look became his signature style of portraiture: the patterns on his sitters' gowns and robes against the wonderfully patterned pieces of cloth that served as backdrops or as coverings for the chaise longues.
Mr. Keïta's studio was famous in West Africa. In one of the world's poorest countries, he could, on his earnings, support three families: his father's, his uncle's and his own. Mr. Keïta, who was Muslim, had 3 wives and 16 children, who live in Bamako and survive him, as do two brothers, Lansina, of Paris, and Kader, of Bamako.
In 1962 Mr. Keïta became the fledgling Republic of Mali's official photographer. Until he retired in 1977, he did not set foot in his studio.
"You couldn't work for yourself," he said in an interview. "We were a Socialist country." When he did check up on his studio after he retired, it had been looted, but, luckily, the negatives were intact.
With no thought of future exhibitions, Mr. Keïta made sure his negatives, which number about 10,000, were kept in pristine condition. His government pension didn't allow him to buy a large-format camera or darkroom equipment, so he led the quiet life of a retiree. And he would probably have been lost to photography if André Magnin, curator of the Contemporary African Art Collection in Paris, hadn't seen three uncredited portraits by him at a 1991 show at what was then the Center for African Art in New York.
Mr. Magnin went to Mali and discovered the identity of the photographer and the photographer himself. Books, exhibitions and acclaim followed. An exhibition of Mr. Keïta's work opens today at the Sean Kelly Gallery in Chelsea, and a retrospective of his work is planned for the Studio Museum in Harlem in 2003.
A month before his death, Mr. Keïta and his Paris-based agent, Jean Marc Patras, established the Seydou Keïta foundation in Bamako. The foundation will preserve and promote Mr. Keïta's work and support young Africans in the fields of photography, cinema and multimedia, Mr. Patras said.
Mr. Keïta's last photographic project was in 1997. Mr. Patras said he was commissioned by the Tati department store in Paris to photograph its mostly immigrant clientele. A studio was set up in a tent outside the store, and once again Mr. Keïta was photographing - this time in color - ordinary people as they stepped in front of the camera for their close-ups.
NY Times Obit
Thomas Sebeok, 81, Debunker of Ape-Human Speech Theory, Is Dead
By ANAHAD O'CONNOR
Dr. Thomas A. Sebeok, a pioneer in the science of signs and symbols, noted for challenging the theory that apes and chimpanzees could learn language to communicate with humans, died on Dec. 21 at his home in Bloomington, Ind. He was 81.
The cause was leukemia, said his wife, Dr. Jean Umiker-Sebeok.
Dr. Sebeok, a professor emeritus at Indiana University, published more than 60 books in his field, known as semiotics, including the classic "Speaking of Apes" (1979), which he edited with his wife.
He argued that apes could not learn language because they lacked the body parts for language, like a larynx or vocal cords, and that they were unable to pass language on to their offspring.
"Dr. Sebeok (pronounced see-bee- AWK) showed that nonhuman animals need both the anatomy and nature for learning language," said Dr. Marcel Danesi, a professor of semiotics at the University of Toronto, who has also written extensively in the field. "His work demonstrated that if language were a genetic endowment in apes, then we could just teach them and they would pass it on."
The Sebeoks also argued that language experiments with the animals were unsuccessful because the researchers had not taken into account signals or cues from the trainers, like facial expressions. They also argued that animals did not have the intellect to pick up the human sign language and were instead taught a signal system less complex than human language.
When Dr. Sebeok began his career, his field was limited to the study of language. But with the publication of his "Approaches to Semiotics" (1964), he revolutionized that field, expanding it beyond human language to nonverbal communication in all organisms.
In 1981, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission turned to Dr. Sebeok for help in developing "keep away" signs that could be understood by people in 10,000 years, the duration that nuclear waste may be dangerous to humans.
Dr. Sebeok suggested signs with words, pictures, cartoons and stick figures to indicate danger. The signs, he said, should also include a "veiled threat that to ignore the mandate would be to invite some sort of supernatural retribution."
Thomas Albert Sebeok was born in Budapest but left to study at Cambridge and then immigrated to the United States, receiving a bachelor's degree at the University of Chicago and a doctorate at Princeton. He next went to Indiana, where he created its department of Uralic and Altaic studies, covering languages of Eastern Europe, Russia and Asia.
There, he was chairman of its Research Center for Language and Semiotic Studies, retiring in 1991.
Dr. Sebeok held visiting appointments at 33 universities in 17 countries and received the Distinguished Service Award of the American Anthropological Association.
Besides his wife, he is survived by three daughters, Veronica Sebeok Wald of Chicago, Jessica Sebeok of New Haven and Erica Sebeok of Brooklyn.
NY Times Obit
I wouldn't call him an anthropologist, but....
April 19, 2002
Thor Heyerdahl, Anthropologist and Adventurer, Dies at 87
By JOHN NOBLE WILFORD
Thor Heyerdahl, the Norwegian anthropologist and adventurer whose imagination and vigor brought him acclaim navigating the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans to advance his controversial theories of ancient seafaring migrations, died yesterday. He was 87.
Mr. Heyerdahl died of cancer in Italy, where he had been vacationing, his family said. He had lived in recent years in Güímar, Tenerife, in the Canary Islands.
Fame came to Mr. Heyerdahl in 1947, at the age of 32. A tall, lean man in an appropriately Viking mold, he and five others crossed a broad stretch of the Pacific in the balsa-log raft Kon-Tiki, seeking to prove that the Polynesian islands could have been settled by prehistoric South American people.
The 101-day, 4,300-mile drifting voyage on the 40-square-foot raft, a replica of pre-Inca vessels, took them safely from Peru to Raroia, a coral island near Tahiti. This demonstrated to Mr. Heyerdahl's satisfaction that his theory could be fact. He was convinced that Polynesia's first settlers had come from South America, and not from Asia by way of the western Pacific islands, as nearly all scholars thought.
Mr. Heyerdahl was an ardent exponent of the "diffusionist" school of cultural anthropology, which holds that cultural similarities between geographically separated societies are not necessarily spontaneous coincidence but sometimes are the result of contacts in antiquity. Diffusionism has largely fallen out of favor among most anthropologists and historians.
Few scholars at the time - and almost none today - endorsed the idea that American Indians peopled Polynesia. They discount the Heyerdahl hypothesis largely on linguistic, genetic and cultural grounds, all of which point to the settlers having come from the west, not the east.
The epic voyage, nonetheless, caught the imagination of the world. Mr. Heyerdahl was an instant popular hero. And his storytelling skill turned the book "Kon-Tiki" into an international best seller that was translated into 65 languages. A documentary movie of the exploits won an Oscar.
That was only a beginning. Mr. Heyerdahl invested much of his book royalties in further expeditions. The most important was a 1970 voyage across the Atlantic in a papyrus boat to show that ancient Egyptians could have introduced pyramid-building technologies to pre-Columbian Americans. In 1977 he set out in a reed boat of ancient design to discover how Mesopotamian mariners of 5,000 years ago might have navigated the Indian Ocean.
Two years later, Mr. Heyerdahl, well into his 60's, said in an interview that he was retiring from such seagoing adventures.
"There are no other oceans to cope with, and also I know of no other kind of early boat that hasn't been tried by others," he said. "I have challenged a lot of old dogma, and this has stimulated a lot of discussion. And in science you need discussion."
But he continued writing books, traveling far and wide and defending his theories. Earlier this year he went to Samoa, in the Pacific, to inspect archaeological excavations of what could be an ancient pyramid. His son Thor Heyerdahl Jr. told Reuters that his father, until his death, held firm to his belief that intercontinental sea migrations helped spread human culture.
Nor did he let age discourage him from new quests. In recent months, he was writing a new book contending that Odin, the god of Norse mythology, might have been a real king.
Thor Heyerdahl was born Oct. 6, 1914, in Larvik, in southern Norway. He once noted that he did not share from birth the affinity for the sea that his Norwegian heritage and lifelong work might have suggested.
"All my ancestors came from inland," he said in 1979. "I was dead scared of the water as a young man. If I had been a sailor, I would have believed that you couldn't cross the ocean in the Kon-Tiki. My ignorance was very lucky."
Young Thor's father owned a brewery and his mother was head of the local museum. It was her influence that led him to the study of nature and zoology. At the University of Oslo, he specialized in zoology, as well as geography, but before graduating left on his first expedition to Polynesia, in 1937-38.
He went with his bride, Liv Coucheron Torp Heyerdahl, "to spend a year living as Adam and Eve," as he wrote, on Fatu Hiva in the Marquesas Islands. They lived there under primitive conditions, conducting research on the flora and fauna. (They were later divorced.)
There he also began to contemplate the question of how the Pacific inhabitants reached these widely scattered islands. He came to believe that human settlers had arrived with the ocean currents from the east, just as much of the vegetation and animal life had done.
The time on Fatu Hiva - described in his 1974 book, "Fatu Hiva: Back to Nature," and recalled again in a 1996 book, "Green Was the Earth on the Seventh Day" - turned him to the study of anthropology. He pursued his research in Peru, which made firmer his conviction that a group of tall, fair pre-Inca people, under the leadership of the legendary Kon-Tiki, sailed westward across the ocean to Polynesia.
During World War II, Mr. Heyerdahl served in the Free Norwegian armed forces, mostly as a parachutist. After the war, he tried to interest publishers and scientists in his Polynesian theory, but came to realize that prevailing opinion was so strongly against it that a practical demonstration of its feasibility was the only answer.
He raised the money, overcame innumerable practical obstacles right down to the cutting of the long balsa logs he needed, recruited five friends to go with him and set off on the Kon-Tiki.
Mr. Heyerdahl's book "Kon-Tiki" was praised by Lewis Gannett in The New York Herald Tribune as "a superb adventure story." Harry Gilroy, in The New York Times, wrote: "Their saga, told by the expedition's organizer, is a revelation of how exciting science can become when it inspires a man with the heart of a Leif Ericsson and the merry story-telling gift of an Ernie Pyle."
The book was less successful with the scientific community. In 1958, for example, Dr. Alan S. C. Ross, a linguist at the University of Birmingham in England said language studies provided "an absolutely decisive disproof" of Mr. Heyerdahl's theory. There was, Dr. Ross wrote, no relationship between Polynesian and any American language family.
Mr. Heyerdahl insisted, however, that in his mind he had proved his thesis - not that the crossing had been done, but that it could have been done.
Next, Mr. Heyerdahl led an archaeological expedition in 1953 to the Galápagos Islands, 700 miles off the coast of Ecuador. He found evidence that convinced him that predecessors of the Incas had visited the islands, and that they had had the nautical sophistication to be able to return home against the wind.
In 1955 and 1956, Mr. Heyerdahl tackled the mystery of remote Easter Island. He experimented with the techniques that might have been used in creating and placing upright the enormous stone figures for which the island is famous. "Aku-Aku," published in 1958, was a vivid account of the expedition. He later published scholarly accounts of this and the Kon-Tiki voyages.
Mr. Heyerdahl argued that Easter Island was also colonized by South Americans, which led one critic, the British archaeologist Paul G. Bahn, to write, "It is unfortunate that he has allowed his obsession with a South American connection to overshadow the far more interesting and important subjects of the islanders' cultural history, way of life and destruction of their environment."
Mr. Heyerdahl then turned his attention to the possibility of a migration from Egypt to America, because of what he felt were striking cultural parallels, notably pyramid building. Most scholars doubted that the Egyptians had ships capable of so long a voyage. So Mr. Heyerdahl decided on a practical demonstration. Using ancient representations of Egyptian reed boats as his guide, he had a reed ship built and named it Ra, after the Egyptian Sun god.
The first attempt, in 1969, fell short. The waterlogged ship had to be abandoned 600 miles from its destination in Barbados. Undaunted, Mr. Heyerdahl tried again the next year. He said it was on this successful 57-day journey, on Ra II, that he first noted the "alarming" pollution of the ocean, a subject he continued to raise forcefully.
Political strife shortened his 1977-78 voyage with another reed boat in the Indian Ocean and Red Sea. Reaching the coast of Ethiopia, he was refused permission to land because of warfare. He then abandoned the voyage, setting fire to the boat "to protest against the inhuman elements of the world of 1978."
With these expeditions, Mr. Heyerdahl said: "I have proved that all the ancient pre-European civilizations could have intercommunicated across oceans with the primitive vessels they had at their disposal. I feel that the burden of proof now rests with those who claim the oceans were necessarily a factor in isolating civilizations."
Most anthropologists think otherwise.
Mr. Heyerdahl's first wife, whom he divorced in 1949, died in 1969. He was also divorced from his second wife, Yvonne Dedekam-Simonsen Heyerdahl, who survives. In 1996, he married Jacqueline Beer Heyerdahl, a French-born Hollywood actress, who also survives.
Other survivors, besides his son Thor, of Lillehammer, Norway, are another son, Bjorn, who lives near Allassio, Italy; two daughters, Marian and Helene Elisabeth, both of Oslo; seven grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
In recent years, Mr. Heyerdahl received many honors, including the distinction, according to a public opinion poll, of being "Norwegian of the Century." And in recent months, he visited Cuba and Norway, as well as Samoa. He sponsored excavations in southern Russia in search of artifacts to support his last obsession, that Odin was a historical personage from what is now Russia who began a Scandinavian royal line in the first century A.D.
As with his theory on the peopling of the Pacific, his case for Odin has been largely dismissed by establishment academics, but as always, he seemed to thrive in the limelight of controversy and the telling of a good story.
- May 22, 2007
Dame Mary Douglas, 86, a Wide-Ranging Anthropologist, Is Dead
By DOUGLAS MARTIN
Dame Mary Douglas, an anthropologist whose influence ranged beyond the
traditional questions of her field to examine areas as diverse as kosher
diets, consumer behavior, environmentalism and humor as she described
how humans work together to find shared meaning, died Wednesday in
She was 86, and on May 8 she was made a dame commander of the British
Empire. She was thrilled that Prince Charles took part in the ceremony,
because he studied anthropology at Cambridge, her friend Alida Brill
The cause of death was complications of cancer, Ms. Brill said.
Dame Mary marshaled a vivid, pugnacious writing style in more than 15
books to describe the relationship between culture and social action,
leading to her conclusion that knowledge is built by people
communicating and responding to one another.
"The colonization of each other's minds is the price we pay for
thought," she wrote.
Drawing on her field experience in Africa and expansive reading, she saw
little difference between "modern" and "primitive" societies, and
sometimes drew startling conclusions. In the provocative 1982 book "Risk
and Culture: An Essay on the Selection of Technical and Environmental
Dangers," she and Aaron Wildavsky argued that environmentalists'
complaints reflected an antipathy toward dominant social hierarchies.
The authors compared environmentalists to religious cults and
superstitious groups of the past.
This train of thought reflects that of one of Dame Mary's most discussed
books, "Purity and Danger: An Analysis of Concepts of Pollution and
Taboo" (1966). She explored the relationships between dirt and holiness,
impurity and hygiene, as means of defining one's own group as distinct
from other groups. She said foods were banned as unkosher because they
did not fit into any definite category: pigs seemed ambiguous because
they shared the cloven hoof of ungulates but did not chew cud.
Once made, such choices were a way to define Jews as different, she
Rituals in the Roman Catholic Church
an_catholic_church/index.html?inline=nyt-org> , of which she was a
lifelong member, similarly bind people together, she wrote. Therefore,
she regarded the abolition of Friday abstinence from meat as a threat to
people's sense of solidarity with God and fellow Catholics. She found
proof for her belief that collective interaction defined and governed
personal behavior in the fact that people use a knife and fork even when
Among many intriguing theories was her contention in a book written with
Baron Isherwood, an economist, that buying things is a way people create
meaning in their lives. She attracted admiration from biblical scholars
for discovering a new way to interpret the literary structure of
She pointed out advantages of hierarchical social forms and rejected the
notion that magic was necessarily inferior to the ethical approaches
that emerged from the Enlightenment. She said comedy was "the victorious
tilting of uncontrol against control."
Mary Tew was born March 25, 1921, in San Remo, Italy. Her parents had
stopped off on their way home from Burma, where her father was in the
Indian civil service. She was educated at the Sacred Heart Convent in
southwest London. She studied philosophy, politics and economics at
Oxford, then worked in the British Colonial Office during World War II.
She was intrigued by anthropologists she had met in the colonial office
and returned to Oxford to study anthropology. Her teacher, mentor and
role model was E. E. Evans-Pritchard, whose work on witchcraft in East
Africa was groundbreaking. Dame Mary wrote a biography of him in 1980.
She did her own fieldwork in what was then the Belgian Congo, studying
the Lele, a matrilineal tribe . In 1951, after a brief appointment at
Oxford, she married James Douglas, who soon became a researcher for the
Mr. Douglas, who went on to teaching and other jobs, died in 2004. Dame
Mary is survived by her sons James, of London, and Philip, of Sydney,
Australia; her daughter, Janet, of Surrey, England; and six
In 1951, she began teaching at University College of the University of
London and in 1966 published her most celebrated work, the "Purity and
Danger" book. One of the book's more famous lines: "Dirt is matter out
From 1977 to 1981, she worked at the Russell Sage Foundation in New
York, then taught at Northwestern University
thwestern_university/index.html?inline=nyt-org> until 1985. She was a
visiting professor at Yale
e_university/index.html?inline=nyt-org> and Princeton.
Her last book will be a posthumous compilation of essays by her father,
many of them about fly-fishing. Her most recently published book,
"Thinking in Circles: An Essay on Ring Composition," came out this year;
it offers interpretations of texts structured in circular patterns like
the Book of Numbers, Chinese novels and Zoroastrian poetry.
"Writings that used to baffle and dismay unprepared readers, when read
correctly, turn out to be marvelously controlled and complex
compositions," she wrote.
Dame Mary remained active almost until her death. On April 28, The
Spectator published an interview in which she used her own cultural
theory to discuss Al Qaeda
qaeda/index.html?inline=nyt-org> . She urged the United States to let
the group express its views.
"If these people hate America anyway, and America attacks them, it
increases the hostility of the enclave," she said.
Ann Popplestone AAB, BA, MA
CCC Metro TLC
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