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The Head-hunters of the North and the Polynesian Shadow: Thor Heyerdahl’s skull-collecting act on Fatu Hiva, Marquesas Islands, 1937

Victor Melander


This paper addresses Thor Heyerdahl’s skull-collecting act on Fatu Hiva in 1937 by approaching it from its historical context. Particular attention is paid to craniology as a scientific method, its purpose and the strong belief in its reliability during this period. It is also argued that the use of unauthorised collecting of human remains in contemporary travelogues, as elements of literary suspense and vehicles for the protagonist’s bravery, shows that the practice was largely socially accepted. Skull-collecting was viewed by the collector, from the perspective of a conservative world view, as a heroic act of protection and preservation.


Thor Heyerdahl; human remains collecting; craniology; Marquesas Islands

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ISSN (print) 1179 4704; ISSN (online) 1179 4712
Published with the assistance of the Department of Anthropology & Archaeology, University of Otago.
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