Easter Island, also known as Rapa Nui, has long fascinated people around the world with its isolation and mysterious statues. More than 60 years ago, a Norwegian explorer travelled there to learn more, and now thousands of the artefacts he took will be returned to the island from a museum in Norway.
The Kon-Tiki Museum in Oslo was originally built to display the balsa raft Kon-Tiki, which was used by the Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl to sail between Peru and Polynesia back in 1947. He travelled to Rapa Nui from 1955 to 1956 and in 1986 to 1988, learning more about the history of the remote island in the South Pacific, and many of the artefacts he collected are found in the museum today.
Now, many of the archaeological items, human remains and unpublished photographs from the expeditions will be returned, following an agreement between the museum and the Ministry of Arts, Culture and Heritage in Chile.
Thor Heyerdahl Jr., the explorer’s son, signed the agreement with the cultural ministry that will begin the identification of items, which will be carried out by the museum and the Father Sebastian Englert Anthropological Museum of Rapa Nui, which is located on the island. Heyerdahl was on the 1955 expedition with his father when he was just 17 years old, and said that the repatriation of the items is fulfilling a promise that his father made to return the items to the island after they had been analysed and published.
While this announcement has been welcomed by the island, there are still many important artefacts from Rapa Nui found in museums around the world. The famous moai statues are what spring to mind when many people think of the island, but some of the incredible pieces have been removed from the islands. In 2018, the governor of Easter Island called on the British Museum to return a moai, known as Hoa Hakananai’a or ‘lost or stolen friend’, to the island due to its cultural and spiritual importance.
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