A Norwegian museum has agreed to return thousands of artifacts and human remains to Easter Island, known in the local language as Rapa Nui. The items were taken by explorer Thor Heyerdahl during two expeditions in the 20th century. The collection of artifacts includes human bones and carved pieces.
The agreement was signed in a ceremony held in the Chilean capital of Santiago between the Culture Ministry and Heyerdahl’s son, Thor Heyerdahl Jr. Heyerdahl Jr. was representing Oslo’s Kon-Tiki museum. The ceremony was timed to coincide with a state visit to Chile by Norway’s King Harald V and Queen Sonja.
Thor Heyerdahl was a famed Norwegian explorer who gained notoriety after journeying almost 4,000 miles from Peru to Polynesia on a balsa wood raft named the Kon-Tiki with a crew of five in 1947. Heyerdahl visited Easter Island in 1955 accompanied by his son, who was 17 at the time. The explorer visited the island again in 1986.
The family says that Heyerdahl, who died in 2002 aged 87, always intended to return the items to the islanders. At the agreement signing, Heyerdahl Jr. said, “The repatriation is a fulfillment of my father’s promise to the Rapa Nui authorities that the objects would be returned after they had been analyzed and published.”
While the agreement is in place, it might take a while for the islanders to see the artifacts again. Martin Biehl, director of the Kon-Tiki museum, said in a statement that the return of the remains and artifacts “will take time.”
The Rapa Nui island community has been vocally advocating for the return of their artifacts from countries around the world. In November, a delegation traveled to the United Kingdom to appeal for the return of the Hoa Hakananai’a, an eight-foot statue or “moai” taken by the British in 1868 and currently displayed at the British Museum in London. Tarita Alarcón Rapu, governor of Rapa Nui, stated, “It is the right time to maybe send us back (the statue) for a while, so our sons can see it as I can see it.”