Sunday: Hili dialogue

It’s Sunday, August 7, and I’m off to Poznan at noon to lecture at the University. Posting will be light until after my return on Tuesday (if I can successfully negotiate the Polish trains). Grania will be handling the Hili dialogues and anything else that seems appropriate.

On this day in 1890, Anna Månsdotter became the last woman in Sweden to be executed—for the murder of her daughter in law; it’s a strange and incestuous tale. And on this day in 1947, Thor Heyerdahl’s raft the Kon-Tiki finished its voyage by running aground on a Pacific Island; it was an attempt to prove that Polynesians could have rafted from the Pacific islands to South America. We now know that humans actually came to the Americas across the Bering Strait about 15,000 years ago. I read Heyerdahl’s account of the trip, Kon-Tiki, over and over again as a child, along with the adventures of Richard Halliburton. (Who’s old enough to remember those books?)

Notables born on this day include Mata Hari (1876), James Randi (1928; he’s 88 today), Garrison Keillor (1942), and Charlize Theron (1975♥). Those who died on this day include Oliver Hardy (1957, of Laurel and Hardy fame), Peter Jennings (2005; was it really 11 years ago?), and Judith Crist (2012). Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili, who has apparently been reading Darwin’s Origin, wants to illustrate it for me:

In Polish:

Jerry: What else are you going to show me?
Hili: A tangled bank.
P1040655 (1)
Jerry: Co mi jeszcze chcesz pokazać?
Hili: Zarośnięty brzeg.

In Winnipeg, Gus was told that he can’t drive his boat without a license, so his “polar bear” plate was affixed to his boat-box. Now, I’m told, he’s asking for a car. He also insisted on having a Canadian flag, which he’s started to nom.


I visited Leon and his staff on the grounds of their future home, and Leon gave me a typical cat greeting:

Leon: Welcome, Jerry. What do you have for me?



  1. Frank Bath
    Posted August 7, 2016 at 6:54 am | Permalink

    I read the Kon-Tiki as a teenager and loved it. My first own chosen serious book. What an adventure, and as strange and faraway as I could imagine. Many year later I recommended it to a much younger cousin and he loved it too.

  2. E.A. Blair
    Posted August 7, 2016 at 7:12 am | Permalink

    I also read Kon-Tiki, but Aku-Aku made a bigger impression on me. Much of Heyerdahl’s speculative anthropology is still met with skepticism, on the basis of “just because it could have been done doesn’t mean it was done; some of his suppositions have been debunked. On the other hand, I have always personally held the notion that ancient cultures had more contact and connectivity than we give them credit for, although speculating along those lines could lead one into von Daniken territory – that if it could have happened (no matter how unlikely) it must have happened.

  3. Posted August 7, 2016 at 7:43 am | Permalink

    I loved Richard Halliburton’s Book of Marvels as a kid, a wonderful book full of pictures. His writing made every place he visited sound beautiful and exciting. Maybe that’s why I enjoy your descriptions of Chicago and Dobryzn.

  4. Randall Schenck
    Posted August 7, 2016 at 8:00 am | Permalink

    Being not so far from Minnesota, have to mention Garrison Keillor, Lake Wobegon Days and A Prairie Home Companion. It’s as close to Canada without being there. I think the guy just recently retired.

  5. Dave
    Posted August 7, 2016 at 8:08 am | Permalink

    “Thor Heyerdahl’s raft the Kon-Tiki finished its voyage by running aground on a Pacific Island; it was an attempt to prove that Polynesians could have rafted from the Pacific islands to South America.”

    Slight correction here: Heyerdahl’s proposal was that the ancestors of the Polynesians came originally from South America, as opposed to the orthodox view that they originated in southeast Asia and colonised the Pacific from west to east. He sailed the Kon-Tiki from Peru to Polynesia to demonstrate that South American reed boats were capable of making the journey, as indeed they are. Unfortunately for Heyerdahl, modern genetic, archaeological and linguistic data show beyond any reasonable doubt that the Polynesians did originate in southeast Asia, and spread eastwards across the Pacific, i.e. in this case the orthodox view turned out to be right after all.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted August 7, 2016 at 8:49 am | Permalink

      Slight correction here:

      That’s what I remember from the book too.
      Slight correction is that the Peru-Polynesia boats were rafts of balsa wood ; the reed boats were some adventure in the Persian gulf, and then he did something similar across the Atlantic with an Egyptian design of (reed?) boat. IIRC. I’d have to check the Wiki pages or something to be sure. There was some mucking around on Easter Island hauling Moai statues around at some point too.
      Again, IIRC the genetics correctly, there was a slight surprise as knowledge of Oceania genetics improved, with it turning out that the inhabitants of PNG came from Australasia, but the rest of Oceania was populated from approximately Taiwan.
      There’s a small component of Denisovan genes in there too. Feeling homesick for the Altai mountains of Siberia. Or are the Siberians homesick for Taiwan?
      If only reality were as simple as the dreams of a mushroom-munching bronze age goat herds.

      • Dave
        Posted August 7, 2016 at 9:42 am | Permalink

        Yes, I was confusing Kon-Tiki (balsa raft) with Ra (reed boat). In the latter case, if memory serves, Heyerdahl was trying to show that the ancient Egyptians could have sailed across the Atlantic to kick-start Mesoamerican civilisation – another notion now consigned to the dustbin of pseudohistory.

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted August 7, 2016 at 10:23 am | Permalink

          Yeah, “Ra”. but there was another reed boat jaunt too, in the pre-Gulf War days.
          Ah yes, “Tigris”, intended to demonstrate links between Mesopotamia and the Indus civilisation.
          To be honest, who has ever seriously doubted that there were such contacts? If you can survive coastally anywhere in Persia or Mesopotamia, there is essentially nothing to stop you from walking to the Indus. Put a load on a donkey and you’re starting trade networks.
          I do still wonder about the “Pyramids” of Guimar (Canary Islands) though. Something odd going on there.

        • E.A. Blair
          Posted August 7, 2016 at 10:47 am | Permalink

          I remember that the local newspaper had a daily update feature on the “Voyage of the Ra” while the expedition was on. The articles appeared on the front page of the comics section, a four-page supplement printed on colored paper called the “Green Sheet”.

  6. Posted August 7, 2016 at 8:12 am | Permalink

    I miss Jerry when he’s away from his computer.

  7. Torbjörn Larsson
    Posted August 7, 2016 at 8:48 am | Permalink

    That was interesting to me, when I tried to check out on the veracity of the English Wikipedia entry on Anna Månsdotter, I entered “Karin Månsdotter”. Her history, which we read in early classes, is a Shakespearian one. It involves a commoner becoming a queen to a Swedish king, a king made mad by his executions of guilty and innocents alike (or so they thought at the time). [ ]

    For what it is worth, I see only one significant difference I see between the English and Swedish entry on Anna Månsdotter. It is that the Swedish text does not present the alternative, quite possible, theory of her being the lone killer of her daughter-in-law.

    Speaking of memory mechanisms, but allowing for that Heyerdahl made many Däniken like hypotheses [ ], this may be in error:

    “Thor Heyerdahl’s raft the Kon-Tiki finished its voyage by running aground on a Pacific Island; it was an attempt to prove that Polynesians could have rafted from the Pacific islands to South America.”

    At the time [1947], Heyerdahl seems to have believed that the migration went in the other direction, from South and North America to Polynesia. At a later date he suggested that the current Polynesian population derived from Asian migrations. That migration involved reaching North America. [1952; ]. Note that I find the description of Heyerdahl’s hypotheses confusing, so any and all of this analysis attempt may be in error.

    More certain is that we now know that Polynesians visited and interbred with South Americans sometime(s) 700 – 500 years ago. [First ref.]

    • Torbjörn Larsson
      Posted August 7, 2016 at 8:52 am | Permalink

      If and when my earlier comment comes out of moderation:

      “I see only one significant difference I see”… oh, I see…

  8. Sam Chapman
    Posted August 7, 2016 at 9:00 pm | Permalink

    I was 23 years old, thirty years ago. At about this time of the year, my “last” girlfriend broke up with me. As I slowly drove away, tears drying on my cheeks, I resolved to be at the local gay bar the next time it was open and to be gay, “full-time.” My next thought was, “what am I going to do with my god?” And the next: “there is no god.” Next, “who will watch over me?” Finally: “I must be smart and take care of myself.” The heavy weight of religion-induced self-hatred was lifted from me. I felt as light as a feather and happy as a lark. I have never looked back and never regretted my decisions/conclusions that night. Thank you,Professor Coyne, for assisting me on my road to recovery.

  9. Wayne Hoskisson
    Posted August 7, 2016 at 10:13 pm | Permalink

    Thor Heyerdahl was very popular among Mormons when I was child. I read Kon Tiki around age 11 or 12. The story of sailing on a raft across the ocean provided a proof of concept experiment for the Book of Mormon. In the Book of Mormon three different groups of people from Israel traveled to the Americas via boats at three different times. Kon Tiki demonstrated that these migrations could have happened as related in the Book of Mormon. Thor Heyerdahl toured Mormon ward houses (churches) showing his film about the raft voyage and talking about ancient peoples having the ability to sail long distances across the oceans.

  10. Posted August 8, 2016 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

    Regardless of whether he was nutty in some of his stuff (or his motivations), and regardless of whether the specific hypothesis was correct (South America->Polynesia) or not, Heyerdahl did do something important. He showed that – the idea that there are “experimental” sciences on the one hand and “historical” on the other, and that the two are disjoint – is likely false, as *history itself* (or rather historiography) itself can be an experimental science.

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