Norway to return Easter Island artifacts

A Norwegian museum has agreed to return thousands of artifacts and human remains to Easter Island, after they were taken by explorer Thor Heyerdahl during two expeditions in the 20th century.

Consuelo Valdes, Chile’s Minister of Culture, Arts and Heritage, and the explorer’s son, Thor Heyerdahl Jr., signed an agreement at a ceremony in Santiago stating that the collection would be returned. The items taken from Easter Island, known in the local language as Rapa Nui, include human bones and carved artifacts, according to the AFP news agency.

The ceremony coincided with a state visit to Chile by Norway’s King Harald V and Queen Sonja.

In a statement, Valdes said: “As a Ministry, we have the mission to respond to the fair demand of the Rapa Nui people to recover their cultural heritage. This is a commitment that we have undertaken with responsibility and in a dialogue with the community of the Island.”

“Today, a further step has been taken through this historic agreement with Norway, which will allow the return of pieces of a very deep symbolic and cultural value for the Island,” Valdes added.

Martin Biehl, director of the Kon-Tiki museum, said, “Our common interest is that the objects are returned and, above all, delivered to a well-equipped museum.”

Biehl added that the return of the remains and artifacts “will take time,” AFP reported.

Heyerdahl, who died in 2002 aged 87, was most famous for his 1947 journey across the Pacific Ocean with a crew of five, on a balsa wood raft named the Kon-Tiki. Heyerdahl hoped the expedition would support his theory that the early settlers of Polynesia were prehistoric South American people, while most scholars believed they migrated from Southeast Asia.

Heyerdahl visited Rapa Nui in 1955 and again in 1986; his son, Thor Heyerdahl Jr., accompanied him in 1955. “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,” Heyerdahl Jr. said at the ceremony in Santiago.

In November, a delegation from Rapa Nui traveled to the United Kingdom to appeal for the return of an eight-foot statue or “moai” taken by the British in 1868. The statue, known as Hoa Hakananai’a (“lost or stolen friend”), is currently displayed at the British Museum in London.

Tarita Alarcón Rapu, governor of Rapa Nui, said, “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.”