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Czech Republic: Explorer Heyerdahl Urges Humility

Prague, 8 September 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Legendary Norwegian mariner, explorer, archaeologist and writer Thor Heyerdahl is still going strong at the age of 82, excavating lost civilizations from the Canary Islands to the coast of Peru.

Heyerdahl, who is attending this week's Forum 2000 conference of leading world figures in Prague, spoke to RFE/RL Friday.

Although currently based on the Canary island of Tenerife, where he has uncovered more evidence of lost civilizations, Heyerdahl was most keen to talk about the past five years of his life, which have been devoted to an archeological project in Peru.

Heyerdahl says his team's excavations at a previously undiscovered pyramid site "will change our idea of the history of South America." According to Heyerdahl, his latest find proves that the Spanish conquistadors were not the first destroyers of a great native civilization on the continent. Indeed, says Heyerdahl, although the Incas ended up as the victims of the Spanish conquest, they themselves were guilty of a very similar crime before the Spanish arrived.

Sophisticated artwork and other objects from Inca tombs proves that the Incas themselves pillaged and ultimately destroyed an even more advanced native civilization that had made its home on Peru's Pacific coast. This civilization's treasures show us that they were familiar with the entire coast of South America, says Heyerdahl, and are further proof of the genius of ancient man.

Heyerdahl says that anyone who has any knowledge of the civilizations of ancient Mesopotamia or Mesoamerica cannot fail to be amazed by the degree of sophistication of these human beings, some of whom lived 5,000 years ago. Indeed, he points out, the South American Mayan calendar, developed centuries ago, functions more perfectly than our modern one.

Heyerdahl notes that by these measures, Europe was the last continent to be "civilized." He adds that Europeans must stop thinking that they created civilization and exported it across the globe. And he adds, it is time human beings assumed more humility when assessing their place in the natural world.

The delicate balance of nature has already been irrevocably altered by man's intrusion and the consequences are only beginning to be felt, from floods to droughts to changed monsoonal rain patterns.

"We have to respect nature or we will be punished for destroying it."