Thor searches for Odin

By Caroline Wyatt, BBC News Online, Saturday 26 May 2001, 15:05 GMT 16:05 UK

The legendary Norwegian explorer, Thor Heyerdahl, is on the trail of another legend—the Viking God, Odin.

He believes Odin may have been a real king in the 1st Century BC in what is now southern Russia, before his tribe was driven out by the Romans.

We’ll carry on working to find material that will either support or destroy this theory

He has funded a major archaeological dig near the Sea of Asov, to discover whether any links can be found with Odin and his tribe.

Mr Heyerdahl is famed for his expeditions in the footsteps of early civilisations, notably his Kon Tiki expedition of 1947, when he sailed from Peru to Polynesia. At the age of 86 he shows no signs of flagging.

Ancient clues

Mr Heyerdahl's theory is based on clues gleaned from a 13th Century Icelandic saga, which he says suggest that Odin and his tribe really did exist.

The landscape by the River Don where the dig is based is harsh imposing landscape—fit to be the birthplace of a legendary Viking god.

The river links the area to the Black Sea and it has long been a busy trading post.

Local archaeologists have found evidence of a settlement that is more than 2,000 years old and they are helping analyse the finds on this dig.

‘Authentic fragments’

Sergei Lukyashko is in charge of the Russian archaeologists, and says he finds Mr Heyerdahl's theory fascinating.

“Neither Thor nor I are so naive as to suggest that we’ll find actual traces of Odin here, but we’ve already found authentication for several fragments of the sagas,” he said.

“We’ll carry on working to find material that will either support or destroy this theory.”

Renowned horsemen

Not far from Asov, young Cossack boys train for the army.

This has always been land that breeds warriors—the Cossacks are Russia's best-known horsemen—so it seems appropriate that the Norse god of war—and his tireless horse, may have lived here.

However, Russian historians are sceptical.

Professor Sergei Karpov at Moscow university says this time, Thor Heyerdahl may have gone a step too far.

“He is a very creative…even if he's not right,” he said.

Time limit

The Norwegian archaeologists on the dig have only a few weeks left before they have to return home.

For Bjoernar Storfjell, it is not so much proving a theory that is important, but the chance to work in the former Soviet Union.

Already, Roman vases and Grecian urns are piling up beside the site—amid tantalising shards from even earlier civilisations.

Whatever else they find, this dig has added yet another chapter to Thor Heyerdahl's odyssey to find the links between ancient peoples that lie beneath the earth.