Wednesday 9 February 2022

Temporal Racism - Not just a Stonehenge problem


Beforeigners, Thor Heyerdahl, and Ludwig Gumplowicz:

The concept of timesism, temporal racism, or acrochronism

Eirik Stokke, University of Oslo

Das unheilvollste aber aller dieser Gespenster, das den Gang der Menschheit behindert, das wie ein Bleigewicht an deren Sohlen sich hängt, ist der Akrochronismus (möge das Wort mir verziehen werden), das ist der unselige Wahn jedes Zeitalters, dass es das „höchste“ sei. Wir glauben fest daran, dass unsere Zeit die Zeit der „grössten Fortschritte, der grössten Civilisation, der grössten Humanität“ sei und das sie weit hinter uns liegen die Zeiten „der Wildheit“ und der „Barbarei“. Wir nennen unsere Zeit das „Zeitalter der Vernunft“ und hinter uns wähnen wir die Zeiten „des Glaubens und Aberglaubens“.

Ludwig Gumplowicz (1895), Sociale sinnestäuschungen, Neue Deutsche Rundschau, 6 (pp. 1–11), 1

As he laid there [atop the altar stone], drifting off in thoughts about the engineering skills of the masterminds who built Stonehenge, and how wonderful life must have been 4,000 years ago compared to the abominable present, the starry sky was suddenly distorted by the pale beams from gigantic searchlights. A dim, dispiriting light came soaring overhead, followed by a buzzing hum as from an old Ford engine. This was the wonder of current times, the pinnacle of German science. The V-1 flying bomb made Stonehenge’s mossy “slaughter stone” an amateur in the art of killing. Speaking as if he was Jacob the patriarch, and the altar stone was the stone of Bethel, he tells his wife how the irremediable problem with the world is that people are dumb and self-centred. This idiocy and in-group mentality results not only in industrial bloodshed and ethnocentrism, but in the superiority complex of modern civilisation over those past. Praising the genius of the Stonehengers, he ridicules modern man’s proneness to deem his predecessors a moronic bunch.

The author (2021), Famous explorer Thor Heyerdahl’s sleepover at Stonehenge in 1944, Amesbury: Newsletter of the Amesbury Society, 110 (pp. 1–6), 6

The second season of the critically praised, Norwegian TV series Beforeigners[1] was recently launched on HBO Max. Essentially a satire of racism and xenophobia in presentday society, Beforeigners (a play on the words ‘before’ and ‘foreigner’) explores the ‘what ifs’ when Stone Agers, Vikings and 19th Century people unwittingly start appearing through time warp holes, finding themselves trapped in the future. An extract of entries from the dictionary[2] of terms and concepts made exclusively for the series, provides an intriguing insight into the universe that is Beforeigners:

beef breath and dinosaur Pejoratives used by contemporaries. beforeigner or timeigrant Individual who has time warped from the past. cont Timeigrant pejorative. Acronym of ‘contemporary’. Jurassic Park Derogatory term for a timeigrant reception centre.

nowsplaining To explain something to a timeigrant, typically by a contemporary, in a condescending, belittling manner.

sneak-norseification Xenophobic, timesist term.

temporal relativism Belief that no temporal culture or belonging is superior to any other.

timesism Prejudiced belief in the superiority of one’s own temporal affiliation.

Coincidentally, or perhaps not, the ethos of Beforeigners echoes that of Thor Heyerdahl (1914–2002), arguably the most famous Norwegian of all time. What the series would come to label timesism, Heyerdahl referred to as ‘temporal racism’.[3] His controversial belief in socalled primitive man’s ability to traverse world oceans was the leading motif behind the world famous Kon-Tiki, Ra and Tigris expeditions. ‘We of European extraction’, he wrote following the successful Atlantic crossing by the multi-ethnic crew of the reed boat Ra II, ‘are surely not so blindfolded by our own history that we consider ourselves a line of supermen, able to do four centuries ago what the great civilizations of Asia Minor and North Africa could not have done earlier’.[4] He would stress how conceptions like the Maya calendar and the Sermon on the Mount were indicative of human ingenuity in early and pre-European history,[5] and upon assessing Rapanui megalithic construction he pointed out that ‘[t]he technique was admirable but in no way mysterious if we cease to underestimate the intelligence of men in ancient times’.[6]

In an unfinished 1970-ish manuscript[7] housed at the Kon-Tiki Museum, Oslo, listed as ‘Children of Adam’ (hinting at the unity of mankind) after the heading of one of its chapters, a dichotomy is made between the sun disk and the Roman cross as visual representatives of the highest being. Asking which one is more barbaric, he urges the reader to contemplate the often-bigoted attitude towards the ancients’ intellectual capacities. To judge from an old Incan legend, the rationale continues, the Andeans of long ago venerated the ocean as consort of the sun and mother of all life. Hence, at a time when European scholars held the story of Genesis to be true, their unknown peers in South America, had, to a certain extent, a pre-scientific understanding of what modern-day biologists know as a variant of the Oparin-Haldane[8] Hypothesis, which posits that solar energy gave rise to organic life in a prebiotic soup.

Most compelling, however, are the passages from what I elsewhere[9] have dubbed the ‘Stonehenge letter’. Penned by the future celebrity to his then wife, Liv, in August 1944, telling of a visit to Stonehenge the day before whilst on leave from a nearby army base, it lends credence to the sincerity of his later thoughts and writings. Stirring her to think, as he reflects on the enigma of what he deemed to be an age-old sun temple, if a better hypostasis of the godhood than the sun can possibly be perceived, he makes the arresting remark: ‘Place the sun and any Pius in all his golden splendour side-by-side, and try and tell me that they were heathens any more than we are in 1944!’[10] Yet, his temporal relativism, if you will, is never as sharp and to the point as when he lets his quasi-religious, philosophical musings culminate in a spirited lecture against all sorts of egotism:

We, conceited mediocres, think that only we exist, that only our time period matters. We are like horses with blinders. Man’s wisdom is pathetic and miserably egocentric. It has always been thus, between individuals, between nations, between races, between eras. It falls quite naturally to the narrow-minded human brain to hold in the highest esteem all that includes ‘I’, ‘we’ and so on. Any other way is incomprehensible, and nor has it been given any earthly being to comprehend the totality of life. One is only able to understand a fraction of a fraction at a time. And contemporary man is so busy running his own complicated messy nest, that he neither has the time to live nor to ponder, let alone stop for a minute and look at that which is outside the ‘we’.[11]

By statements such as these, Heyerdahl’s temporal anti-racism is equivalent not just to the concept of temporal relativism, but fascinatingly in compliance with what the Jewish Polish sociologist Ludwig Gumplowicz (1838–1909) coined ‘acrochronism’ (see epigraph).[12] Acrochronism (from Greek akros, ‘extreme’ + chronos, ‘time’) has been described as ‘chronocentric’egotism, analogoustotheethnocentricegotismofnationalism.[13]Andindeed, Gumplowicz initially treated temporal bias as a form of ethnocentrism.[14] The excerpt above shows that Heyerdahl did the same. Certain critics, however, have claimed racism to be at the very heart of Heyerdahl’s alleged hyperdiffusionist expedition theories, professing that they discredit indigenous peoples’ civilisational achievements in lieu of a fictitious ‘race’ of redhaired, white culturers.[15] A recent paper lists me among scholars, who, according to the authors, ‘have repeatedly rejected the importance of acknowledging the scientific racism inherent in Heyerdahl’s research’.[16] Space does not allow me to adequately address the topic, except bringing to critics’ attention the possibility of Heyerdahl’s research being better understood if assessed in light of his self-acclaimed acrochronistic position. Heyerdahl based his migration theories to a large extent on native lore. To question the authenticity of semihistorical, indigenous traditions such as, for instance, white gods and culture heroes, ‘clearly reflects’, he writes at one point, ‘the European underestimation of the intellect and historicalmindedness’[17] of those people. In fact, the argument made is that the critic who dismisses such legends, whether as imperialistic inventions or mere fables of irrational minds, misunderstood cases of malnutrition[18] or albinism, and what have you, runs the risk of nowsplaining.


[1]      Bjørnstad, A., Lien, J., Mar, F. H., Matthews, S., Skodvin, E., Wikander, C. (Executive Producers). (2021–2022). Beforeigners [TV series]. Rubicon TV; HBO Max.

[2]      The entries here are gathered from the official dictionary on HBO Nordic’s Beforeigners website (see, albeit the wordage is my own. Celine Ryel, PR Manager Norway at HBO Europe, has kindly provided me with additional material, whilst André Nilsson Dannevig, linguistic consultant for the TV series, has patiently answered any questions that I had.

[3]      Wærhaug, S. (1999, November 13). – Tidsmessig rasisme. Verdens Gang (VG), p. 63.

[4]      Heyerdahl, T. (1971). Isolationist or diffusionist? In G. Ashe, T. Heyerdahl, H. Ingstad, J. V. Luce, B. J. Meggers & B. L. Wallace [Authors], The quest for America (pp. 115–154). Pall Mall Press, 130.

[5]      E.g., Hansson, P. (1972). Den ukjente Thor Heyerdahl, part 1, Vi Menn, 32 (pp. 13–16, 26), 16; cf. Evensberget, S. (1994). Thor Heyerdahl: The explorer (P. Shaw & R. Waaler, Trans.). J. M. Stenersen. (Original work published 1994), p. 203.

[6]      Heyerdahl, T. (1950). The Kon-Tiki expedition: By raft across the South Seas (F. H. Lyon, Trans.). George Allen & Unwin. (Original work published 1948), p. 138.

[7]      Heyerdahl, T. (No date). Children of Adam [Unpublished manuscript]. Thor Heyerdahl archives (NO KTM 1983-100-0001-023, box 058, folder 1, chapter II). Kon-Tiki Museum, Oslo, Norway.

[8]      Referringto theSovietbiochemistAlexanderOparinand theBritish evolutionarybiologist J. B. S. Haldane.

[9]      Stokke, E. (2021). The Stonehenge letter: Reconstructing a preliminary stage of the KonTikiexpeditiontheory, WiltshireArchaeologicalandNaturalHistoryMagazine(WANHM), 114, pp. 222–231.

[10]  Heyerdahl, T. (1944, August 27). [Letter to Liv Heyerdahl]. Thor Heyerdahl archives (box 13.3, folder 2, p. vi). Kon-Tiki Museum, Oslo, Norway. All translations from Norwegian are my own.

[11]  Ibid., pp. viii–ix.

[12]  Gumplowicz, L. Op. cit.; cf. Bizumic, B. (2019). Ethnocentrism: Integrated perspectives. Routledge, p. 6.

[13]  Reclus, E. (2013). The modern state. In J. Clark & C. Martin (Eds. and Trans.), Anarchy, geography, modernity: Selected writings of Elisée Reclus (pp. 186–201). PM Press. (Original work published 1905), 188.

[14]  Gumplowicz, L. (1883). Der rassenkampf: Sociologische untersuchungen. Wagner’sche Univ.-Buchhandlung, pp. 352–353; cf. Bizumic, B. Op. cit., p. 14.

[15]  E.g., Andersson, A. (2018). A hero for the Atomic Age: Thor Heyerdahl and the KonTiki expedition. Peter Lang. (Originally published 2010); Engevold, P. I. H. (2019). Thor Heyerdahl og jakten på Atlantis. Humanist; Holton, G. E. L. (2004). Heyerdahl’s Kon Tiki theory and the denial of the indigenous past, Anthropological Forum, 14 (pp. 164–181).; Magelssen, S. (2016). Whiteskinned gods: Thor Heyerdahl, the Kon-Tiki Museum, and the racial theory of Polynesian origins, Drama Review, 60 (pp. 25–49).; Melander, V. (2020). The coming of the white bearded men: The origin and development of Thor Heyerdahl’s Kon-Tiki theory [Unpublished doctoral thesis]. Australian National University.

[16]  Rasmussen, J. M. & Viestad, V. M. (2021). Curation by the living dead: Exploring the legacy of Norwegian museums’ colonial collections, Critical Arts (pp. 1–21), 14.

[17]  Heyerdahl, T. (1978). The bearded gods before Columbus. In Early man and the ocean (pp. 96–123). George Allen & Unwin. (Original work published 1971), 117.

[18]  In rare instances malnutrition can cause dark hair to turn reddish.

Academia Letters, January 2022                ©2022 by the author — Open Access — Distributed under CC BY 4.0

Corresponding Author: Eirik Stokke,

Citation: Stokke, E. (2022). Beforeigners, Thor Heyerdahl, and Ludwig Gumplowicz: The concept of timesism, temporal racism, or acrochronism. Academia Letters, Article 4644.

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