Scientists Research the Real Robinson Crusoe

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What was it he had seen? A fire burning on an uninhabited island in the South Pacific? The next day, the captain of the Duke, an English buccaneer ship, sent an armed party to the island to investigate. When the men returned to the ship, they brought along two surprises: large numbers of spiny lobsters and a shaggy creature.

The figure that climbed on board the Duke on Feb. 2, 1709 was apparently human, but wild as an animal, barefoot and covered in goatskin. The creature, extremely agitated, was only able to stammer a few barely comprehensible words at first, but they were enough to become immortal.

In his novel, first published in 1719, Daniel Defoe named the islander "Robinson Crusoe." But the real Robinson was a man named Alexander Selkirk. He was a Scotsman, the seventh son of a shoemaker from the village of Lower Largo, near Edinburgh. He had spent four years and four months on Más a Tierra, a windswept island in the Juan Fernandez archipelago, 650 kilometers (404 miles) off the coast of Chile. He was as alone as a human being can be. For Selkirk, there was no "Man Friday," a character Defoe created for his novel.

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