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Barthel grew up in Berlin and graduated from secondary school in 1940. During the Second World War, he worked as a cryptographer for the Wehrmacht. After the war he studied folklore, geography, and prehistory in Berlin, Hamburg, and Leipzig. He received his doctorate in Hamburg in 1952 with a thesis on Mayan writing. From 1953-1956 he was a Fellow of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, in 1957 a lecturer in Hamburg, and from 4 July 1957 to 1 February 1958 he was a guest researcher with the Institute for Easter Island Studies at the University of Chile.
In order to document rongorongo, Barthel visited most of the museums which housed the tablets, of which he made pencil rubbings. With this data he compiled the first corpus of the script, which he published as Grundlagen zur Entzifferung der Osterinselschrift in 1958. He was the first scholar to correctly identify anything in the texts: He showed that two lines in the Mamari tablet encode calendrical information.
In 1959 Barthel became Associate Professor of Ethnology at the University of Tübingen, and from 1964-1988 he was Professor of Ethnology. His primary research was in the folklore of the Americas. He bequeathed his rongorongo data to the CEIPP (Centre d'Études de l'Îles de Pâques et de la Polynésie), which is engaged in verifying and expanding on his work.
Published works Editar
- 1958a. Grundlagen zur Entzifferung der Osterinselschrift. Hamburg : Cram, de Gruyter.
- 1958b. "The 'Talking Boards' of Easter Island." Scientific American, 198:61-68
- 1971. Pre-contact Writing in Oceania. In: Current Trends in Linguistics 8:1165-1186. Den Haag, Paris: Mouton.
- 1978. The Eighth Land: The Polynesian Discovery & Settlement of Easter Island. Honolulu: the University Press of Hawaii.
- 1990. "Wege durch die Nacht (Rongorongo-Studien auf dem Santiagostab)", in Esen-Baur, Heide-Margaret (ed.), State and Perspectives of Scientific Research in Easter Island Culture. Courier Forschungsinstitute Senckeberg 125. Frankfurt am Mein: Senckenbergische Naturforschende Gesellschaft, 73-112. ISBN 3-510-61140-3Plantilla:Germany-bio-stub