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Niebuhr, Carsten

NIEBUHR, CARSTEN

(b. Altendorf, Holstein, 17 March 1733; d. Meldorf, Holstein, 26 April 1815).

cartography, exploration.

The son of a farmer, Niebuhr did not attend school until he was eighteen. After inheriting some money he began training to be a surveyor by studying mathematics and astronomoy at the University of Göttingen, but he never obtained a degree. In 1758 he was hired as a cartographer for a Danish expedition to Arabia that lasted from 1761 to 1767. During the expedition he made very exact determinations of longitude and latitude of localities in the eastern Mediterranean, made maps of cities, and mapped the Middle East, especially Arabia and Yemen. These maps were the best available for a long time. All the other members of the expedition died, and after having returned most of the scientific collections by ship from Bombay to Denmark, Niebuhr returned overland through Persia, Palestine, and Constantinople. During this trip he continued his geographic observations and made exact copies of the cunieform inscriptions at Persepolis. The interpretation of the cuneiform alphabet by R. C. Rask and others was based on these copies, which were the best an most complete available. After the expedition Niebuhr declined several offers of high positions and became registrar at Meldorf, near his birthplace. The real value of his contributions was discovered later, partly because of the advance and not always accepted mathematical methods used in his calculations and partly because he shunned publicity. Niebujr’s success as an explorer was based on his ability to make exact observations under highly adverse conditions and his ability to win the acceptance and cooperation of the local population. He preferred to write and speak in low German, published his papers in German, and regarded himself as Danish. (Holstein was then under the Danish crown.)

BIBLIOGRAPHY

I. Original Works. Niebuhr’s writings are Beschreibung von Arabien (Copenhagen, 1772), the first, preliminary account of the results of the expedition; Reisbeshreibung nach Arabien und andern umliegenden Ländern, 2 vols, (Copenhagen, 1774–1778). vol. III. edited posthumously by J.N. Gloyer and J. Olshausen (Hamburg, 1837).

II. Secondary Literature. There are few biographical papers on Niebuhr, the most important being a short biography by his son, B. G. Niebuhr, “Carsten Niebuhrs Lebeb,” of Kieler Blätter, 3 (1816), 1–86. A semipopular narrative of the expedition and Niebhur’s life, which became a best seller in Denmark, is Thorkild Hansen, Det lykkelige Arabien (Copennagen, 1962).

Nils Spjeldnaes

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Niebuhr, Karsten

Karsten Niebuhr (kär´stən nē´bŏŏr), 1733–1815, German traveler in Arabia. He was sole survivor of a party of five (of whom the best known was Peter Forskal, a Swedish naturalist) sent by Frederick V of Denmark to explore Arabia (1761–63). From Mocha, Niebuhr sailed for India, returning to Europe by way of the Persian Gulf and the Tigris River, through Palestine, Syria, and Constantinople (1767). He wrote several accounts of his travels.

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"Niebuhr, Karsten." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 25 Sep. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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"Niebuhr, Karsten." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved September 25, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/niebuhr-karsten