Dorothea Bate

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Dorothea Bate
Dorothea Bate.png
Bate in Valletta, Malta on 5 April 1934.
Born8 November 1878 [1]
Carmarthen, Wales
Died13 January 1951(1951-01-13) (aged 72) [1]
Westcliff-on-Sea, Essex, England
Educationat home & Natural History Museum, London
Occupation Palaeontologist and archaeozoologist
AwardsWollaston Fund [2]

Dorothea Minola Alice Bate FGS (8 November 1878 – 13 January 1951), also known as Dorothy Bate, was a British palaeontologist, a pioneer of archaeozoology. Her life's work was to find fossils of recently extinct mammals with a view to understanding how and why giant and dwarf forms evolved. [3]

Geological Society of London learned society

The Geological Society of London, known commonly as the Geological Society, is a learned society based in the United Kingdom. It is the oldest national geological society in the world and the largest in Europe with more than 12,000 Fellows.


Early life

Born at Napier House, [4] Carmarthen, Carmarthenshire, Bate was the daughter of Police Superintendent Henry Reginald Bate (born in Co. Wexford, Ireland) and his wife Elizabeth Fraser Whitehill. She had an older sister and a younger brother. [1] She had little formal education and once commented that her education "was only briefly interrupted by school". [1]

Carmarthen county town of Carmarthenshire, Wales

Carmarthen is the county town of Carmarthenshire in Wales and a community. It lies on the River Towy 8 miles (13 km) north of its estuary in Carmarthen Bay. Carmarthen has a claim to be the oldest town in Wales – Old Carmarthen and New Carmarthen became one borough in 1546. Carmarthen was the most populous borough in Wales in the 16th–18th centuries, described by William Camden as "the chief citie of the country". Growth was stagnating by the mid-19th century, as new economic centres developed in the South Wales coalfield. The population in 2011 was 14,185, down from 15,854 in 2001. Dyfed–Powys Police headquarters, Glangwili General Hospital and a campus of the University of Wales Trinity Saint David are located in Carmarthen.

Carmarthenshire an local government area in Wales

Carmarthenshire is a unitary authority in southwest Wales, and one of the historic counties of Wales. The three largest towns are Llanelli, Carmarthen and Ammanford. Carmarthen is the county town and administrative centre.


In 1898, at the age of nineteen, Bate got a job at the Natural History Museum in London, sorting bird skins in the Department of Zoology's Bird Room and later preparing fossils. [5] She was probably the first woman to be employed as a scientist by the museum. [4] There she remained for fifty years and learned ornithology, palaeontology, geology and anatomy. She was a piece-worker, paid by the number of fossils she prepared. [1]

Natural History Museum, London Natural history museum in London

The Natural History Museum in London is a natural history museum that exhibits a vast range of specimens from various segments of natural history. It is one of three major museums on Exhibition Road in South Kensington, the others being the Science Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum. The Natural History Museum's main frontage, however, is on Cromwell Road.

Ornithology study of birds

Ornithology is a branch of zoology that concerns the study of birds. Several aspects of ornithology differ from related disciplines, due partly to the high visibility and the aesthetic appeal of birds.

Geology The study of the composition, structure, physical properties, and history of Earths components, and the processes by which they are shaped.

Geology is an earth science concerned with the solid Earth, the rocks of which it is composed, and the processes by which they change over time. Geology can also include the study of the solid features of any terrestrial planet or natural satellite such as Mars or the Moon. Modern geology significantly overlaps all other earth sciences, including hydrology and the atmospheric sciences, and so is treated as one major aspect of integrated earth system science and planetary science.

In 1901 Bate published her first scientific paper, "A short account of a bone cave in the Carboniferous limestone of the Wye valley", which appeared in the Geological Magazine , about bones of small Pleistocene mammals. [1]

The Geological Magazine is a peer-reviewed scientific journal established in 1864, covering the earth sciences. It publishes original scientific research papers on geological topics. The journal is published bimonthly by Cambridge University Press.

The Pleistocene is the geological epoch that lasted from about 2,580,000 to 11,700 years ago, spanning the world's most recent period of repeated glaciations. The end of the Pleistocene corresponds with the end of the last glacial period and also with the end of the Paleolithic age used in archaeology.

The same year, she visited Cyprus, staying for 18 months at her own expense, to search for bones there, finding twelve new deposits in ossiferous caves, among them bones of Hippopotamus minor . [1] In 1902, with the benefit of a hard-won grant from the Royal Society, she discovered in a cave in the Kyrenia hills a new species of dwarf elephant, which she named Elephas cypriotes , later described in a paper for the Royal Society. [6] [7] While in Cyprus she also observed (and trapped, shot and skinned [3] ) living mammals and birds and prepared a number of other papers, including descriptions of the Cyprus Spiny Mouse (Acomys nesiotes) and a subspecies of the Eurasian Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes cypriotes). [1]

Cyprus Island country in the Mediterranean

Cyprus, officially the Republic of Cyprus, is an island country in the Eastern Mediterranean and the third largest and third most populous island in the Mediterranean, located south of Turkey, west of Syria and Lebanon, northwest of Israel and Palestine, north of Egypt, and southeast of Greece.

Royal Society national academy of science in the United Kingdom

The Royal Society, formally The Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge, is a learned society and the United Kingdom's national academy of sciences. Founded on 28 November 1660, it was granted a royal charter by King Charles II as "The Royal Society". It is the oldest national scientific institution in the world. The society fulfils a number of roles: promoting science and its benefits, recognising excellence in science, supporting outstanding science, providing scientific advice for policy, fostering international and global co-operation, education and public engagement. It also performs these roles for the smaller countries of the Commonwealth.

Kyrenia Place in Kyrenia District, Cyprus

Kyrenia is a city on the northern coast of Cyprus, noted for its historic harbour and castle. It is under the de facto control of Northern Cyprus.

She later undertook expeditions to many other Mediterranean islands, including Crete, Corsica, Sardinia, Malta, and the Balearic Islands, publishing work on their prehistoric fauna. [1] In the Balearics in 1909, she discovered Myotragus balearicus, a previously unknown species of the subfamily Caprinae. [1] On the plateau of Kat, in eastern Crete, she found remains of the Cretan dwarf hippopotamus. [8] In Crete, she got to know the archaeologists then excavating Knossos and other sites on the island, who were throwing light on the Minoan civilisation, [3] such as Arthur Evans.

Crete The largest and most populous of the Greek islands

Crete is the largest and most populous of the Greek islands, the 88th largest island in the world and the fifth largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, after Sicily, Sardinia, Cyprus, and Corsica. It bounds the southern border of the Aegean sea. Crete lies approximately 160 km (99 mi) south of the Greek mainland. It has an area of 8,336 km2 (3,219 sq mi) and a coastline of 1,046 km (650 mi).

Corsica Region in France

Corsica is an island in the Mediterranean Sea and one of the 18 regions of France. It is located southeast of the French mainland and west of the Italian Peninsula, with the nearest land mass being the Italian island of Sardinia to the immediate south. A single chain of mountains makes up two-thirds of the island.

Sardinia Island in the Mediterranean and region of Italy

Sardinia is the second-largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. It is located west of the Italian Peninsula, north of Tunisia, and to the immediate south of the French island of Corsica.

Finding herself sexually harassed by the British Vice-Consul in Majorca, Bate commented: "I do hate old men who try to make love to one and ought not to in their official positions." [9]

According to The Daily Telegraph [3]

In the late 1920s Bate travelled to the British ruled Palestine. She was in her late 40s and well respected. Bates had been invited by Dorothy Garrod, who later became Cambridge University's first female professor and who had been put in charge of an excavation in Haifa by the British military governor. In Bethlehem Bates and Elinor Wight Gardner discovered an extinct elephant species, an early horse and a prehistoric giant tortoise. They also discovered evidence that animals had been hunted by Bethlehem's first human inhabitants. [10] In the 1930s Bate studied the animal bones Garrod had excavated in the Mount Carmel caves, which contained a succession of Upper Pleistocene levels. Instead of just inferring climatic conditions from the presence or absence of cold- or -warm loving animals, she was an early pioneer of the approach to take large samples of fauna of a succession of archaeological strata. These provided a series of plots. Bate worked on the basis that alterations in the frequency of species of animal hunted by early man reflected naturally occurring changes. [11] This work made her an early pioneer of archaeozoology, especially in the field of climatic interpretation. [5]

Bate also worked alongside the archaeologist Professor Dorothy Garrod in the Caves of Nahal Me’arot, where excavations had commenced in 1928. She was the first to study the faunas of the area, her stated research aim being the reconstruction of the natural history of the Pleistocene (Ice Age) fauna of the Levant region. Being aware of the fossils and the numerous human occupations her study of the Carmel Caves was pioneering. She described several new species, and identified several species that had previously not been known to have existed in this area in the Pleistocene. She constructed one of the first quantitative curves of faunal succession, and in reference to ancient climate she identified a faunal break between primitive and modern mammal communities during the Middle of the Ice Age. Bate identified the shifts from deer to gazelle dominance as rooted in changes of regional vegetation and paleoclimates. She was also the first to identify a Canis familiaris to have lived in the Ice Age, based on a skull that had been found. Decades later more remains of Natufian dogs were found. Her pioneering research was published in 1937, [12] when Bate and Garrod published The Stone Age of Mount Carmel volume 1, part 2: Palaeontology, the Fossil Fauna of the Wady el-Mughara Caves, interpreting the Mount Carmel excavations. [1] [13] Among other finds, they reported remains of the hippopotamus. [14]

Bate also worked with Percy R. Lowe on fossil ostriches in China. [1] She compared the relative proportions of Gazella and Dama remains. [5]

Later life, death, legacy

Many archaeologists and anthropologists relied on her expertise in identifying fossil bones, including Louis Leakey, Charles McBurney, and John Desmond Clark. [1]

During the Second World War, Bate transferred from the Natural History Museum's department of geology in London to its zoological branch at Tring, and in 1948, a few months short of her seventieth birthday, she was appointed officer-in-charge there. [1] Although suffering from cancer, she died of a heart attack on 13 January 1951, and as a Christian Scientist was cremated. Her personal papers were destroyed in a house fire shortly after her death. [5] On her desk at Tring was a list of 'Papers to write'. By the last in the list she had written Swan Song. [1]

Her estate at death amounted to £15,369. [15]

In 2005, a 'Dorothea Bate facsimile' was created at the Natural History Museum as part of a project to develop notable gallery characters to patrol its display cases. She is thus among other luminaries including Carl Linnaeus, Mary Anning, and William Smith. They tell stories and anecdotes of their lives and discoveries. [5]

In her biography Discovering Dorothea: the Life of the Pioneering Fossil-Hunter Dorothea Bate, Karolyn Shindler describes Bate as "witty, acerbic, clever and courageous". [5] Shindler is also the author of the biography in the 2004 edition of the Dictionary of National Biography . [1]

Selected publications



A watercolour portrait of Bate as a young woman, drawn by her sister, is at the Natural History Museum. In it she wears a black dress trimmed with white lace, and a large pink rose. [1]


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 Bate, Dorothea Minola Alice (1878–1951), palaeontologist by Karolyn Shindler in Dictionary of National Biography online (accessed 23 November 2007)
  2. 1 2 "Wollaston Fund". Award Winners Since 1831. The Geological Society of London. Retrieved 20 May 2014.
  3. 1 2 3 4 Making no bones about hunting fossils at dated 4 July 2005 (accessed 5 March 2013)
  4. 1 2 3 "Dorothea Bate: Carmarthen scientist gets blue plaque". BBC News. 6 December 2017. Retrieved 6 December 2017.
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Review by Miles Russell of Discovering Dorothea: the Life of the Pioneering Fossil-Hunter Dorothea Bate by Karolyn Shindler at (accessed 23 November 2007)
  6. 1 2 Bate, Dorothy M. A.: Preliminary Note on the Discovery of a Pigmy Elephant in the Pleistocene of Cyprus in Proceedings of the Royal Society of London Vol. 71 (1902–1903), pp. 498–500
  7. Dorothea Bate, Cyprus work diary 1901–02, 3 volumes, Natural History Museum's earth sciences library, palaeontology MSS
  8. Evans, Arthur: The Early Nilotic, Libyan and Egyptian Relations with Minoan Crete in The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland Vol. 55, Jul. – Dec. 1925 (Jul. – Dec. 1925), pp. 199–228
  9. Shindler, Karolyn: Discovering Dorothea: the Life of the Pioneering Fossil-Hunter Dorothea Bate (2005)
  10. Nicholas Blincoe (2017). Bethlehem: Biography of a Town. Hachette UK. pp. 20–21. ISBN   9781472128638.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  11. Simon J. M. Davis (2012). The Archaeology of Animals. Routledge. p. 62. ISBN   9781135106591.
  12. Nimrod Marom, Reuven Yeshuran, Lior Weissbrod, Guy Bar-Oz (2016). Bones and Identity: Zooarchaeological Approaches to Reconstructing Social and Cultural Landscapes in Southwest Asia. Oxbow Books. ISBN   9781785701733.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  13. 1 2 D. A. Garrod, D. M. A. Bate, Eds., The Stone Age of Mount Carmel, Volume 1: Excavations at the Wady El-Mughara (Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1937)
  14. On the Occurrence of Hippopotamus in the Iron Age of the Coastal Area of Israel (Tell Qasileh) by Georg Haas in Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, No. 132 (Dec. 1953), pp. 30–34
  15. Probate, granted 5 April 1951, CGPLA England & Wales
  16. ’’Further Note on the Remains of Elephas cypriotes from a Cave-Deposit in Cyprus’’ by Dorothea M. A. Bate in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, Series B, Containing Papers of a Biological Character, Vol. 197 (1905), pp. 347–360
  17. Bate, D.M.A. 1907. On Elephant Remains from Crete, with Description of Elephas creticus sp.n. Proc. zool. Soc. London. pp. 238–250.
  18. Garrod, D. A. E., Buxton, L. H. D., Elliot Smith, G. & Bate, D. M. A. (1928) Excavation of a Mousterian Rock-shelter at Devil's Tower, Gibraltar in Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 58, pp. 91–113
  19. A Note on the Fauna of the Athlit Caves by Dorothea M. A. Bate in The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, Vol. 62, Jul. – Dec. 1932 (Jul. – Dec. 1932), pp. 277–279
  20. "Pioneering scientist Dorothea Bate receives blue plaque recognition | Natural History Museum". Natural History Museum. Retrieved 8 December 2017.

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