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Dorothea Bate

Dorothea Bate

Welsh palaeontologist and archaeozoologist
The basics
Quick Facts
Occupations Anthropologist Paleontologist Ornithologist Archaeologist Zoologist
Countries United Kingdom
A.K.A. Dorothea Minola Alice Bate
Gender female
Birth November 8, 1878 (Carmarthen)
Death January 13, 1951 (Westcliff-on-Sea)
The details

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.

Early life

Born in Carmarthenshire, Bate was the daughter of Police Superintendent Henry Reginald Bate and his wife Elizabeth Fraser Whitehill. She had an older sister and a younger brother. She had little formal education and once commented that her education "was only briefly interrupted by school".


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. 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.

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.

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. 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. While in Cyprus she also observed (and trapped, shot and skinned) 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). In Cyprus, Bate lodged mostly at Paphos with a District Commissioner called Wodehouse. When not travelling in remote areas, often alone, she led an active social life.

She later undertook expeditions to many other Mediterranean islands, including Crete, Corsica, Sardinia, Malta, and the Balearic Islands, publishing work on their prehistoric fauna. In the Balearics in 1909, she discovered Myotragus balearicus, a previously unknown species of the subfamily Caprinae. On the plateau of Kat, in eastern Crete, she found remains of the Cretan dwarf hippopotamus. 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, such as Arthur Evans.

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."

According to The Daily Telegraph

In the 1920s, Bate worked with the archaeologist Professor Dorothy Garrod in Palestine, and in 1937 they published together 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. Among other finds, they reported remains of the hippopotamus.

Bate also worked with Percy R. Lowe on fossil ostriches in China. She was a pioneering archaeozoologist, especially in the field of climatic interpretation. She compared the relative proportions of Gazella and Dama remains.

In the late 1930s, towards the end of her career in field work, Bate found the bones of a giant tortoise in Bethlehem.

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.

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. 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. On her desk at Tring was a list of 'Papers to write'. By the last in the list she had written Swan Song.

Her estate at death amounted to £15,369.

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.

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

Selected publications

  • A short account of a bone cave in the Carboniferous limestone of the Wye valley, Geological Magazine, new series, 4th decade, 8 (1901), pp. 101–6
  • Preliminary Note on the Discovery of a Pigmy Elephant in the Pleistocene of Cyprus (1902–1903)
  • Further Note on the Remains of Elephas cypriotes from a Cave-Deposit in Cyprus (1905)
  • On Elephant Remains from Crete, with Description of Elephas creticus (1907)
  • Excavation of a Mousterian rock-shelter at Devil's Tower, Gibraltar (with Dorothy Garrod, L. H. D. Buxton, and G. M. Smith, 1928)
  • A Note on the Fauna of the Athlit Caves (1932)
  • The Stone Age of Mount Carmel, volume 1, part 2: Palaeontology, the Fossil Fauna of the Wady el-Mughara Caves (with Professor Dorothy Garrod, 1937)
  • ’’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
  • Bate, D.M.A. 1907. On Elephant Remains from Crete, with Description of Elephas creticus sp.n. Proc. zool. Soc. London. pp. 238–250.
  • 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
  • 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


  • 1940: Wollaston Fund of the Geological Society
  • 1940: Elected fellow of the Geological Society
  • "Wollaston Fund". Award Winners Since 1831. The Geological Society of London. Retrieved 20 May 2014. 


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.

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