Book of the month

18 Apr 2024

Discovering Dorothea: The Life of the Pioneering Fossil-Hunter Dorothea Bate, Karolyn Shindler, HarperCollins Publishers, 2005.

Discovering Dorothea: The Life of the Pioneering Fossil-Hunter Dorothea Bate, Karolyn Shindler, HarperCollins Publishers, 2005.

Dorothea Minola Alice Bate (1878–1951) was a Welsh palaeontologist and pioneer of archaeozoology. Born at a time when women faced significant barriers in pursuing scientific careers, Bate defied the constraints of her formal education, driven instead by an innate curiosity for the natural world. At 19, she departed her Welsh hometown, guided solely by her passion, and sought employment at the Natural History Museum of London. For more than five decades, Bate's tenure at the museum saw her at the forefront of groundbreaking expeditions that spanned the globe, from the sun-kissed shores of Cyprus to the ancient landscapes of Palestine. Her expertise blossomed in archaeozoology, the study of animal remains, where she made ground-breaking discoveries, including fossilized elephants and the bones of a giant tortoise in Bethlehem. Despite her humble beginnings, initially classifying bird skins, Bate's true calling lay in unravelling the mysteries of evolution and adaptation across species.

Bate exhibited an early fascination with the natural world and embarked on a journey that would lead her to become one of the most renowned fossil hunters of her time. With a keen eye for detail and an adventurous spirit, she conducted ground-breaking expeditions across Europe and the Mediterranean, exploring caves and excavating fossilized remains with meticulous care.

One of the book's notable aspects is its focus on Bate's expeditions to Cyprus, where she made several significant discoveries. The passages vividly capture the excitement and sense of discovery that accompanied her archaeological excavations. Through detailed descriptions and evocative storytelling, readers are transported to the landscapes of Cyprus, where Bate's pioneering spirit and unwavering dedication to her craft shine through.

The Troodos Mountains in Cyprus provided the dramatic setting for Dorothea Bate's expeditions, where she unearthed a wealth of fossilized remains and other extinct species. These discoveries not only expanded our knowledge of prehistoric life but also cemented Bate's reputation as a leading authority in her field. Among her most notable finds were the fossilized remains of dwarf elephants, which provided valuable insights into the ancient ecosystems that once thrived on the island.

Moreover, Bate's expeditions to Cyprus were not just scientific endeavours but also adventured fraught with challenges and triumphs. “I like this place immensely but have not done much collecting yet as my tin has not arrived and my gun is still in the customs […].” In the initial stages, she had to fight with the formidable forces of nature, battling against the elements to gather her invaluable samples. While seeking relief from the searing heat, she stumbled upon a captivating local custom: farmers capturing locusts in sacks, and then selling them based on weight. “All I saw seemed to be just the grasshoppers that are all over the fields – several kinds.”

Overall, Discovering Dorothea” is a compelling biography that pays tribute to the life and achievements of a remarkable woman. With its engaging narrative and detailed research, this book offers readers a glimpse into the fascinating world of Dorothea Bate and her enduring legacy in palaeontology.

You can find this book, and many more, in the Research Centre of the CVAR.

The 'Book Of The Month' series is made possible with the support of OPAP (Cyprus).

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