Those in whom the mention of Dorothea Bate sparks instant recognition will be few. It is true that she was never exactly a celebrity in her own lifetime, but in the first half of the twentieth century, in the small circle of palaeontologists and archaeologists whose working lives were spent sifting through the strata of the earth’s history, the name of Dorothea Bate was one to be reckoned with.
Karolyn Shindler has written a splendidly readable and sympathetic account of a life dominated by a singular and single-minded passion for ancient bones. Along the way, we get a vivid picture of a particular kind of society, populated by unselfconsciously unconventional, energetic, inquiring, self-taught figures who, often against all sorts of odds, became innovative and inspiring scholars.
Of Dorothea Bate’s personal life there is little to say – although Schindler has turned every stone in her search for clues. This is partly because many of Dorothea’s letters were destroyed by a fire in her sister’s home, but has more to do with her own relentlessly energetic interest