Interview

The Council of Majorca’s Director General for Equality Nina Parrón Mate is fascinated about the life of the British palaeontologist and pioneer of archaeozoology.

08-05-2017

When the current Balearic government came to power three years ago, the Council of Majorca’s Director General for Equality, Nina Parrón Mate, decided that it was about time that Majorca began paying tribute to a long list of influential women who have played an important part in the history of the island.

In 2016, the Council of Majorca honoured Catalina Homar from Valldemossa, the alleged lover of the famous Archduke Salvador, who would have been the executor of his sprawling estate across the Tramuntana.

In 2017, the honour went to long time German resident of Pollensa, the late Clara Hammerl.

The wife of Guillem Cifre de Colonya, the founder of the Colonya cooperative savings bank, Hammerl was originally from what is now Poland (then Prussia). In 1908, following her husband’s suicide, she became the first female director of a Spanish bank. She was also dedicated to the liberal education that she and her husband had established in Pollensa.

And this year, the Council of Majorca is going to be paying tribute to the famous British palaeontologist and pioneer of archaeozoology Dorothea Bate who was born in Gellidywyll, Carmarthenshire in 1878 and made a major discovery on Majorca in 1906 in Capdepera.

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. She was probably the first woman to be employed as a scientist by the museum. 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).

She later undertook expeditions to many other Mediterranean islands, including Crete, Corsica, Sardinia, Malta, and the Balearics, publishing work on their prehistoric fauna.

It was here in Majorca in 1909, she discovered Myotragus Balearicus, a previously unknown species of the subfamily Caprinae.

It was basically half goat and half rat. Also known as the Balearic cave goat, it lived in Majorca and Minorca until its extinction around 5,000 years ago.

And, until Bate made this great discovery in a cave in Capdepera, no one knew about the animal.

Little still is know about Bate’s time in Majorca and that is why she is going to be honoured this year.

Only one biography has ever been written about her life by Caroline Schindler and it includes two chapters about Bate’s time in Majorca.

The Council of Majorca has purchased the rights to the two chapters, these are being translated into Catalan and Caroline has agreed to write the introduction to a book which will be published later this summer.

It will also be accompanied by a comic relating her exploration in Majorcan, which at the time was extremely challenging.

Initially her parents would not allow her to come to Majorca without a chaperone and it took months to find a woman prepared to come to an island considered remote and somewhat uncivilized at the time.

However, Bate eventually made it to Majorca and in a cave down a cliff face, which she had to scale down by rope dressed in her finest, discovered the goat rat in Capdepera.

The highlight of this year’s homage to the great woman as part of the Mallorca té nom de don (Majorca has a woman’s name)is going to be the unveiling of a bust of Bate in the centre of Capdepera towards the end of the year and the local council is going to host a special weekend in her honour and charter a boat to carry out excursions out to sea so people can see the cave and hear about Bate’s magnificent and historic achievement here in Majorca.

Nina said that the Council of Majorca would also like to twin Capdepera with Camarthon and invite the Mayor to the unveiling of the bust.

Nina is extremely proud of her project to create greater awareness to the work of great women in Majorca.

“What is also extremely impressive about Bate is that during all her career she had to balance it with looking after her parents and her expedition to Majorca was her last. After that she spent more time caring for her mother and father and acted as a guide and expert on other expeditions, but carried out very few more on her own.

“Since we’ve started this project, many local councils have become involved and more and more streets, squares, parks and municipal buildings are being renamed in honour of famous or influential local women and next year we will be publishing a book about all of the women who have had a historically profound and important impact on Majorca.
“We also want to get the British government involved, we would love to have the comic, which is being drawn from old pictures of Bate, translated in to English.

“The German consul here was very excited and eager to get involved last year and we hope that the British Embassy in Madrid responds in a similar way.

“This British woman is a major part of the island’s history and we want the British community to help us acknowledge her achievements,” Nina added.

Having said that, Bate apparently found 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: “Her days were spent on foot or mule, traversing barren and bandit-infested terrains and sleeping in flea-ridden hovels and shacks. She would wade through turbulent swells to reach isolated cliff caves where she scuffled about, covered in mud and clay, never without her collecting bag, nets, insect boxes, hammer and – later – dynamite.”