Rare blue pigment on medieval teeth gives peek at woman's hidden life
Rare blue pigment on medieval teeth gives peek at woman's hidden life
Rare Gemstone Hidden in Ancient Teeth Reveals a Surprising Truth About Medieval Women
12 January, 2019, 23:37
During the European Middle Ages, ultramarine blue pigment made from lapis lazuli ground into a powder was a rare commodity mined only in Afghanistan and restricted to use in luxury books of high value and importance.
The woman likely painted richly illuminated religious texts used by members of religious institutions and nobles, according to researchers who examined her dental remains.
The plaque in question belonged to a middle-aged woman buried in a small women's monastery in Dalheim, Germany around A.D. The earliest known written records from the monastery date to 1244 AD. It is not known precisely when the monastery was founded, but scholars believe that it housed groups of 14 women for several hundred years, until it was destroyed by a fire in the 14th century.
Flecks of blue pigment found in the teeth of a woman who lived up to a thousand years ago present a surprising picture of her life as a medieval nun in Europe. She was recalling the discovery of the blue flecks in the tooth with a colleague while both were studying other aspects of the remains such as diet and disease.
Ultramarine is made by grinding and purifying lazurite crystals from lapis lazuli stones.
The teeth of one woman who died between the age of 45 and 60 stood out for the numerous blue bits embedded in their calculus. "Based on the distribution of the pigment in her mouth, we concluded that the most likely scenario was that she was herself painting with the pigment and licking the end of the brush while painting", states co-first author Monica Tromp of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. It was fabulously expensive, ranking alongside silver and gold, and it would have been used to paint illustrations in only the most lavish, ornate, and expensive illuminated manuscripts.
Scientists have discovered ultramarine pigment trapped in the teeth of a female skeleton dating back to the 11th century.
The authors' conclusion is supported by a growing body of evidence that suggests religious women in Germany and Austria played a particularly active role in book production. Though many medieval scribes and painters didn't sign their work, it's always been assumed that women played a limited role in producing such highly valued documents.
The study's findings are remarkable not only because they suggest that women were involved in the production of expensive illuminated manuscript, but because they offer insight into the life of an anonymous woman whose name has been lost to history. The woman's remains were originally a relatively unremarkable find from a relatively unremarkable place, or so it seemed.
"She was plugged into a vast global commercial network stretching from the mines of Afghanistan to her community in medieval Germany through the trading metropolises of Islamic Egypt and Byzantine Constantinople".
"Tartar is really fantastic", said co-author Christina Warinner, an anthropologist who studies ancient microbiomes at the Max Planck Institute in Germany. And the study also shows how spectroscopic methods can help uncover those hidden stories.
In medieval times it was just as expensive as gold and there were few other blue pigments at artists' disposal.
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