Blue Pigment In A Medieval Nun's Teeth Sheds Light On Women's Role In Manuscript Writing


An archaeologist accidentally stumbles upon a blue pigment, specifically called ultramarine, deep within the tartar of a medieval nun, which sheds light on the possible contribution of women on ancient religious manuscript writing.

University of York archaeologist Anita Radini, who had been looking at the dental plaques of several remains of people, has seen everything trapped in between the teeth, including food, bacteria, and DNA. However, she saw one thing years ago that was very unusual and was a cause for further study: a blue pigment that was so visible and bright it was unmissable to the naked eye.

Blue Pigment From Lapis Lazuli

In a study published in Science Advances, the team revealed that the blue particles came from the stone lapis lazuli, an extremely expensive and uber-rare ornamental material from Afghanistan. The nun, referred to as B78 and who was dug up near a monastery in Germany, was believed to be around 45 to 60 years old when she died and was estimated to be alive from 997 to 1162 A.D.

Researchers believed that the medieval nun was either an artist or a scribe of illuminated manuscripts, which debunks common notion that monks were the only ones who wrote religious texts during the time. There were limited information about the site where the nun was from since the monastery burned down during the 14th century.

"B78 consumed lapis lazuli in the context of lapidary medicine, or (iv) B78 performed emotive devotional osculation of illuminated books produced by others," the study further concluded.

Findings About The Blue Pigment

Furthermore, the experts say that the blue pigment "was as, or more, valuable than the gold applied to manuscripts" during the time since it had to travel long before it reached Europe. Meanwhile, Radini first saw the blue pigment when she dissolved the nun's tartar in acid, a process which most scientists and archaeologists do to plaques to examine other particles present. That's when she saw the traces of the color, which were gone the day after because of the solution.

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