Scientists recently alit on a most rare discovery when they detected the extremely rare and costly blue pigment known as ultramarine embedded within the teeth of a medieval woman who had been buried in a special German cemetery.
As CNN report, it is believed that this monastery may have sprung into existence during the 10th century. Despite the fact that the monastery itself was eventually burned to the ground during the 14th century, thus destroying most of its records, written records have still been found which can be dated all the way back to 1244.
Researchers made the important discovery of the blue pigment after they first decided to study the remains of her skeleton, but at first noticed nothing very spectacular about her life or her death, noting that she would have been in the vicinity of between 45 and 60 years old at the time that she died, which is estimated to have occurred between the years 997 and 1162.
However, what did eventually astonish and capture the imaginations of those who were studying this woman is that vibrant blue flecks of pigment were found stuck inside of her teeth, which were later shown to be ultramarine after a series of spectrographic analyses were conducted.
Ultramarine, which technically means “beyond the sea,” was such a rare pigment during the medieval era that it would have been at least as expensive, if not more so, than gold. This was mainly down to the fact that ultramarine was created from crushed lapis lazuli, which at the time was only to be found within a rugged stretch of mountains in the north of Afghanistan.
A rare blue pigment, discovered on the teeth of a Medieval nun, suggests that women of that time were more involved than thought in producing religious texts https://t.co/gvolUnQDBG
— The New York Times (@nytimes) January 10, 2019
Both gold leaf and ultramarine were known to have been costly devices used to embellish illuminated manuscripts and incredibly decadent and luxurious books, which is work that would have frequently taken place in monasteries.
And while the discovery of the blue pigment on the site of a cemetery connected with a German monastery is not shocking in and of itself, that the ultramarine was found embedded in a woman’s teeth is, as up until now females were not generally known to have been greatly involved with this kind of artwork.
Alison Beach, the new study’s co-author and a historian at Ohio State University, explained that few people would have been allowed to touch ultramarine during this time.
“Only scribes and painters of exceptional skill would have been entrusted with its use.”
After constructing different scenarios in which the remains of blue pigment could land in someone’s teeth, scientists involved in the new study eventually reached the conclusion that the medieval woman was clearly a painter, and that this was the only logical way that she could have ended up with so much ultramarine embedded within her teeth.
As Monica Tromp, a microbioarchaeologist at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, noted, “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.”
Michael McCormick, who is a co-author of the new study and also a historian at Harvard University, has stated that the woman found in the monastery’s cemetery would have lived during a time in which there was a tremendous network that fueled artistry which would have began with the mining of lapis lazuli in Afghanistan and the transportation of the precious pigment ultramarine throughout Germany and elsewhere.
“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. The growing economy of 11th century Europe fired demand for the precious and exquisite pigment that traveled thousands of miles via merchant caravan and ships to serve this woman artist’s creative ambition.”
After carefully analyzing the skeleton of the medieval woman with the blue pigment in her teeth, scientists concluded that she had done very little physical labor during her lifetime and, in keeping with most of the other females in German monastic communities, most likely hailed from a noble family.