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Medieval woman's art career revealed by blue stains on teeth

This undated photo released by the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena, Germany, shows a piece of lapis lazuli. During the European Middle Ages, Afghanistan was the only known source of the rare blue stone which at the time was ground up and used as a pigment. Modern-day scientists who examined the 1,000 year-old remains of a middle-aged woman in Germany discovered the semi-precious stone in the tartar on her teeth. From that, they concluded the woman was an artist involved in creating illuminated manuscripts, a task usually associated with monks. The find is considered the most direct evidence yet of a woman taking part in the making of high-quality illuminated manuscripts, the lavishly illustrated religious and secular texts of the Middle Ages. And it corroborates other findings that suggest female artisans were not as rare as previously thought. (Christina Warinner/Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History via AP)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Brilliant blue flecks found on the teeth of a woman who died anonymously in Germany about 1,000 years ago have cast new light on the role of women and art in medieval Europe.

The blue particles, it turns out, were lapis lazuli (LAP'-iss LAZ'-oo-lee), a semi-precious stone that was ground up and used a pigment.

From that, scientists have concluded the woman was an artist involved in creating illuminated manuscripts — a task usually associated with monks.

The discovery corroborates other findings that suggest female artisans in the Middle Ages were not as rare as previously thought.

The study was published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances.

One of the authors, Ohio State University professor Alison Beach, says it's "kind of bombshell" for the field of medieval history.

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