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A Blue Clue In Medieval Teeth Suggests Women Helped Create Lavish Books Too

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tags: medieval history, womens history



Tiny bits of blue pigment found in the teeth of a medieval skeleton reveal that, more than 850 years ago, this seemingly ordinary woman likely was involved in the production of lavishly illustrated sacred texts.

The unexpected discovery, described in the journal Science Advances, astonished scientists who weren't setting out to study female artists in the Middle Ages. It adds to a growing recognition that women, and not just monks, labored as the anonymous scribes who painstakingly copied manuscripts and decorated the pages to dazzle the eye.

This particular woman lived in a small religious community at Dalheim, Germany. Little is known about life there, says Christina Warinner of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Germany.

"Basically all that remains are the stone foundations. A broken comb was found, but almost nothing else," Warinner says. "There are no books that survived. There's no art that survives. It's known only from a handful of scraps of text that mention it in passing."

She and a colleague were examining the teeth of skeletons from this community's cemetery to see what had been preserved in the dental calculus, or tartar. Tartar forms from sticky plaque that traps remnants of food, bacteria and even pollen, and then hardens over time.

"It's really an extraordinary material," Warinner says. "It's actually the only part of your body that fossilizes while you're still alive."

Read entire article at NPR

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