Web Desk: In nature, blue pigments are relatively rare, occurring in mineral seams that must be mined. Throughout the European medieval period (5th to 15th centuries AD), only a small number of natural and synthetic blue pigments were known, including ultramarine, azurite, Egyptian blue, smalt, and vivianite.
The discovery of a rare, expensive blue pigment in the dental plaque of a medieval woman’s skeleton is shedding light on hidden chapter of history, according to a study published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances, report CNN.
According to researchers, burial remains from a medieval cemetery connected with a women’s monastery in Germany, where they believe a women’s community existed as early as the 10th century.
There are few records of the monastery itself because it was destroyed in a fire after a series of nearby battles during the 14th century, but written records there date to 1244.
The researchers were studying a skeleton of a woman who was estimated to be between 45 and 60 years old when she died sometime between 997 and 1162. The skeleton itself was unremarkable, with no visible signs of trauma or infection.
But blue flecks were embedded in her teeth. Multiple spectrographic analyses revealed the blue pigment to be ultramarine, a rare pigment made from crushed lapis lazuli stones. It was as expensive as gold at the time, mined from a single region in Afghanistan and the ultimate luxury trade good then.
Ultramarine and gold leaf would have been used to create illustrated illuminated manuscripts and luxury books in monasteries, mostly for other religious institutions and the nobility. Only the most skilled artists were allowed to use them because of their cost.
That the discovery was made in a rural German monastery is no surprise; books were being produced during this time in monasteries across the country. But women were not known to be the illustrators of such prized creations.