We have recently and unexpectedly revealed direct archaeological evidence of the involvement of medieval women in the production of manuscripts, difficult widespread hypotheses Throughout the Middle Ages, male monks were the only producers of books. We did it by identifying blue pigment particles in the fossilized dental plaque representing the remains of a medieval woman under the name of lapis lazuli, a more precious stone than gold in his day . The discoveries are the first of their kind and strongly suggest that it would be possible to increase the visibility of ancient artists in the historical and archaeological archives – by analyzing their dirty teeth. This discovery has been made possible through the application of technological advances in the field of archeology. science to a little studied "deposit" on teeth known as dental calculus, which is a mineralized plaque (tartar). Nowadays, in most societies, oral hygiene practices are part of our everyday life, that is, dental plaque is regularly removed and has no chance of accumulating. This was not the case in the past. Plate accumulated and mineralized during the course of life. This solid deposit has unique archaeological potential. One of the key features of dental plaque is that it forms, even if it forms, the ability to trap a wide range of microscopic and molecular debris who comes in contact with a person's mouth. When plaque becomes "tartar", it can penetrate and preserve these particles and molecules for hundreds, even thousands of years, even millions. This gives us a unique insight, at the individual level, of the diet and living conditions of the ancient peoples.

One can see the tartar of the female individual known as the B78 deposited on her teeth. Photo of Tina Warinner, Author providedMore

Most of the scientific work on the old scale has been focused on rebuild the regimebut, in addition to the deliberate ingestion of food, the mouth of man is subject to a constant influx of particles of different types directly from the environment. The pollen from trees and herbs, spores, cotton fibers and cotton fibers, medicinal plants, as well as diatoms, sponges of sponges and micro-charcoal have all been reported among the discoveries of an ancient tartar. Despite this promising evidence, the value of dental calculus as environmental evidence has not been widely exploited so far. recent studymade possible by multidisciplinary international collaborations, we have demonstrated that human dental calculus can reveal an unprecedented level of understanding of the life and working conditions of our ancestors.

Lapis lazuli

We analyzed the remains of the skeleton of a woman (known as B78) who lived between the eleventh and twelfth century. She was buried in the grounds of a former women's monastery in Dalheim, Germany, today in ruins, but occupied by various Catholic religious orders for about a thousand years. We found more than 100 bright blue particles, in the form of small crystals and individual speckles, scattered in its scale, which was still preserved on its teeth. Her skeletal remains had not suggested anything specific about her life, unless it was a general indication that she probably did not have a physically trying life. In contrast, the blue particles were an unprecedented discovery, not only for their color, but also for their very large numbers. She suggested repeated exposure to an unknown powder or blue powder. The story continues

Lazurite in the calculation of the female B78. Photo of Monica Tromp, CC BY-NC


To safely identify the bright blue powder trapped in the woman's tartar, various microscopy and spectroscopy techniques were used. All the techniques gave the same identification: the blue dots were lazurite, the blue part of the lapis lazuli stone. Lapis lazuli was more valuable than gold in medieval Europe. Afghanistan was the only source of stone at the time, and pigment preparation was highly skilled.


So how was this precious material deposited on the teeth of this woman? Various reasons were possible, from paint to accidental ingestion during the preparation of the pigment, to the consumption of the powder as a medicine. But the way in which the blue particles were found in the calculus – unique spots in different areas – indicated a repetition. exposure, not one ingestion. And creating a bright blue pigment from lapis lazuli required an Arab method of flotation of oil that did not appear in the European artist manuals until the 15th century. It is therefore more likely that the ultramarine pigment has been imported into the region as a finished product.

Archaeological site of Dalheim in Germany, where the individual B78 was buried. Photo of Tina Warinner, Author providedMore

The most plausible explanation is that it was an artist who repeatedly used his lips to shape his brush into a point in order to paint intricate details on manuscripts, a practice attested in the historical records of the time. women have been more involved in the production of books throughout the Middle Ages than one tends to think. This hypothesis stems in part from the limited evidence of surviving books: before the 12th century less than 1% of the books Women's work can be attributed to women's work. In addition, the historical and archaeological archives do not usually mention artists, as they rarely signed their work before the 15th century and there was no skeletal landmark to date. associated with artistic production. But now we have a way to identify previous historical artists. Our work strongly suggests the possibility of using microscopic particles buried in the ancient tartar to follow the artists of ancient times. He also suggests that it would be possible to follow other "dusty" trades using this method and thus reveal the invisible work force behind many forms of art. This article is republished from The conversation under Creative Commons license. Read it original article.

Anita Radini's work on the medieval female artist mentioned in this article was partially funded by the Max Planck Society and the Leverhulme Trust (through a Leverhulme award given to Dr. Camilla Speller) . She also receives funding from the Wellcome Trust.Christina Warinner receives funding from the US National Science Foundation, the US National Institutes of Health, the Max Planck Society and the European Research Council. Monica Tromp has received funding from Max Planck.