Not surprisingly, women living in the Middle Ages did not always receive the merit they deserved, but tangible evidence that our men-centered view of history continues to be undermined is always welcome.
A new study claims that lapis lazuli was found in the teeth of the remains of a medieval woman, that she was an artist. Researchers call the discovery a "bomb" because it provides an extremely unusual testimony to the role women played as a gifted artist.
"This is a bombshell for my field," said Alison Beach, a professor of medieval history at Ohio State University and co-author of the study, told Associated Press. "It is so rare to find material evidence for the artistic and literary work of women in the Middle Ages."
"B78", when the anonymous skeleton was identified, was 45 to 60 years old when she died. She was buried between 1000 and 1200 AD in a monastery in Germany. The researchers first examined the mouth of the anonymous skeleton to better understand the medieval diet.
But the discovery they made was much more significant. The resulting study, published in Science Advances by the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History and the University of York, found remnants of stone lapis lazuli.
At that time, Lapis was used to make blue pigment and it was as valuable as gold. Artists have created specially illuminated manuscripts that are elaborately painted and often provided with valuable materials. The researchers said that only experienced painters were entrusted with this task and therefore were some of the few people who had access to the stone.
Lapis Lazuli in the teeth of a medieval woman. How did ancient remnants of a blue stone get into the mouth of the skeleton?
Researchers believe that licking the tip of a brush was a common way to get a subtle hint at the time. There are other explanations for how the lapis might have come into her mouth; Maybe she helped make the stone, or it could have been used as a medical treatment. However, a frequently-licked brush is the most likely explanation for the amount of lapis that was in B78's mouth many centuries later.
It's pretty cool to learn that a random skeleton in the Middle Ages was an elite artist. The discovery, however, has more impact. Writers of the time have written every hand-made book, and although only a few have been credited, it is believed that women made more contributions as well as received less recognition than is known. This discovery supports this belief.
"Since things are much better documented for men, people are encouraged to imagine a masculine world," Beach told the AP. "This helps us to correct these prejudices, and this tooth opens a window depicting women's activities."