Beautiful medieval illuminated manuscripts have for centuries thought to have been the work of male scribes.
But now archaeologists have found conclusive proof that nuns were involved in producing sacred texts.
Tests on the teeth of a middle-aged female skeleton at a cemetery attached to a medieval nunnery in Germany showed flecks of a rare blue pigment on her teeth.
Scientific detective work reveals that the blue colour – ultramarine, made from the semi-precious stone lapis lazuli – indicates she must have been involved in painting the holy books, and licked the end of her paintbrush when using the rare pigment.
The discovery shows women were producing art in a time when it was considered largely the preserve of men.
Lapis lazuli was costly as it was produced from a single mine in Afghanistan.
In medieval times it was just as expensive as gold and there were few other blue pigments at artists’ disposal.
The use of ultramarine was reserved, along with gold and silver, for the most luxurious manuscripts and the most skilled artists.
In a study published in Science Advances, a team of researchers from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History and the University of York discovered a woman had been buried at the convent at around 1100AD.