Discovery of pious Medieval women who quietly painted and wrote books
January 9, 2019 3:06 PM Subscribe
Anthropologist Christina Warinner of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History and her colleagues took samples of [...] fossilized dental plaque, or calculus, [from a woman who lived sometime between 997 and 1162 CE] in 2014 to check for microscopic remains of plants, which would offer clues about the medieval woman’s diet. But when they dissolved the sample to extract the plant bits, the process also released hundreds of tiny blue particles. [Ars Technica] Medieval women’s early involvement in manuscript production suggested by lapis lazuli identification in dental calculus [Science Advances | Anthropology - full paper]
More from Ars Technica:
More from Ars Technica:
Recent historical research suggests that for much of the Middle Ages, nuns were prolific producers of religious books, especially in Germany and Austria, where records as early as the 700s CE mention books transcribed and illuminated by women. In Germany, about 4,000 books produced between 1200 and 1500 CE can be attributed to 400 specific female scribes.[Christina Warinner named one of the Top 10 “Scientists to Watch” in 2017]
For the early Medieval period, when the unnamed illuminator of Dalheim lived and worked, it’s a different story. Fewer records—and fewer books—survive from those early days. And even at surviving libraries of women’s monasteries before 1100 CE, only about one percent of the books can be clearly connected with female scribes and painters.
But the woman from Dalheim tells us, through the telltale blue flecks in her mouth, that women were scribing and painting manuscripts in medieval Europe, even if history had forgotten them. Until the 1400s CE, most scribes and painters didn’t sign their work, as a mark of humility, and that has largely erased women from the record, leaving historians to assume all the scribes were men.
“The case of Dalheim raises questions as to how many other early women’s communities in Germany, including communities engaged in book production, have been similarly erased from history,” wrote Warinner and her colleagues. Warinner added in a statement to the press, “This woman’s story could have remained [hidden] forever without these techniques. It makes me wonder how many other artists we might find in medieval cemeteries—if we only look.”
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