Small flecks of blue inside of the mouth of a medieval skeleton are raising big questions about women’s role in ancient religious manuscripts.

The skeleton of a woman, believed to be from the 11th or early 12th century, was discovered buried near a women’s monastery in western Germany with an expensive pigment staining lower jaw, according to research article in the peer-reviewed scientific journal Science Advances . The pigment, made from lapis lazuli stones found in Afghanistan, was as valuable as gold at the time.

The pigment was used to illustrate luxury books and religious texts – and authors were long thought to be monks, not women. Before the 12th century, less than 1 percent of books were attributed to women, according to the research article.

Researchers believe this 45- to 60-year-old woman, who might have been a nun, could have been a book or painter of highly-respected manuscripts. She could have obtained the blue stains in her mouth from the practice of licking her brush to make a fine point.

“This woman represents the earliest direct evidence of ultramarine pigment usage by a religious woman in Germany,” the article states.

She was involved in the preparation of the pigment, she ate powdered lapis as a form of medicine or she regularly kissed figures as a religious practice.

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