MEDIEVAL women may have been the artists behind some of Europe’s most richly-illustrated books, according to research by the University of York.

Scientists have discovered ultramarine pigment trapped in the teeth of a female skeleton dating back to the 11th century. It was buried within the grounds of a monastery, once home to a community of nuns, which now stands in ruins at Dalheim in Germany.

The discovery, by researchers from the university and the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, adds to growing evidence that nuns in medieval Europe were not only literate, but also involved in the production of books. Ultramarine pigment is made from the precious stone lapis lazuli.

The researchers suggest the pigments may have got into the woman’s mouth as she repeatedly licked her brush into a fine point to paint intricate detail on manuscripts.

Inspection of the women’s teeth revealed more than 100 particles of deep blue colour, encased within fragments of her dental calculus.