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“When an academic makes a research breakthrough, two things can happen in the public consciousness: nothing, or something. It’s hard to know which is worse. Let’s say you’re a physicist who discovers a particle that isn’t affected by gravity. If nobody outside the physics world cares about your discovery, you sigh, shake your head, get back to the lab. If your story does hit the newspapers, on the other hand, you’ll have to adjust to a different kind of outrage: Your scrupulous research will be repurposed into some bad headline (“GRAVITY DISPROVEN”) designed to yank eyeballs, extract clicks, and generally trample over your precious academic principles.
Last week, the second thing happened. In a new article for Science Advances, Anita Radini, an archaeologist at Britain’s University of York, published evidence showing the presence of lapis lazuli—an ancient, rare, lovely blue stone pigment—on the teeth of a medieval German nun. The nun’s skeleton, named “B78,” dates from the 11th or early 12th century and was found in an unmarked grave in the German town of Dalheim. By working with tartar experts, microscopists, and medieval historians, Radini was able to conclude that this woman must have been a painter or scribe (or both) who illuminated manuscripts.
She must also have been a very good one, since lapis lazuli was an extremely expensive pigment only mined in Afghanistan. It was reserved for the hands of high-end professionals. The pigment probably got into her mouth directly from the paintbrush, over the course of many years of work.
The story is delightful, all by itself. There’s an element of chance to the findings—nobody was looking for lapis lazuli on these teeth—which lends them the charm of serendipity. The confluence of beautiful medieval art and chemistry has a poetry all of its own.”
JJ Editor's Daily Picks
"Political leaders from all French parties, including former presidents Francois Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy, joined Jews and non-Jews in Paris’s Place de la Republique to condemn antisemitic acts."
"Eighty years ago tonight, thousands of Americans gathered in New York to rally behind the Nazi Party and its ideals. An Oscar-nominated short documentary retrieves footage of the event, but leaves out the context that gives it meaning."
"The PM has persuaded the religious-Zionist Jewish Home to partner with the Kahanists of Otzma Yehudit. It makes cynical political sense for his interests, but what of Israel’s?"
"IFC’s series Documentary Now! began as an affectionately parodic tribute to the classics of nonfiction cinema. Its first episode, “Sandy Passage,” was a note-perfect evocation of the Maysles brothers’ Grey Gardens..."
"Making our choices count is, however, far from straightforward, and this is the subject of Martin Hägglund’s book This Life: Secular Faith and Spiritual Freedom."
"Teens in the United States are coming of age at a time when digital technology is truly ubiquitous, where smartphones are all of our “constant companions.”"
"...the Smollett story, if the “trajectory” leads to evidence of fakery, would actually reveal something else modern America is about: victimhood chic."
"Cool in the humanities isn’t that different from cool in other areas of cultural life, like planking, hotdog-legs photography, mason jar rehabilitation, and novels whose main character is a city."
"It’s true that high-octane, hardworking child-rearing has some pointless excesses, and it doesn’t spark joy for parents. But done right, it works for kids..."
"Cape Town in South Africa is a foodie destination. Some people in its renowned restaurant industry are trying to spread the food wealth citywide."
"...for many “space expansionists,” escaping Earth is about much more than dodging the bullet of extinction: it’s about realizing astronomical amounts of value by exploiting the universe’s vast resources to create something resembling utopia. "
"After facing persecution in the former Soviet Union and a new wave of antisemitism in the United States, Marya Zilberberg decides to put her Jewishness on display."