June 27, 2008 -- Medieval bones from six different Danish cemeteries reveal that monks who wrote Biblical texts and other religious materials may have been exposed to toxic mercury, which was used to formulate just one of their ink colors: red...
Since the monks, who were buried in the cloister walk of the Cistercian Abbey at Øm... contained mercury in their bones, scientists believe the monks were either contaminated while preparing and administering medicines, or while writing the artistic letters of incunabula, or pre-1500 A.D. books.
Kaare Lund Rasmussen, a University of Southern Denmark scientist at the Institute of Physics and Chemistry, suspects that ink used in the abbey's scriptorium was the culprit.
He told Discovery News "it is very human to lick the brush, if one wants to make a fine line."
It is also known that metallic liquid mercury was given in vapor form to diseased patients. So if the monks "were just a little careless, they would be exposed this way, however, they might also be exposed during the preparation of the medicine."