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Lapis Lazuli Properties, Meaning, Facts and Photos

lapis lazuli blue coloured metamorphic rock

1. Lapis Lazuli Meaning
2. History of Lapis Lazuli
3. Mask of Tutankhamun
4. What is Lapis Lazuli?
5. Fake Lapis Lazuli
6. Lapis Lazuli Healing Properties
7. Article Pictures
8  Shop Lapis Lazuli

Lapis Lazuli Meaning

The meaning of "lapis lazuli" is "stone from the sky" or "stone from heaven". 

"Lapis" is the Latin word for "stone".  "Lazuli" comes from the Latin word "lazulum" which came from the Arabic "lāzaward".

"Lāzaward" comes from the Persian word "lājevard".  All of these words relate to "sky" or "heaven" in reference to the stone's deep blue colour.

Lapis lazuli has a long history.  It was first mined and used by civilizations in the region of present-day Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Persian word "lājevard" is likely to have been the original name.

As lapis lazuli travelled along ancient trade routes and became more widely known, the Arabic word "lāzaward" would have emerged.  As the stone reached Europe the name would have changed from Arabic to Latin.

Although not related to the meaning of "lapis lazuli", the golden inclusions of pyrite have been likened to stars in the sky.

Today the word "azul" from the Latin "lazulum" is used in several languages for the colour "blue".

History of Lapis Lazuli

The history of lapis lazuli can be traced back thousands of years.  It's one of the oldest and best known of all gemstones.

It was highly sought after by some of the earliest civilizations including Babylonia, Ur and ancient Egypt.  As well as being carved into amulets and talismans it was also used for jewellery and in religious ceremonies.

Lapis lazuli carvings found in ancient Egyptian tombs including that of King Tutankhamun date back 3000 years BC.  The boy king's funerary mask is one of the world's most famous artefacts.

This priceless work of art features lapis lazuli, white quartz, obsidian, turquoise, carnelian and coloured glass.

tutankhamun's funerary mask inlaid with coloured glass lapis lazuli and other gemstones

The ancient Greek philosopher Theophrastus included lapis lazuli in his works "Theophrastus On Stones".  He categorised it under "valuable stones".

Some three hundred and fifty years later Pliny the Elder Roman author, naturalist and philosopher described lapis lazuli as "a blue stone with spots of gold that was never transparent."

The "spots of gold" referred to the inclusions of pyrite.  At this time the mineral pyrite was relatively unknown.

When comparing lapis to azurite Pliny said "lapis lazuli coloured like azurite is considered to be male".

In ancient times stones were either male or female.  Darker stones with more distinctive characteristics were male.  Those with less colour were female.

Stones with a more solid colour that didn't feature golden inclusions were known as "cyanus".  It's believed the name is likely to have incorporated other dark blue coloured stones as well.

In modern times lapis lazuli has often been confused for sapphire.  That's not because of any visible similarities or characteristics but because in the ancient world it was known as "sapphirus".

Pliny wrote "sapphirus included with spots of gold was not suitable for engraving".  This is likely to be because the pyrite was too hard for them to cut through.

mother of pearl bowl full of large lapis lazuli tumbled stones

In ancient Egypt lapis lazuli was believed to open the heart to love and lead the soul into immortality.  The book of Exodus states sapphirus was one of the twelve precious gemstones in the breastplate of the Jewish high priest.

During excavations of royal graves in the ancient Sumerian city of Ur artefacts featuring gold, silver and gemstones were discovered.  Many exhibited exceptional craftsmanship, skill and artistry.

The wide range of materials indicate not only the presence of huge wealth but also that an extensive network of trade was in place.  This is apparent because many of the stones and metals are not found naturally in the region.

Sumer was located between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in Mesopotamia, modern day Iraq.  It was home to one of the earliest civilizations. Over 6000 items carved from lapis lazuli were found there.

The stone is believed to have come from Afghanistan.  From there it would have been transported to countries including Mesopotamia, Ur, Egypt and India.

The "golden lyre of Ur" is crafted from gold and lapis lazuli.  It was found in the grave of a king during a British Museum expedition to Ur (modern day Iraq) in 1928.

A fine example of ancient Sumerian art, it has been dated to approximately 3500 BC.  The lapis lazuli necklace comes from the same location.

This picture links to a collection of great photos of the golden lyre of Ur. 

ancient lapis lazuli artifacts a golden coloured cow with a lapis lazuli hand shaped beard and a lapis necklace

What is Lapis Lazuli?

Lapis lazuli is a blue metamorphic rock.  With it being made up of several different minerals it's classified as a rock not a mineral.

It can only be found in a few places around the world.  This is because specific geological conditions are required for it to form.

In recent years this has helped historians to reconstruct ancient trade routes.

The pyrite that's often visible in lapis lazuli is an inclusion of the mineral lazurite. Lazurite is one of several minerals that makes up this blue stone.  It's also responsible for its colour.

Other minerals can include white calcite, diopside, enstatite, mica, sodalite, hauynite and hornblende.

Ultramarine was a highly sought after deep blue pigment.  It came from the mineral lazurite.  With lazurite being extremely rare it was produced by grinding lapis lazuli down. Ultramarine was said to be more valuable than gold.

Used in art and particularly paintings, it was popular from ancient times until 1826.  A synthetic alternative was then produced.

Some claim Michelangelo's painting The Entombment was unfinished because he couldn't afford ultramarine.  It may also have been because the pigment was in short supply.

Rafael is said to have only used ultramarine for the final coat of his paintings.  It's believed he may have chosen azurite instead for the base layers because it was cheaper.

The vast majority of the world's lapis lazuli comes from the Sar-e Sang deposit in the Badakhshan province, north east Afghanistan.  It has been mined in this region for more than 6,500 years.

As well as being some of the world's oldest mines they're also the most difficult to reach.  The only access is by a network of narrow trails high up on treacherous slopes in the Hindu-Kush Mountains.

Although several mines were once in operation, today only one mine is in use.

Lapis lazuli can also be found in Siberia and Chile.  In recent years some stone from Chile has rivalled the quality of material from Afghanistan.

It can also be found in a few other countries but only in relatively small quantities.

On Mohs scale of hardness lapis lazuli grades 5 to 5.5.  With it being quite easy to scratch it should be handled carefully.

Afghan man sitting on the floor polishing lapis lazuli with a stone polishing machine

Fake Lapis Lazuli

Other minerals are often used to fake lapis lazuli.  Sodalite, azurite and calcite are some of most common.

Depending on the stone being used, weight could be a clue.  Lapis is much heavier than sodalite.

Lower grade lapis lazuli is also dyed to replicate finer grade stones.  Paraffin is then used to seal the dye and improve polish.  It can then be sold at a higher price.  Sometimes just the white calcite is dyed.

To establish whether lapis lazuli has been dyed touch it with a cotton bud that's been dipped in acetone (nail polish remover).  Any dye will come off.  Diluted hydrochloric acid will do the same thing.

If a stone has a suspicious looking mark you could prick it with a hot needle.  If plastic, paraffin or another type of filler has been used you should smell it.

The problem with most tests to establish whether a rock or mineral is natural is that some level of damage will be caused.

Lapis lazuli that has been dyed will fade in bright sunlight or when exposed to high temperatures.

Most stones contain some amount of pyrite.  It's not possible to reproduce these golden inclusions in fake lapis lazuli.

Lapis Lazuli Healing Properties

Lapis lazuli is a deeply spiritual stone.  It encourages the truth to be spoken and promotes inner peace, harmony and serenity.

It expands intellectual capacity and awareness and stimulates clarity of mind.

The healing properties of lapis lazuli make it a useful stone for those looking to bring more structure and organisation into their lives.

It has long been used to protect against dark forces.

Lapis lazuli can help strengthen the connection with your higher self.  It can also be used to enhance meditation.

Holding a stone or having it close by can help bring thoughts and feelings together.  It can guide you towards finding that idyllic place where everything is in perfect harmony.

Lapis lazuli can help you tap into your inner wisdom and intuition.  It calms the mind and unleashes a world of possibilities.

This stone is sometimes used for dreamwork.  It strengthens psychic ability and blocks negative energy.  Its calming energy makes it ideal for dealing with stress. 

It encourages creativity, clears the mind to make room for new ideas and inspires confidence.  Lapis lazuli boosts feelings of happiness and contentment and helps build trust and harmony in a new relationship.

The healing properties of lapis lazuli are highly personal and subjective. Different people may experience different benefits based on their own beliefs, experiences and intentions.

Article Pictures

The picture at the top of our article is courtesy of James St.John.  The lapis lazuli tumbled stones are from our collection.

The funerary mask of King Tutankhamun is housed in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.  The golden lyre of Ur and lapis lazuli necklace are in the Penn Museum in Philadelphia.

The final photo is lapis lazuli being polished in Afghanistan.

All pictures except the last one are clickable. 

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