A highly sought after blue gem stone, lapis lazuli is a complex mineral containing aluminium and sodium.



Lapis Lazuli mine Afghanistan
Lapis Lazuli mine Afghanistan

North Eastern Afghanistan is home to the world’s largest lapis lazuli mine where it has been mined for over 6500 years.

The mines are in close proximity to the Ancient silk road trade routes which enabled relative ease in exporting to Egypt and other ancient civilisations.

Sari-a-sing mines in Afghanstan
Sar-e-Sang mines in Afghanistan

Literally meaning “blue stone” (lapis: latin for stone and lazuli: derived from the Persian word for blue Lazhward) – the alluring colour of the gem made it highly sought after in ancient civilisations including Mesopotamia, Egypt, Rome and Greece. It was popular with artisan’s producing pieces for royalty and nobility with its ornamental use prevalent in jewellery pieces and carved artefacts. Many ancient Egyptian pieces feature the lapis stone inlaid with gold.

Mask inlaid with lapis lazuli
The funerary mask of Pharaoh    Tut-Ankh-Amun, inlaid with lapis lazuli

Not only sought for its ornamental beauty, lapis lazuli was said to possess an array of metaphysical qualities. The Romans believed that it was an aphrodisiac, while the ancient Greeks attributed it to memory enhancement. The gemstone remains in use today in crystal healing therapies.

During the Renaissance it was used, in its pigment form, by painters to create the colour ‘ultramarine’.

ultramarine pigment
ultramarine pigment
Unknown artist, The Wilton Diptych, c. 1395-99
Use of the ultramarine colour in the Renaissance period. Unknown artist, The Wilton Diptych, c. 1395-99.

Currently the stone is mined across the globe including North and South America, Russia, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Despite the existence of the Pakistan mine, a large percentage of the haul from the Sari-i-sang mines in Afghanistan has been smuggled across the border to Pakistan for decades.

Lapis lazuli mining in Afghanistan
Lapis lazuli mining in Afghanistan

The source of those currently profiting from the proceeds is reportedly ‘unknown’, though in the 1980’s the beneficiaries were the Afghan Mujahedeen, the nationalist guerrilla’s fighting against soviet occupation.