Cochise College           Student Papers in Geology

Geology Home Page                   physical geology  historical geology  planetary  gems           

Roger Weller, geology instructor

by Tiffany McKinley
Physical Geology
Spring 2016
                                                                                 Lapis Lazuli




Lapis Lazuli is a deep blue rock that is made up of mostly lazurite with white calcite and brassy pyrite with a grand past.  It is a metamorphic rock and is formed near igneous intrusions located near either limestone or marble that has been changed by contact metamorphism and has a Mohs hardness of approximately 5.  It was one of the first gemstones to be worked on and fashioned into jewelry.  It is mined in Afghanistan and has been since as early as the seventh millennium B.C.  It has been used as a pigment in the funeral mask of King Tut.  It was also exported to Europe during the Middle Ages to be ground into a powder and made into one of the most expensive blue pigments ever made, ultramarine. This pigment was used by some of the most important artists of the Renaissance and Baroque periods, including Masaccio, Perugino, Titian, and Vermeer. These artists used the pigment for the clothing of the main characters of their paintings, for example The Virgin Mary and Girl with a Pearl Earring.  It was also used as a pigment as it would stay vibrate, not losing any of its radiance with the passage of time.

Most lapis lazuli is made up of calcite, sodalite, and pyrite, but can be made of up other minerals such as augite, diopside, enstatite, mica, hauynite, hornblende, and nosean.  Just to name a few!! Lapis lazuli is typically found in crystalline marble as a result of contact metamorphism. The deep blue color is caused by the presence of the trisulfur radical anion contained in the crystal.

It is found in the limestone of the Kokcha River Valley of Badakhshan province in northeastern Afghanistan.  As such, Afghanistan was the primary source for lapis lazuli for the Ancient Egyptians and Mesopotamians, and later included the Greeks and Romans.  Lapis is also mined in the Andes near Ovalle, Chile, and in Siberia, Russia.  It is also mined in Angola, Argentina, Burma, Pakistan, Canada, Italy, India, and in the United States in California and Colorado, but in smaller amounts.

            Lapis can be polished easily and is made into jewelry, carvings, boxes, mosaics, ornaments, small statues, as well as vases.  It can also be ground into a fine powder and used to make the pigment ultramarine for frescoes and oil paintings.  However, it has not been largely used as a pigment in painting since the 16th century as a chemical synthetic substitute was made available.  

            Lapis has been found in the Royal Tombs of Ur as artifacts.  Some of the artifacts that were found in the tomb were a dagger with a lapis handle, a bowl that was inlaid with lapis, amulets, beads and inlays representing eyebrows and beards.  It has also been found as seals and jewelry and the irises of statues from Mesopotamia.  In the Mediterranean and Ancient Egypt, it has been found as amulets and ornaments such as scarabs. There are also carvings showing pieces of barrel-shaped pieces and fragments of lapis being delivered to Thutmose III as a tribute. Cleopatra used powdered lapis as eyeshadow.  



Lapis has also been considered a symbol of royalty and honor, gods and power, spirit and vision.  It has also been considered to be a symbol of wisdom and truth. In metaphysical circles,  it is believed to be an excellent stone for executives, journalists, and psychologists in that is believed to stimulate wisdom and good judgment and aids in intellectual analysis which would be particularly helpful for archeologists and historians.  It also aids in problem solving, which is helpful for lawyers, and helps with the imagination, which would be beneficial for inventors and writers. 






Lapis is believed to be a powerful stone for activating the higher mind and intellectual ability, particularly the third eye chakra.  It is believed to aid in developing intuition in addition to amplifying and expanding psychic visions and clairvoyance.  It is believed to help stimulate the desire for knowledge, truth understanding and aid in the learning process.  It is further believed to encourage honesty both in the spoken and written word. It is also believed to be a stone of friendship and to bring harmony to all relationships.  It is also believed to bring harmony to both the male and female aspects of one’s personality.

In healing circles, lapis is believed to be beneficial to the throat, larynx, and vocal cords and to regulate both the endocrine and thyroid glands.  It is further believed to help with circulation and cardiac rhythm as it is believed to lower vertigo and blood pressure and is further believed to alleviate insomnia.  It is further believed to be particularly beneficial for women as it is thought to help with menstrual irregularities and to alleviate cramps, stiffness and lumbago.

Lapis has also been used to honor several goddesses.  For example, Lapis has been used to honor the Greek Goddess Athena, as she is the goddess of War and Wisdom and is always shown in armor and is known for her skills as a fighter and strategist.  Lapis has also been used to honor the Goddess Hera, the Greek Goddess of Marriage, as she is a source of inspiration for wives and lovers and for standing up for what is right.  It has also been used to honor Inanna, the Sumerian Goddess of the Underworld, as she journeys into the underworld carrying rods made of lapis lazuli measuring time and the length of an individual’s life.  Lapis has also been used to honor Nuit, the Egyptian Goddess of Heaven and Sky, as she is believed to swallow the sun each evening and give birth to it the next morning.  She is believed to be the protector and mother of life on Earth.  Lapis has been used to honor Venus, the Roman Goddess of Love, who was believed to govern all aspects of human life and has been known for her passion and beauty.  Finally, it has been used in devotions to honor the Celtic River Goddess, Dana.

As a birthstone, it is not considered a traditional birthstone.  However, as a natural birthstone, it is the birthstone of those born between February 19 and March 19, which is a believed to be a time when new life is about to spring forth, a time of faith and trust and is also believed to bring the individual patience and respect.  In the zodiac, it is the stone of Sagittarius and is associated with Neptune and Venus, the astrological 9th house, and natural Sagittarius matters, which are foreign travel, foreign countries and cultures, religion, the law and higher education.

As a talisman, it is believed to be valuable for gaining respect, keeping negative energy at bay, and to help in keeping individuals humble in their dealings with others.  It is believed to be an enhancer filter crystal in that the internal structure of the lapis helps to focus one’s efforts to build one’s successes and enhance one’s life by concentrating one’s energy on improvements one desires and positive thoughts which will bring about the actions needed to bring those desires about.

Lapis Lazuli is not only a beautiful stone, but is also a stone with a rich history not only in trade, but also in religion and religious practices.  From uses in the practical sense to the metaphysical sense, its history is as deep as it is blue! As this is just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak!





All photos contained herein are provided by Tiffany McKinley