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What is Lapis-Lazuli?

Lapis lazuli an opaque ultramarine coloured gem, which is actually a rock composed of different minerals: blue lazurite with patches of white calcite and usually small golden flecks of a mineral called pyrite.

Lapis Lazuli
Close up of rough Lapis lazuli showing constituent minerals. ©Natural History Museum

Ancient gem material

It has been known since antiquity and is one of the most valuable gems in early times, having been mined in Afghanistan for over 5,000 years. From these remote mines it was traded to the Egyptian and Sumerian civilisations. Its Mohs' hardness of 5 1/2 meant that it was easy to carve and polish. The most highly valued lapis lazuli has an even, deep blue colour with abundant pyrite flecks and little if any white calcite visible. There was an old belief that wearing lapis lazuli could cure sadness.

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