Skip to main content.

Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

Lapis Lazuli

Photograph of a carved lapis lazuli figurine (NMNH G8544) from the National Gem Collection
Photo by Chip Clark. Click to zoom.
Catalog Number NMNH G8544-00
Locality Afghanistan

Gift of Leonard J. Wilkinson in 1980.

With its intense deep blue color, lapis lazuli has been valued as an ornamental stone for thousands of years. The ancient Egyptians fashioned it into beads and carvings and powdered it for use as eye shadow. Historically, virtually all gem lapis lazuli was produced from a remote mountain valley in the Badakhshan region of Afghanistan. From there is was traded throughout the Middle East and Europe. Lapis lazuli is actually a rock composed of several minerals, primarily of blue lazurite, with minor amounts of white calcite and golden pyrite. Lazurite is a complex sodium calcium aluminum silicate with variable amounts of sulfur and chlorine. The deep-blue color is caused by light interacting with the sulfur atoms. This figurine is carved from lapis lazuli from Afghanistan, where the finest quality is still found. Lesser-quality lapis lazuli is found in Chile and Russia.



Landscape mode is not currently supported for this website