Egypt… Land of mysteries for a mysterious stone!
How could we not dedicate an entire post to an enigmatic and incredible civilization when they used Lapis Lazuli in almost every aspect of their lives?
Egyptian Lapis Lazuli is a post where we can appreciate how Ancient Egyptians gave this stone an almost godly importance. We will learn about the mystical Egyptian Civilization and we will continue to learn about it’s the most treasured mystical Lapis Lazuli.
Egyptian Lapis Lazuli
Lapis lazuli is among the earliest and most priced ornamental stones worked to produce carvings, beads and inlays as early as the 4th millennium BC. Check our post about Lapis Lazuli Origin to learn more about it.
Opaque stone (aluminium and sodium silicate and sodium sulphide) with a dark-blue color and sometimes white (calcite) or gold (pyrite) flecks. Lapis lazuli was used in Egypt from the Predynastic Period on to make beads, amulets, and scarabs, and as inlay in jewelry, particularly in the Middle and New Kingdoms.
All kinds of famous jewelry have lapis lazuli inlays:
- Silver armbands of Queen Hetepheres, the mother of Khufu (4th Dynasty),
- Jewelry from the pyramids of Lahun and Dahshour (Cairo, Egypt),
- The treasure of Tod found in Amenemhat’s II tomb (all Middle Kingdom),
- Jewelry of Tutankhamun (18th Dynasty) (of course, it is impossible to talk about Ancient Egypt without talking of the famous Pharaoh Tutankhamun),
- Jewelry of the kings whose tombs were found at Tanis (21st and 22nd Dynasties) and many more.
Many texts from ancient Egypt mention Lapis lazuli and say that it was obtained in western Asia and in Meroe and Punt. No mines are known in those areas however. Although some people maintain that Lapis lazuli was found in Egypt, it is almost certain that the only source for ancient Egypt was Badakshan in northeastern Afghanistan. The stone then reached Egypt along the trade routes.
The classical author Pliny the Elder called the stone sapphire.
The Egyptians appreciated Lapis Lazuli stone due to the associations they had between its dark blue color with the night of the skies and the gold pyrite flecks that reminded them of the stars. In other words, an image of the heavens.
They saw life in the deep blue color of water and the divine in the immense blue of the sky and they continuously used Lapis Lazuli to portray it all. Artists represented the Nile, the most important river of Ancient Egypt in blue. Blue was also the background color of the paintings portraying the royal graves in the Valley of the Kings. Kings used head kerchiefs painted in blue and gold. And even Tutankhamen used jewelry of gold and lapis.
Egyptian Lapis Lazuli Uses
Egyptian Lapis Lazuli Uses as a Pigment: Ultramarine Blue
Historically, blue is a “new” color, and one that was initially reserved only for royalty. It emerged about 6,000 years ago in Afghanistan with the lapis lazuli stone that was hailed by the Egyptians as precious. They used it with gold to create eyes for the pharaoh’s tombs, and even used powdered lapis lazuli to create blue eye shadow for Cleopatra.
To learn more about the use of powdered lapis lazuli as a pigment, check our Ultramarine Blue post. And we always have for you even more interesting information. Check our post about Amber Color to know more about existing types of amber and colors it may have.
Egyptian Lapis Lazuli Uses for Amulets
In ancient Egypt, lapis lazuli was a favorite stone for amulets and ornaments such as scarabs that were very popular at a time. At Karnak, the relief carvings of Thutmose III (1479-1429 BC) show fragments and barrel-shaped pieces of lapis lazuli being delivered to him as tribute.
According to Ancient Egyptian myth, the sun (Ra) rolls across the sky each day and transforms bodies and souls.
Modeled upon the Scarabaeidae family, dung beetle, which rolls dung into a ball for the purposes of eating and laying eggs that are later transformed into larva, the scarab was seen as an earthly symbol of this heavenly cycle of sun and rebirth.
Further, they were usually carved from Lapis Lazuli, as its deep, celestial blue remains the symbol of royalty and honor, gods and power, spirit and vision. It is a universal symbol of wisdom and truth.
In the dry, barren land of the Egyptians, this deep cobalt blue color was both a physical and spiritual contrast to their arid desert hues.
The gold flecks were like stars in their night-time sky and by meditating on these colors they felt supernatural forces would transform their lives. The garments of priests and royalty were dyed with Lapis to indicate their status as gods themselves.
Blue colored hippopotamuses produced by artisans were popular as symbols for the life-giving river. Nude female figures coated with blue glaze found in Egyptian graves might have represented life and Creation.
Egyptian Lapis Lazuli Uses for Healing
Egyptian High Priests used lapis lazuli also for healing purposes. The healers grounded lapis into powder and swallowed to prevent gallstones. Egyptians also used lapis to prevent sleeplessness and melancholy or fever, as well as an ingredient for eyewash. Check our post about Lapis Lazuli Healing Properties to learn more on how lapis lazuli can benefit your body and soul.
Egyptian Lapis Lazuli Uses in Jewelry
Queen Hetepherus (2600-2500 B.C) had lapis into silver casings for bracelets, ankles and necklaces. Queen Iput had a beetle pendant of lapis. Queen Seneity had a lapis of ovoid beads with discs of gold, carnelian and green feldspar. Queen Nefruhad also a tomb at Thebes containing lapis beads and Queen Ashotep (1650-1567 B.C) owned a diadem crown of lapis, gold, carnelian and feldspar.
If you also want to feel like the ancient Egyptian Queen, why not visit Nammu store to acquire beautiful bracelets or necklaces and discover all eyes following every step you take?
Kings wore pectoral necklaces of lapis and other stones. King Tutankhamen wore a scarab bracelet of lapis symbolizing the Sun God. King Ramses (1292 B.C) required lapis as a tribute.
Elaborate pectorals of Lapis Lazuli, carnelian and also gold covered the pharaohs Osorkon’s chest, while rings and bracelets of the same combination also adorned his arms and fingers. Lapis scarabs were buried in his wrappings, a large one on his heart.
A tiny but endearing group in gold and also lapis shows Osorkon as the god of the dead, Osiris, crouching on a Lapis Lazuli pillar engraved with cartouches bearing his names. With golden statues of Horus and Isis on either side.
The bulk of the treasure is now in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. It has hundreds if not thousands of scarabs.
Egyptian Lapis Lazuli Uses in Religion
Amulets of deities inlaid with lapis lazuli were made of Osiris, Horus, Maat, Tet, Ra, Bastet and Ibis.
The Egyptians utilized lapis lazuli stone in artwork, amulets, jewelry and cosmetics,but their use on the hair and adornments of the heavenly Goddess Isis shows how much their culture cared for the metaphysical powers of lapis.
The Egyptian Goddess Isis was omniscient, all-knowing and all-seeing. They believed that each small piece of lapis lazuli held a small part of her soul, so those who possess this stone had a connection with her knowledge, insight and magical powers.
Egyptian Lapis Lazuli Uses in Afterlife
We can recognize the importance Lapis Lazuli stone had for the Egyptians in life as well as in the afterlife. The Egyptians believed that its blue color was reminiscent of the heavens and symbolized creation and rebirth.
One of the most recognized objects made by man with lapis lazuli is the incredible golden death facemask of Pharaoh Tutankhamun (also known as King Tut, 1332-1232 B.C.). Exhibited in the Egyptian museum, it remains a national symbol. The mask was stripped with horizontal pieces of lapis that was also inset into harps, lyres and decorative boxes holding the organs of the mummified person. From this mask it is quite obvious that Egyptian lapidaries valued silver and lapis as well as gold and widely used lapis lazuli as eye shadow and pigment.
Not only Tut’s mask show us the love of Egyptians for lapis lazuli. Ushabti (funerary figurines placed in tombs among the grave goods and intended to act as servants or minions for the deceased, should they be called upon to do manual labor in the afterlife) with lapis lazuli inlaid in its eyes represented a godly attribute that would help the royal person into their next life. The mummies had ushabti tucked between them. Produced in huge numbers, ushabtis, along with scarabs, are the most numerous of all ancient Egyptian antiquities to survive.
But what is the most fascinating for us in Egyptian history is the Book of the Dead, an ancient Egyptian funerary text, used from the beginning of the New Kingdom (around 1550 BCE) to around 50 BCE.
According to Wikipedia:
“Book” is the closest term to describe the loose collection of texts consisting of a number of magic spells intended to assist a dead person’s journey through the Duat, or underworld, and into the afterlife and written by many priests over a period of about 1000 years.
Can you imagine the importance this book held for Egyptians with their beliefs and religious ideas about afterlife? Egyptian pharaohs lived in a way to make sure they died and got their afterlife! But what is even more fascinating is that the most important part of the transition process was created from lapis lazuli.
A heart. A heart, which was regarded as the aspect of being which included intelligence and memory. A heart, without which the most important thing in the life of Egyptian – afterlife, was impossible. It was protected with spells, and in case anything happened to the physical heart, it was common to bury jeweled heart scarabs made of lapis lazuli with a body to provide a replacement. What have been done to Tutankhamen. Read more about it below, in the chapter about Tutankhamen Tomb.
It is written in the 140th chapter of the Book of the Dead that lapis in the shape of an eye set in gold was considered an amulet of great power. Even Pharaoh Ramses listed Lapis Lazuli in his funeral items in the Book of the Dead.
The blue mineral Lapis Lazuli possessed purportedly life-giving powers. The Book of the Dead describes Horus, the hawk-like son of the God Osiris destroying all evil. After his deed he appears in the heavenly firmament in the form of a hawk and “his torso is made of blue stone”. Egyptian Blue (blue frit) was used in conjunction with lapis lazuli for painting eyes, hair and crowns of the pharaohs’ statues and sarcophagus. Nile, the most important river of ancient Egypt, is rendered in blue color on grave paintings.
Egyptian Lapis Lazuli: Treasures
Hierakonpolis – Young Lady
One of the most exquisite of all Lapis Lazuli objects can be a young lady of about nine centimeters tall. With a head covered with tight curls. It is of an excellent deep blue Lapis Lazuli. The lady balances now on a wooden peg inserted in the shoulders. It has rounded breasts and buttocks, shapely thighs, well-marked knees.
In other words, a perfect work of art. How treasured she would have been, expensive, rare and made of a stone already regarded as sacred.
Her headless body was discovered by British archaeologists at the site of Hierakonpolis in 1897. She was found under the threshold of a temple (a sacred spot). Her unification was short of miraculous. In 1906, nine years after body was found, a British archaeologist found the head in the earlier diggings. It is said she dates back from around 2900B.C. Now she lives in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford.
Every Egyptian hoped to be reborn after death, but it was a perilous journey to the next world. A scarab would protect against its dangers. The best way to represent him was with the stone that symbolizes the sky or water, our beloved Lapis Lazuli. The most revered scarab replicas were made of Lapis Lazuli.
The Treasure of Tod
One important finding was the lapis-lazuli of the Egyptian treasure of Tôd dated from Middle Kingdom (20th c. BC)., discovered by French archaeologists in 1936 near Luxor.
According to specialists from Louvre:
Custom required that foundation deposits be buried beneath Egyptian temples at the time of their consecration by the king. The Tod treasure is unique in that it was buried at a later date, by the successor of the founder of the Tod temple, and includes some metals that were unknown in Egypt. It is evidence of exchanges between the sovereigns of the Near East and the Eastern Mediterranean at the beginning of the 2nd millennium BC.
Here they found a hoard of raw Lapis Lazuli as well as quantities of lapis beads and lapis seals buried at some point. Deposited in four copper boxes, the treasure includes thousands of blocks of raw lapis lazuli, minute fragments, beads and carvings stylistically dated to various periods. Copper chests were found in the foundation sand beneath the floor of the temple of Sesostris I (1934-1898 BC), inscribed with the name of the king’s son, Ammenemes II (1919-1865 B.C).
Royal annals mention the many offerings made by King Ammenemes II to the gods and in memory of his father King Sesostris I, shortly after his death. The texts reveal that the king buried the chests in the foundation sand of the temple built by Sesostris I as an act of filial devotion.
This discovery raises the question of the use of lapis lazuli in ancient Egypt because there is no source of lapis in this country. As it was discovered later, almost all the contents were of foreign origin, mostly the seals, Babylonian, Palestinian, Syrian and from eastern Iran.
Tutankhamun Tomb Treasures
One of the most abundant use of the sacred stone both as inlay but also returning to the sacred scarab as truly representing death and resurrection on the Nile was the Tomb of Pharaoh Tutankhamun. It was a small tomb in the Valley of the Kings on the west bank of the Nile. According to Wikipedia, it was discovered in 1922 by Howard Carter.
Carter discovered the richest pharaonic burial site. Sarcophagus and mummy bedecked with gold and precious stones, Lapis lazuli and its imitations (glass and faience), carnelian and turquoise. The tomb was cramped with precious objects. It took Carter ten years to clear it of its treasures.
A lapis lazuli scarab was placed over the site of Tutankhamen’s heart to prevent the heart from incriminating him in the underworld’s Hall of Judgment. His heart itself was also replaced for jeweled heart scarabs made of lapis lazuli during embalming process. This is not done usually as Ancient Egyptians believe that heart is a place where the soul resides and is crucial to cross to afterlife, so it is always left in a body. But because of the sword injury Tut received during battle that destroyed his heart and lead to his death, his heart was replaced with lapis lazuli scarabs.
The idea was that the heart or its substitute was the seat of thought and would help the defendant during his interrogation by the tribunal of gods in the underworld’s Hall of Judgment.
There were several magnificent pectorals across his chest as well, representative of the Birth of the Sun, set with huge Lapis Lazuli scarabs. In one of these, the wedjat or the Eye of Horus is balanced over a magnificent scarab with wide falcon like spread wings (a typical funerary scarab), standing on a solar boat, all inlaid with or carved of Lapis Lazuli. Also, a couple of bracelets covered with of lapis lazuli scarabs that are guarded by serpents or uraei inlaid with lapis were found in Tutankhamen’s tomb.
Book of Curiosities of the Sciences and Marvels for Eyes
In the medieval Egyptian manuscript “Book of Curiosities of the Sciences and Marvels for Eyes”, the buildings were painted with Lapis Lazuli, along with vermilion, gold and malachite green. The text itself, first composed in early eleventh century Egypt, is a medieval view of the cosmos. It is a cosmography dated around 1200 BC that is illustrated with maps of the heavens and of the earth. Blue is the color of the Universe, of the movement of the Sun and the Stars in the firmament merging into the Ocean.
Nowadays lapis lazuli in Egypt is still considered a sacred stone. The jewelers from today always try to imitate the beautiful creations from the past. You may find necklaces, earrings, bracelets and figures made from lapis lazuli. And it is not a surprise taking into account the fact that Egyptians saw Life in the deep blue color of water and the Divine in the immense blue of the sky. what they successfully represented in lapis lazuli for ages.
Majestic Lapis Lazuli always surrounding the gods and royalty in life and the afterlife… Nothing better than Lapis Lazuli representing this heavenly color.
Check our lapis lazuli collection, if you want to buy yourself a piece of history.
Editor: Anastasiia Niesheva