A majestic gemstone that has been with us for centuries. The incredible ancient civilizations like the Greeks and Roman Empire, its uses in the artistic and healing world, lapis in Religion and Theophrastus Book of Stones. Lapis Lazuli – Gemstone Preserved in Time only shows you the tip of the iceberg when we talk about this magical gem.
An incredible stone found in human history since the beginning of time. Lapis Lazuli is a deep blue semi precious stone. Lapis is defined as a rock geologically speaking. I also found out that it appears in the most ancient civilizations known to man. Furthermore it was of utmost importance because it was a stone used to revere gods and God. Its spiritual journey through the Silk Route to acquire the Lapis Lazuli for temples and churches superseded primitive quests.
Historians believe the link between lapis lazuli and human beliefs dates back over 6,500 years. Ancient civilizations, including Egyptian, Mesopotamian, Chinese, Roman and Greek, valued highly this stone.
From experience, I’ve discovered that ancient civilizations were wiser than the new ones. Ancient civilizations were convinced that lapis should accompany royalty to the afterlife. Maybe Lapis Lazuli really has these godly properties they apparently made use of.
Lapis lazuli is found in Neolithic tombs in Mauritania and in the Caucasus. The Egyptians decorated Tutankhamen’s (1341-1323 B.C) funeral mask with Lapis Lazuli. Egyptians also used scarabs and amulets on their tombs.
Lapis Lazuli History in Ancient Greece
Theophrastus studied at Athens and became an ardent supporter of the philosophies of Plato (424/3 B. C. – 348/7 B. C.). While there, he became a pupil and friend of Aristotle (384 B. C. – 322 B. C.), and when Aristotle went into exile, Theophrastus succeeded him as the leader and principal spokesman of the Peripatetic school of philosophy – a leadership he held until his death.
Many descriptions are given of specific minerals, which Theophrastus divides into two broad categories, Earths and Stones, and then into about fifty “species.” Within each commentary, the author recounts various physical characteristics such as texture, color, transparency, hardness, luster, and density, as well as the practical uses. Thus described, it is possible to apply modern names to many of the minerals. Theophrastus wrote about eighteen centuries ago, and read the Greek ideas about marble, pumice, onyx, gypsum, amber, pyrite, coal, azurite, realgar, orpiment, cinnabar, quartz, lapis lazuli, emerald, sapphire, ruby, diamond, and others.
Book Of Stones
Theophrastus’s work is of special interest in the history of mineralogy because it is the largest fragment to survive from classical times that treats mineral substances in a meaningful way. The text, written as a series of 69 paragraphs, suggests that the De Lapidibus was originally written as a series of lecture notes that the author would have delivered in the gardens of the Lyceum almost two millennia ago. Metals are said to be composed of water, while stones and mineral earths are composed of earth. A mineral occurs because its substance has been purified through filtration, and its degree of purity can be determined by examining such qualities as smoothness, density, luster, and also transparency.
On Stones, Theophrastus said that exist a kind of false emerald and a kind of melted lapis lazuli like glass paste and give us more details on the manufacture of kyanos chytos as a product similar to the real thing (probably natural lapis lazuli), but which became after firing.
Lapis Lazuli History in Roman Empire
The ancient scholars mixed up Lapis Lazuli and sapphire because there was confusion when it came to mineral, rocks, semi precious and precious stones of the day because of the different cataloguing of earliest scholars as to specific points, qualities and attributes of a stone.
Lapis Lazuli was also commonly used for religion shrines and for their artisans, painters and decorative elements on the altars of churches. Master artists like Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Fra Angelico and others, used the mineral as a pigment. Ultramarine was the finest and most expensive of all blue pigments. Lapis was also reserved for the clothing of almost all the central figures of their paintings, especially the Virgin Mary.
Russian Czars praised the beautiful Imperial Egg designed by Peter Carl Faberge made in Lapis Lazuli.
Wonderful news! Lapis Lazuli is also known for its healing properties. There was a myth of Lapis Lazuli as a cure for eye diseases. Alchemists propagated the old belief that Lapis Lazuli unleashed energy to remedy optical disorders. They also used it for serpent bites, circulatory diseases, pregnancy, eye tumors and fever.
Greeks and Romans also used Lapis in the treatment of epilepsy, circulatory diseases and skin troubles.
Lapis Lazuli was also the symbol of royalty and honor, gods and power, spirit and vision. That`s why there’s an amazing display of a queens lapis lazuli beads, tiara and artifacts.
Lapis Lazuli is a third eye chakra stone that will develop your intuition as well as amplifying and expanding psychic visions and clairvoyant abilities. This stone is known to heal hearing loss and vertigo.
Nammu.com has a variety of beautiful amulets.
We have seen the beautiful things artisans have created with lapis pigments. The healing properties they have are amazing. Although I have never used lapis for healing, I have spoken to people who have. One of them told me that when they wear lapis, they feel at peace and capable of anything. I for once want to try it.
I was watching T.V with my 5 year old and there it was. Lapis Lazuli in a cartoon. A magical and one of the most powerful characters in Steven Universe. With its characteristic blue color, this character represents one of the gems of this universe. Even my son knew more about lapis than me.
Mankind has used Lapis for the arts, for religion, for healing mind and body and since the most ancient cultures, for representing and worshiping gods. In other words Lapis has been a part of our lives since the beginning.
Lapis Lazuli had, has and will keep having a significant importance in human life. I know it and I know you know it too.
Lapis Lazuli History in Mesopotamia
From at least 4000 B.C Lapis Lazuli was being traded westward from Afghanistan to the burial grounds of Mesopotamia. Royalty felt safer for the journey to the underworld if they could placate the gods with gifts of sacred Lapis Lazuli. It was their insurance. In Lapis Lazuli – Mesopotamian´s Sacred Gem we will learn about important archaeological sites where impressive pieces art of Lapis Lazuli have been found. Sites like Ur where the famous Standard of Ur was found. Also sites like Uruk, Jiroft. Mari where the Treasure of Ur was discovered and also the famous libraries of Ebla.
The importance of Lapis Lazuli to the people of Mesopotamia can be revealed when talking of the three heavens of Mesopotamian lore. The upper heaven, assigned to the god Anu, is made of luludanitu stone, commonly identified with the purest Lapis Lazuli. The Middle Heaven is also lapis colored. The Lower Heaven is white. Lapis is also the stone used for the tablet of the Stars of the Heavens belonging to Nisaba, the goddess of writing.
Mesopotamia was also known as the Land of the Two Rivers. Never has Badakhshan Lapis Lazuli been so highly valued as it was intermittently over some two thousand years by the people of Sumer.
Some of the most beautiful lapis objects have been excavated in cities flourishing around the middle of the third millennium B.C.
Persuading the Gods
Some grave goods were clearly included to alleviate life in the underworld. Others such as sacred sanctifying Lapis Lazuli, might persuade the Gods to look more kindly on the new arrival. Lapis Lazuli or za-gin to the Sumerians of late third Millennium B.C. Ur was the great treasure. It was also synonymous with gleaming splendor, the attributes of gods and heroes.
Thousands of lapis beads and objects have been found in graves dug around huge temple complexes, as for instance at the greatest of Sumerian cities, Uruk and at the later city of Ur.
The deities of this ancient world were deemed to have a real passion for lapis lazuli. Specially the terrifying goddess Inanna. She was also known as Ishtar, goddess of fertility, of agriculture and also sexual love. Her power was demonstrated in terrible rages and also war. She was also greedy for the good things of life. Her partner was the gentler god Dumuzi, the shepard god, responsible for pastoral life, hence economic prosperity.
Sometimes Inanna was also the daughter of Anu, the supreme god, or of his deputy Enil, whose home was Nippur, religious heart of Sumer in Southern Mesopotamia where some of the great epics of Sumerian literature were first unearthed, impressed on clay tablets.
In the site of Shahr-I Sokhta, excavated by the Italian archaeologists Dr. Maurizio Tosi in the 1970´s, Lapis Lazuli was one of the main findings. It is huge site marked by immense sandhills covering the remains of temples, walls, staircase, houses and cemeteries. Lapis finished objects such as beads and seals, as well as evidence that craftsmen were actually working the lapis on site. As lapis being a fairly hard stone, sophisticated materials were needed to drill the beads and carve the objects. Piles of lapis waste as well as an extraordinary range of minute stone drills were found that would have been used to tool such objects. About 2500 B.C they might have been used also to chisel and drill the magnificent lapis jewels of Mesopotamia.
Another site can be found in the Kerman province. This is the most ransacked grave of Jiroft. The chief archaeologist, Professor Yousef Majidzadeh, even suggests a Jiroft origin for much Sumerian design. Among the Jiroft finds are Lapis Lazuli stamp and cylinder seals, beds and small pin heads, amulets, carved as humped backed bulls, sheep, lions, serpents and abstract symbols. A seal thought to have been carved at Jiroft even made its way to Upper Egypt.
The city of Uruk is the most impressive example of these sites. It has a history of some 5,000 years (from circa 4000B.C) and its site covering as much as 850 hectares at its peak in that early fourth millennium B.C when Lapis Lazuli was making its way appearance. It is also home to one of our heroes. Like we have read in Lapis Lazuli Legends, our hero Gilgamesh was the ruler of Uruk around 2750 B.C at the edge of Mesopotamian history.
Uruk had two huge temple complexes from that early fourth millennium period. One dedicated to Anu, the other to Innana. Both temples were extensively excavated. Included in the findings were clay tablets with writings, also there were cylinder seals (some of lapis). In one of the great Sumerian epics, the one of the mythical ruler of Uruk, Enmerkar, the ruler is credited with inventing writing.
Uruk marks the beginning of the Lapis Lazuli craze in Sumer. It was most spectacularly sustained in mid-third millennium B.C, when quantities of it was discovered in the course of European excavations that followed World War I.
When we talk of contemporary sites we can include Ur, Mari, and also Ebla.
Ur, also called Ur of the Chaldees was once on the banks of the Euphrates. A city with an agricultural economy and a far-reaching trading network. This demanded records so it lead to the creation of writing, first at Uruk then all over Sumer. It appeared most often on seals (some were made of lapis lazuli). Sometimes the seals were carved with minute details of ceremonies, battles, gods and goddesses. Professional craftsmen flourished. Heavenly blue stars-studded Lapis Lazuli was found in these sites.
This site was excavated by British archaeologist Leonard Woolley. The ruins of Ur are about 350 kilometers south of Baghdad. He found a series of incredible royals tombs dated back to 2,400B.C.
Great Death Pit
Of 1850 tombs, 400 were from the third millennium B.C. This was also known as The Royal Cemetery of Ur. Woolley found incredible quantities of treasures. Sixteen of them were have been designated ‘royal’ graves because of the treasures inside. Some were single graves and others multiple. The strangest of these tombs was the one called the Great Death Pit. It contained about seventy bodies, men and women, animals, and royal occupants.
Woolleys vivid imagination said about this grave:
‘Now down the sloping passage comes a procession of people, the members of the court, soldiers, men servants and women, the latter in all their finery of brightly colored garments and head dresses of lapis lazuli and silver and gold and with them musicians bearing harps or lyres, cymbals, and sistra; they take up their positions in the farther part of the pit and then there are driven or backed down the slope the chariots drawn by animals, and these too are marshaled in the pit. Each man or women brought a little cup of clay or stone or metal, the only equipment required for the rite that was to follow.’
The court ladies were dressed with golden lyres inlaid with Lapis Lazuli.
Standard of Ur
One of the most beautiful objects found in this site was “The Standard of Ur”. According to Wikipedia it is 4,500 years old. It is a wooden box inlaid with Lapis Lazuli and shell. It had on one side a battle scene and on the other a religious banquet, dual aspects of Sumerian kingship, ‘the military leader and the mediator between humans and gods (the divine).’
Three of the richest tombs excavated by Woolley were identified by seals inscribed in cuneiform with the owner’s name. They were a lady named Puabi and the Kings Akalamelug and Meskalamdug.
The finest jewelry of all was buried with Puabi. There was a lapis seal beside her right arm, gold and lapis pins by her left arm, large lapis and agate beads by her right shoulder.
Another important finding was a lyre decorated with the bull´s head, whose hair, beard and eyes were of Lapis Lazuli. No one knows for sure if she was a queen or a priestess.
The whole ensemble of grave goods highlights the high standard of craftsmanship in Ur. As well as the wealthy patronage.
The findings of this incredible treasure was divided in three museums that were the Iraq Museum, the British Museum and the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia which had both helped finance the excavation.
The second of these contemporary sites is Mari, known today as Tell Hariri. It is on the central Euphrates now in south-eastern Syria. It had commercial ties with third millennium Ur.
In this site, a magnificent lapis and gold eagle was found in the 1930s in the ruler´s palace, with many other lapis objects. This site was excavated by French archaeologists, led by Professor André Parrot.
Most of the statues found in huge numbers in the temples are now in the Aleppo Museum have lost their Lapis Lazuli irises.
This was the powerful entrepot of upper Mesopotamia. Materials used for statuary and jewelry are an example of the ramifications of Mari´s trade, as that of Ur: gold, from Afghanistan or Anatolia, turquoise from eastern Iran, carnelian perhaps from Afghanistan or India, above all Lapis Lazuli from Afghanistan.
Treasure of Ur
One of the most emblematic discoveries in Mari was the so-called “Treasure of Ur”, dated around 2500-2000B.C. The Treasure of Ur is a large clay jar found in a temple within one of the palaces. It is known as the Treasure of Ur because in the contents it was found a bead made of Lapis Lazuli inscribed with the name of a king of the First Dynasty of Ur, Mesannepada. This gave the jar´s contents their claim to fame. It also contained fourteen pristine seals, three statuettes, a pair of stick pins, arm and neck rings and an incredible amulet.
This amulet is one of the superb examples of crafted Lapis Lazuli from the ancient world. It is about 12.5 centimeters high and 11.5 centimeters at it widest part. The amulet is a lion-headed eagle, the wings of purest blue lapis, the head and tail feathers of bitumen covered with gold leaf. It also represents the god Ningirsu, god of fertility and irrigation. It is a symbol of an era of Mesopotamian prosperity that would be hard to envisage today.
Ebla was a successful commercial center. Italian archaeologists excavate this site since the 1960s. Over twenty-four acres temples, palaces, a Royal Palace have been unearthed. Excavations still continue.
The most valuable of this site was the so-called “library”. Here the “State Archives” were found. These were two rooms with cuneiform tablets. Other libraries have been found in other sites but Ebla´s outnumbered the lot. It provided details for career of court officials, hierarchies, administration, above all economy. Here it was found a cache of about twenty-two kilos of un worked raw Lapis Lazuli.
A hym to Baal also describes the construction for him of “a mansion of brilliant Lapis Lazuli”.
Mesopotamian history shows us that there was a society wealthy enough to patronize superb craftsmanship anxious to conciliate temperamental gods. Land of gods, gems for the gods, Mesopotamia..
Lapis Lazuli History in Sumerian Culture and Epic Poetry
Lapis lazuli is one of the most popular stones from the beginning of human history. Its deep, “cosmic” blue color is a symbol of royal persons and Gods, a symbol of honor, strength, spirit and vision. It is also a universal symbol of wisdom and truth.
The properties and value of the stone is lapis lazuli are really exceptional. In ancient times lapis lazuli was especially appreciated because of its beautiful color and the valuable ultramarine dye derived from it.
“Lapis lazuli is a sky-blue color. A good one is that which has no veins and white spots, does not change color in fire and has golden specks “– wrote the Armenian historian of the 17th century Arakel Davrizhetsi.
Today this wonderful stone is considered semi-precious, but in the deepest antiquity and at least until the XVII century it was considered precious. “… this is a genuine precious stone ..” -testifies Arakel.
Even for 2-3 millennium BC, Sumerian queens proudly wore gold jewelry with lapis lazuli. Its color and golden specks symbolized the starry sky and, apparently, it was believed that possessing this marvellous stone is the same as having a piece of the starry sky. Even on their last journey, the queens wearing jewelry with the dominant presence of lapis lazuli, while the mourners pronounced the spell: “Your beautiful lapis lazuli does not split the cutter in the underworld!” (“The Descent of Innin into the Underworld”),
In the large Sumerian city of Ur, the lunar god was depicted in the form of a bull with a lapis lazuli beard.
In the Sumerian temples, crypts, tombs excavated in the 20th century, many items, real works of art encrusted with lapis lazuli were found, even the signs of dominion and court in Sumerian epics literally meant: “a measuring ruler made of lapis lazuli.” And even here, we are able, through the Armenian language, to explain the real meaning of such a strange phenomenon, at first glance, as the fact that the measuring ruler is a symbol of dominion and court. The fact is that in Armenian, the word “ruler” is translated as քանոն (qanawn), which has another meaning “canon, law”, so it is not surprising that the ruler is a symbol of dominion and judgment, but why is the lazurite ruler? Yes, because the laws in Sumer came from the same place, from where lapis lazuli …
Many researchers quite reasonably believe that in Sumerians valued lapis lazuli more than any other precious stones. But not only due to this fact the stone of Sumerian queens is interesting.
In the mythology of the Sumerians, the goddess Inanna (the predecessor of Aphrodite and Venus) travelled to the world of people with the help of lapis lazuli and measured the length of human lives. These crystals were considered to be a divine flesh, and according to the beliefs the Gods were crystalline beings.
Lapis Lazuli in epic poetry
As lapis lazuli very often mentioned in the Sumerian epic poetry, the stone became one of the main pointers in the problem of historical character. The fact is that neither in the Sumerian surroundings, nor anywhere else in the neighborhood with them, was possible to produce lapis lazuli, and even with such a magnificent quality. It follows from the same writings that the main suppliers of processed lapis lazuli to Sumer were the inhabitants of Aratta. The exact location of this country is still unknown. Various hypotheses are proposed and, as I have already said, lapis lazuli is considered one of the main indicators for solving this problem. For example, it is known that such high-quality lapis lazuli can be extracted only in the north of Afghanistan in Badakhshan and therefore a hypothesis arose ( according to author V.Sirianidi), who stated that Aratta was located exactly there, in the north of Afghanistan. This hypothesis relies mainly on the lines from the poem “Enmercar and the High Priest of Aratta,” which literally says the following: “..lapis lazuli are collected from at its deposits for her [the goddess Innin].”
However, for a number of reasons, this hypothesis finds no evidence. There are many other hypotheses, mainly based on the idea of reexport of lapis lazuli, but I do not consider it possible and necessary to enumerate them. The only thing that exactly follows from all this, is the categorical rejection of the hypothesis according to which Aratta could be located somewhere in the territory of historical Armenia.
Meanwhile, among the other things, what else we have to talk about this problem, the world of science will still have to pay attention to Armenia as a country where lapis lazuli production has been strongly developed since ancient times. If this were not so, then it would be very surprising to see why the ancient Greek scholars Theophrastus and Pliny II in their works called lapis lazuli “Armenian stone”. This state of affairs is possible only if Armenians have already monopolized Theophrastspheres of processing and trade of lapis lazuli for many centuries before Theophrastus, that is, long before the 4th century BC. It’s amazing why this fact has not been taken into account until now …
Moreover, according to the evidence of the Armenian historian Arakel Davrizhetsi, we can trace the ways in which lapis lazuli was transported from Badakhshan came to Armenia. With knowledge of this matter describing the characteristics of quality lapis lazuli, Araqel Davrizhetsi, writes that this quality “corresponds only to the stone mined in the mines of Badakhshan.” About stones from Kash and Shamishaide Arakel responds scornfully, calling them counterfeit, while about lapis lazuli from Badakhshan speaks with admiration – “This is a genuine jewel!” And a little further he pronounces the next, very important for us phrase – “We get it from Uzbeks, “that is, those very indigenous inhabitants of northern Afghanistan. In fact, in the 17th century, Armenians still had direct trade relations with one of the main ethnic groups of the population of northern Afghanistan, where Badakhshan is located. Certainly it is possible to assume that there is no reason to deny that this scheme of supplies of Badakhshan’s lapis lazuli was used from the deepest antiquity, when the sumerian cililisation existed and flourished.
Commerce due to pilgrimage and trade has shown us an incredible exchange of knowledge between cultures like an exquisite glass goblet decorated with trails of Lapis Lazuli known as the “Luck of Edenhall”. In Lapis Lazuli in the Islamic World we`ll learn how pilgrimage helped the trade of our beloved lapis through large distances.
Lapis Lazuli was a stone of such value that it was fundamental for a Muslim pilgrim. It could pay for the expenses of to renew one´s submission to Allah in Mecca. Pilgrimage was never cheap. You needed something in your bags to pay for your lodging and also your keep. The importance of the pilgrimage, or hajj, to a Muslim led to the spirit of enquiry both mental and physical so characteristic of the medieval Islamic world.
Pilgrimage is an important part of the story, the journey of the devout. It is an intrinsic part of all religion. The Prophet Muhammad, having received the word of God in a hillside cave above Mecca. He imposed five obligations on all Muslims. They were: to bear witness to God, to pray five times a day, to fast in the month of Ramadan, to give alms and also to make the pilgrimage to Mecca. This Pilgrimage was dangerous and a Lapis Lazuli amulet was believed to protects one´s path.
Pilgrimage necessitated travel; the medieval Muslim accounts of the journey to Mecca, known as rihla, are some of the world´s earliest travelogues. With travel came the exchange of goods, ideas and technologies. Muhammad had been a merchant before he became the messenger of God. Mecca had long been a major commercial as well as religious center. Trade was at the heart of the subsequent Muslim expansion.‘The truthful merchant will sit under the throne of God’ was one of many sayings of the Prophet' Click To Tweet
Beads cut from Lapis Lazuli have been crucial guides to the travels of the precious stone. It´s easy to imagine a hajj pilgrim setting out from the Oxus world with some pieces of beautiful Sar-i-Sang Lapis Lazuli in his bags. He would sell it carefully as he travels across Khurasan, then Iraq, perhaps also joining the Baghdad hajj caravan for safety. Selling the last remaining pieces of lapis in Mecca in order to buy goods for his return. The purchaser in Mecca of those lapis beads could be another pilgrim maybe from Africa. He would head for Cairo where he might have met in the market place a merchant from Jenne or Timbuktu. That second merchant might have taken the Lapis Lazuli to the stone carver (probably Jewish; the craft often seems to have been concentrated in Jewish hands) to have it turned into trade beads.
Such networks of merchants linked to pilgrimage played a crucial role in the transmission of precious goods, specially our magnificent Lapis Lazuli. Lapis was found around the Middle East and Mediterranean. In such final stops as Constantinople, Alexandria, Aleppo, Baghdad, and also away along that Great Khurasan Road to Merv, connecting there with eastern trade routes, the Oxus and the mines themselves.
The tradition of fine glass making has a long history in Syria and also in Egypt. The glass makers of the medieval world of Islam benefiting from the wealthy patronage of the court circle. ‘Nowhere in the world like Damascus, can one see more beautiful glass objects’.
Luck of Edenhall
The “Luck of Edenhall” belongs to a tradition of the finest medieval Islamic glass making. The greatest achievement of the thirteenth to fourteenth century glass makers was in enameling of glass. Decorating the blown vessel with calligraphy (the writing of Arabic), floral decoration and also arabesques. One of the most dominant colors is blue derived from finely ground Lapis Lazuli.
The blue of the Luck of Edenhall comes from finely ground Lapis Lazuli as if made for pigment. Then mixed with a lead oxide flux that would enable the blue decoration to fuse to the blown vessel at much lower temperature than that used for the vessel itself.
It is sixteen centimeters high and and according to Wikipedia it was probably made in Syria. It is of brownish colorless glass and densely decorated with blue, white, green and also red arabesque. All the Lapis Lazuli on it surely gives it a sacred role.
This beautiful work of art is now in the Medieval Renaissance Gallery in the Victoria and Albert Museum.
Pilgrimage is one of the foundations of trade. Is the reason beautiful object like our magical Lapis Lazuli from across the world finished in the local bazaar or market. It connects different cultures and religions. This is another proof of the impact lapis had in another religion. Lapis Lazuli has been tied to Islam since the Prophet Muhammad . Till next time.
Lapis Lazuli History in Chile
Today I wanted to talk a little about the magnificent Lapis Lazuli from South America, The Chilean Stone. In Lapis Lazuli Chile I will talk about the other famous mines after the afghan mines. On how they have a similar history with ancient civilizations and with actual illegal mining. Enjoy!!
A discovering of a stone in 1921 with an arrow tip made of Lapis Lazuli near the Ovalle Cordillera helped discover that this rock was also known in prehistoric America by the Indian Diaguitas and other pre-Colombian cultures.
Saved from Wikipedia. Diaguita Ruins at Ovalle
The Diaguita Indians in the 4th century found Lapis Lazuli in Ovalle Cordillera, Coquimbo, Chile. They used lapis beads for necklaces with styles that are still used in modern fashion trends like we can appreciate in Nammu.com.
The Diaguita Indians were an aboriginal group. They were also sophisticated artists. Specializing on metal and ceramic work using Lapis Lazuli.
The Incas expanded their empire near the mountains of Lapis Lazuli during the 15th and 16th century. Inca Tupac Yupanqui, grandfather of Huascar and Atahualpa advanced in lands of the “Araucanos”, the “Mollense” and the “Diaguita” whose women adorned themselves with Lapis Lazuli beads from Tulalwen.
Numerous pre-Inca civilizations also used Lapis jewelry and adornments. The Incas, Molles and Diaguitas and other pre-colombian cultures also have used lapis for thousands of years to ornament masks and other artifacts.
Chile supplied all the ancient civilizations of the area from Ecuador to Maule.
In 1850, F. Field published the existence of Chilean Lapis Lazuli.
The actual location of this precious stone in the South American continent is in the Ovalle Cordillera at 3600 above sea level east of Tulalwen at the Monte Patria commune. It is only 200mts from the Argentinean border.
Flor de los Andes
There are three mining concessions in these mountains. Flor de los Andes is the oldest concession established 1952 and is controlled by the company Las Flores de los Andes S.A. .
It was in 1950 when it begun commercial mining. The company built a 60km access road in 1989 that allowed for the transport of machinery to the mine on order to start the extraction of material in larger quantities.
Due to the extreme conditions this site can only be mined during the Chilean summer that is January to April.
Its incredible how although the mines from Chile and Afghanistan have incredible rough climate conditions, people still manage to risk there lives for this magical stone.
San Marcelo and La Seguridad
In 1995 a group of Chilean companies consolidated to form Compañia Minera LapisChile S.A. which now controls the other two concessions San Marcelo and La Seguridad.
The National Service of Geology and Minery of Chile informs that there hasn’t been Lapis Lazuli production since 2010. On 2006 it reached its peak with 400 tons and in 2009, the last year of activity it produced 215 tons of lapis.
The main reason the company stopped producing is the illegal mining. The organized crime syndicates took charge of the area. They even use part of the camps and infrastructure of the company. An important percentage of lapis sales in Chile come from this illegal mining and contraband. A small percentage comes also from what’s left of the company that can still work.
Sales of Lapis Lazuli on Chile are above the USD2million monthly.
Nowadays Lapis Lazuli is also employed on the creation of jewelry especially in Chile. Chile also exports great quantities to Europe and the United States.
The Ministry of Mining declared Lapis Lazuli Chiles National Stone on November 23 of 1984 under decree 62.The FIFA World Cup Jules Rimet also had a Lapis Lazuli base. It was stolen in Brazil in 1983 and was never found Click To Tweet
The Chilean Lapis is formed by the metasomatic introduction of sulfur into impure limestone.
Four-category quality scheme used to grade Chilean Lapis Lazuli:
- –First Quality material: Dark Blue to ultramarine blue lazurite with no gray calcite. Finely dispersed pyrite may be present.
- –Second Quality material: Dark blue to medium blue lazurite. Significant amount of white spots and specks of pyrite and also minor gray calcite.
- –Third Quality material: Deep Blue to pale blue lazurite. Appreciable amounts of gray and white minerals and also small quantities of pyrite.
- –Fourth quality material: Subordinates amount of lazurite tones of blue, it also has gray calcite.
Lapis Chile uses different categories for their products. LapisChile sells most of its products as finished jewelry and ornaments. Unlike Flor de los Andes that sell its product mostly by kilos of raw material and also prepared pigment.
Most carvers and jewelry manufacturers will not use pieces of lapis with less than 70% lazurite. Material with less than 50% lazurite is used only for construction material as slabs, countertops or tiles.
The Chilean craftsmen also make penguin, condors, pendants, necklaces, spheres, etc. All these beautiful lapis objects are very coveted by the thousands of tourists that each day walk through Santiago de Chile looking for lapis.
Although the difficulties to acquire this magnificent stone on both the largest mines world wide, it is proven that people will go to extreme lengths even risking their lives to own this precious stone.
Thankfully we don’t have to take these risks. Only contact Nammu.com and acquire this exquisite stone.
Lapis Lazuli History in Europe
Idar-Oberstein, the gem centre of Europe. A beautiful city where you can find incredible quantities of Lapis Lazuli of all shapes and forms compared only with the warehouses found in Peshawar. Lapis artisans have existed a couple of millenia B.C. A lot of traditions have been continued by the artisans of today. Here in Idar-Oberstein-Gem Center of Europe we will get to learn a little of these traditional lapis artisans.
In the Middle Ages they were two cities instead of one. Idar and Oberstein were made one in the 1930’s. They line the valley of the River Nahe in West Germany. Very little happens in Idar-Oberstein other than the gem business. The waters of the Rhine River was used to provide the power for the stone cutting and polishing powered tools of the craftsmen.
The gem cutting craft in Idar-Oberstein developed some five hundred years ago (possibly far earlier). When miners discovered local deposits of agate and amethyst. Cutting, slicing, drilling and polishing the rock became a major industry.
Then in the 1800’s the agate began to run out. Idar’s master craftsmen from the nineteenth century traveled around the world in search of the missing agate. South America was one placed they went. Brazil was one of the targets. Huge rocks of amethysts, tourmalines, citrines, and topaz were loaded into the holds of German ships. Other craftsmen turned to Afghanistan and its magical Lapis Lazuli.
At the end of the nineteenth century, gems from all around the world were being shipped to Idar-Oberstein for cutting by its famous artisans. There were literally hundreds of cutting houses in the town. This very fame led to the end of the industry’s prime. The wages in the area became too high to warrant cutting less valuable stones and many gem-cutters were forced to emigrate.
However many of the artisans and their families remained to continue the tradition through the generations. Today Idar-Oberstein is still famous for some of the finest gem carving in the world. Many modern lapidary artists still flourish, as well as the dealers who import rough stones from gem markets around the world.
In the 1980’s, Afghan refugee jewelers escaped the Soviet invasion and traveled to Idar-Oberstein. They set up workshops and supplied themselves with lapis with the help of relatives, friends and dealers back home.
One of the traditional gem cutters of Idar-Oberstein is the Mogbil family. Khalil Mogbil came from Herat in western Afghanistan. Traditional painting (using ground lapis) was his beginnings. His father in law was in the gem business, including dealing with stone cutters in Germany. His family claims that it was he who introduced Germany to Lapis Lazuli. In 1983 he migrated to Idar-Oberstein and later on his large family followed him.
Khalil was one of them. There he specialized in unpolished lapis objects. Despite the existence of modern machinery for the task, this gem cutter and most of the traditional families use whirring stone wheels to shape lumps of lapis. Some say Khalil Mogbil is an artist first, a jewelry second.
Another traditional family dealing with Lapis Lazuli were the Mohrs. The Mohr family has been in the gem cutting business for three generations. Thomas Mohr is occasionally commissioned to engrave the highest-grade lapis for intricacy and magical jewelry that sell for tens of thousands of dollars.
Both Mohr´s grandfathers were jewelers. In 1920´s both traveled to Afghanistan to obtain raw material. They immediately focused on the potential of Lapis Lazuli for the German market. They sent back large consignments. The remains of those consignments still keep the company´s craftsmen busy today.
Breaking up the rough stones, they extract the most brilliant blue pieces to fashion mostly small items. They make abstract, floral, butterflies, scarabs, necklaces, brooches and so on. The difference from Khalils products are that Mohrs are highly polished. They also make pietra dura tables. These are more modest in design than the Florentine triumphs.
If the gem cutters from Idar-Oberstein run low in Lapis Lazuli, they don´t have to travel anymore to Afghan Blue Mountains. They just have to call up Afghan or Pakistani middlemen who maintain warehouses of the raw stones near Stuttgart. “If I need less than 20 kilos of medium grade lapis I can have if within two days”, Mohrs says.
Larger quantities or better quality pieces take longer. “If they don´t have what I want in their warehouses, they generally contact a relative or associate in Kabul or Peshawar and have him send it by air freight or deliver it in person,” Mohr explains.
New Destiny For Lapis
New bulk shipments of Lapis Lazuli go now to China and Hong Kong, “The Gem Capital of the World”. The cheap labor and materials makes China a necessity to lapis manufacturing process. Even the gem cutters from Idar-Oberstein send thousands of gems including lapis to be cut and faceted at factories in Sri Lanka, Thailand or China.
Despite cheaper lapis products from China, dealers from Idar-Oberstein or not concerned about the competition. The traditional gem cutters from this beautiful German town have been transforming stones and gems into amazing jewelry and marvelous objects since the 1400´s. They’ve endured all kinds of difficulties and we believe they will keep doing just that.
Lapis Lazuli History in China
I want to tell you about a millenarian culture, the Chinese culture. Lapis Lazuli in the Mythical China tells us about the perfect combination of ancient Chinese culture and modern art. We’ll talk about where it all began, the Bamiyan Valley. The extensive use of lapis by the Buddhist and Taoist religion. We´ll learn about the magical Medicine Buda and his Lapis Lazuli Pure Land. Of course, let’s not forget about the experts of today, the Hong Kong craftsmen. Enjoy!
The Wakhan Corridor, Iskar
China has been perfecting their craftsmanship on lapis since the Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220AD). Chinese traveled through a village called Iskar via the Wakhan Corridor. They traveled seeking for afghan horses and they found tiān qīng shí or Lapis Lazuli.
The Bamiyan Valley is located in the Hazarajat region of central Afghanistan. This is the region where Chinese and the natives historically traded Lapis Lazuli and bartered.
This valley is located in the silk route near the Badakshan. Remember we’ve talked about this region? The best quality of lapis comes from here. The Chinese use to call the Badakshan, Tu-ho-lo or Tukharistan.
In the 1 century B.C the Buddhist religion migrated from China to the Bamiyan Valley of Afghanistan. They built two Buddhas on a vertical sandstone cliff. One of 170 feet high and the second 115 feet high. These Buddha’s represent the importance of this lapis valley to the Chinese.
The Yungang Grottoes are ancient Chinese Buddhist Temples grottoes or caves near the city of Datong in the province of Shanxi. It is on the valley of the Shi River at the base of the Wuzhou Shan Mountains. It is one of the three most famous ancient Buddhist sculptural sites of China.
This enigmatic place has 252 caves with more than 51,000 Buddha statues and statuettes. This beautiful and magical place is completed with master pieces painted on the wall of the caves. Lapis Lazuli, like in most of Buddhist art, is used brilliantly and extensively all around the grottoes.
The Buddha of healing and medicine in Mahayana Buddhism commonly called the “Medicine Buddha” is also known as the “King of Medicine and Lapis Lazuli Light”. He is described as a doctor who cures dukkha (suffering) using the medicine of his teachings. The most distinctive feature of this Medicine Buddha is his color, the deep blue of Lapis Lazuli.
According to Wikipedia, Bhaisajyaguru’s original name and title was raja (king), but Xuanzang translated it as Tathagata (Buddha). The image of Bhaisajyaguru is usually expressed with a canonical Buddha-like form holding gallipot and, in some versions, possessing blue skin.
Medicine Buddha is one of many Buddha’s who have attained the state of perfect enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings. The enlightened mind has eliminated all negativity and perfected all positive qualities.
When the Medicine Buddha achieved Buddhahood he became the Buddha of eastern pure land of Vaiduryanirbhasa “Lapis Lazuli Pure Land”. A pure land is the celestial realm. Bodhisattvas would obtain pure lands after they attained buddhahood. Known as the king among medicines because of its effectiveness in treating both mental and physical diseases.
Lapis Lazuli Pure Land is far to the east and its ground is made of lapis and its streets are paved with precious stones and marked off with gold. The boundaries are demarcated with golden cords, the towns, towers, palaces, pavilions, as well as the balconies, windows and draperies are all made of the Seven Treasures.
The Lapis Healing Master is often shown in the company of seven other Medicine Buddhas. The Healing Master in his eastern Buddha realm known as Pure Lapis Lazuli is generally flanked by the two leading bodhisattvas of that pure land, Suryaprabha and Chandraprabha, respectively All-pervading Solar and Lunar Radiance.
He made twelve vows. The Twelve Vows of the Medicine Buddha upon attaining Enlightenment, according to the Medicine Buddha Sutra are:
- To illuminate countless realms with his radiance, enabling anyone to become a Buddha just like him.
- To awaken the minds of sentient beings through his light of Lapis Lazuli
- To provide the sentient beings with whatever material needs they require.
- To correct heretical views and inspire beings toward the path of Bodhisattva.
- To help beings follow the Moral Precepts, even if they failed before.
- To heal beings born with deformities, illness or other physical sufferings.
- To help relieve the destitute and the sick.
- To help women who wish to be reborn as men achieve their desired rebirth.
- To help heal mental afflictions and delusions.
- To help the oppressed be free from suffering.
- To relieve those who suffer from terrible hunger and thirst.
- To help clothe those who are destitute and suffering from cold and mosquitoes.
The Lapis Healing Master is one of the most honored figures in the Buddhist pantheon. In Tibet the Medicine Buddha is revered as the source of the healing arts for it is through him that the teachings embodied in the Four Medical Tantras, the basis of Tibetan medicine came into being.
As explained in the first of these Four Tantras, the Lapis Lazuli Healing Master was once seated in meditation surrounded by an assembly of four circles of disciples including divine physicians, great sages, non-Buddhist gods and bodhisattvas, all of whom wished to learn the art of healing. Rendered speechless by the radiant glory of his countenance, they were unable to request the desired teachings. To accommodate their unspoken wishes, the Medicine Buddha manifested two emanations, one to request the teachings and the other to deliver them. In this way, then, the Buddhist explanation of the various mental and physical ailments, their causes, diagnoses and treatment and the maintenance of health is said to have originated.
During the 6th century the Taoists worshiped animals. They carved creatures from lapis. In the 14th century they made libation cups, urns and vessels.
Temple of Heaven
The Temple complex was built from 1406 to 1420 in the southeastern part of central Beijing during the reign of the Yongle Emperor. The Yongle Emperor also constructed the Forbidden City in Beijing. He used abundant Lapis Lazuli in the construction of this magnificent complex regarded as a Taoist Temple.
The most recognized carvings of lapis in the Ch’ien-lung period (1776-1795) were of Ho Tei, the God of Happiness. They also made carvings of Kuan Yin, a court lady. Chinese also made artifacts like snuff bottles and incense receptacles for cremated ashes sages. Delicate creatures like lions and other creatures from nature and mythology were made as tomb guardians.
The Chinese grounded lapis into a cosmetic to paint their eyebrows and made sheets of it into screens studded with pearls.
They made the famous Chinese fish, the carp. This exquisite fish amulet is a prize you can acquire in your favorite Nammu.com store.
The Pamir Mountains (discovered in the 1930’s) are between Russia and China. These mountains contain a poorer quality of lapis. From this we conclude that the Pamir Mountains were not the source of Chinese early trade of lapis.
Famous craft centers are in Liaonng, Kiangsu and Hunon. Shanghai is by far the most famous city where lapis carvings are made in rich and mythical traditions.
The cosmopolitan Hong Kong has a great quantity of carving workshops for lapis carving. The artisans polish and engrave the stones with a masterful skill. They pick the best colored pieces and make them into finer jewelry. The bigger pieces are also turned into images from libation cups, duck images to beautiful court ladies from the old days.
The Hong Kong artisans decide what kind of design best fits the piece of lapis. They are experts in their trade. Armed with the best tools and dills they work in small factories. An ordinary artisan has over a hundred diamond tipped drills in its working station which helps them cut intricate designs.
Raw lapis is sold by the kilo and some of the original pieces weigh 25 kgs. Lapis is sometimes dipped into a dye to enhance the color. Taiwan is considered a top center for dyeing stones.
Chinese artisans made Imperial buildings (tiles) of lapis lazuli. Lapis was also found in mausoleum screen walls, religious temples, worship offerings in stupas, as well as in utensils and adornments in the early Ming Dynasty.
It’s been appraised as one of the Seven Buddhist Treasures. It is also considered in the five famous Chinese wares (Bullion, jade, lapis lazuli, porcelain and bronze ware).
The Chinese artistic and cultural richness of the Chinese ritualistic traditions combined with the skills of the craftsmen lead to magical lapis Lazuli pieces.
To my standards and I think everyone’s standard, the Chinese artisans work more exquisitely than any other artisan in the world. They have a historic, mythical and rich tradition of lapis statue carvings.
Lapis Lazuli, a millenarian gemstone used by a millenarian culture…
Lapis Lazuli History in Russia
Today I’ll talk about Russian use of Lapis Lazuli. A single post is not enough to talk about the magnificent art the Russian people has given the world. In the Magnificent Blue Russia we’ll talk in detail about the exquisite Lapis Lazuli Imperial Egg, the magnificent Hermitage Urns and of course we couldn’t forget Saint Andrei Rublev with its famous icon of the Trinity.
Russia has six known lapis mines: Lake Baikal at Malo-Bystrinskoie; the Sljudjanka River; near the Talaja, Malaja, and also the Bistraja Rivers; and in Siberia at the Alibert mines of the Pamirs.
The Lake Baikal is the worlds deepest freshwater lake. It has 400 miles long and thirty miles wide. Volcanic explosion formed this lake. The caves of Lapis Lazuli are along the Angara River.
The Sljujanksa River also flows into Lake Baikal. The Lapis Lazuli caves are on the right slope of this river.
The Malo-Bystrinskoie site is fourteen miles from the right slope of the Lazurnaja River. The Kirghiz and Tadjik tribes are the nearby tribes to these sites.
The mines on the Talaja, Malaja and the Bistraja Rivers have an extremely difficult route. The lapis is in a steep wall of marble and gneiss, bordering an immense glacier.
Peter Carl Faberge
According to Wikipedia, the first Easter egg was commissioned in 1885 by Russian Czar Alexander III from craftsman Peter Carl Faberge. It was an Easter gift for his wife the Empress Maria Fedorovna.
This egg had a gold yolk, gold hen, miniature diamond crown and also a ruby egg inside. The Empress loved the gift so much that the czar decided to commission a new egg every Easter.
After the czar Alexander III died in 1894, his son Nicholas continued the tradition.
Lapis Lazuli Imperial Egg
Faberge designed the Lapis Lazuli Imperial Egg (1912)with six sections of overlay. Encrusting the egg with lacy, solid gold tracing in the style of Louis IV cage work and motifs of shells, scrolls, and also basket of diamonds ornamented the oval egg.
It also had inscribed the initials of A.F on top for Czarina Alexandra Feodorovna into a piece of diamond monogram. This was a symbol of the Imperial Crown of Russia.
The gifts from king to queen usually had a surprise inside. This time the surprise was a picture frame that held the image of their eight year old son Alexis. The frame was on top of a Lapis Lazuli base. Hundreds of diamonds set into the Russian double headed Imperial Eagle surrounded the miniature painting.
This Imperial Egg resides in the Virginia Museum of Fine arts.
The workshops of Faberge used lapis from both the mines of Afghanistan and Siberia. Faberge had offices in Odessa, Moscow, Kiev, St. Petersburg and also in London. Over 500 workmen cut jewels for Faberge by 1906.
Faberge and his younger brother Agathon sketched designs as well as Henrik Wigstrom. Watteau and Boucher were the ones in charge of painting the eggs.
Scythian art influenced Faberge. Faberge houses started the collection of Imperial eggs in 1885. He also made picture frames, small farm animals, flowers, pendants, crosses, and also boxes. Magnificent Faberge pendants like the exquisite pendant you can find in your favorite Nammu store.
The Russian revolution closed the Faberge houses in 1917 except the London office. He continued his work with the requests of the royals of Europe. They requested jewelry with lapis as a companion stone. Wealthy clients included Napoleon III, cabinet maker Tahan who has a box of lapis at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and also Queen Marie of Romania.
Faberge had been the imperial jeweler to three czars of Russia, Alexander II, Alexander III and also Nicholas II. He died at 74 on September 14, 1920. His tombstone read:Charles Faberge, jeweler to the Russian Court Click To Tweet
Theophanes the Greek
The artist Theophanes the Greek (1330-1405-09) moved to the monastic complex of Novgorod and worked in Russia for about twenty five years. Pigments were exchanged along with artists. The most precious pigments maybe exchanged for furs and amber. One of Theophanes most famous icon was “The Virgin of the Don” painted in 1392.
Legend claims it was carried to war at the great Battle of Kulikovo when the Russians inflicted a dramatic defeat on the Mongols, thanks to the icon. The tenderness of the mother and child on one side of the panel is matched by the simplicity of the Dormition on the other. When the two sides were being cleaned the restorers found that Lapis Lazuli had been used for all its blue shades.
Lapis Lazuli was an ingredient reserved for paintings of special importance, but in Russia it would have been even more highly regarded, perhaps brought north up the Volga by Armenian entrepreneurs.
Andrei Rublev (1360’s-1430’s) is considered to be one of the greatest medieval Russian painter of orthodox icons and also frescos. The first mention of Rublev is in 1405 when he decorated icons and frescos for the Cathedral of the Annunciation of the Moscow Kremlin. He painted the Assumption Cathedral in Vladimir in 1408 as well as the Trinity Cathedral with Danii Cherni.
He also painted the frescoes of the savior Cathedral. Rublev also believed to have painted at least one of the miniatures in the Khitrovo Gospels.
The most emblematic work that is entirely his is the icon of The Trinity. It is his most famous work and the most famous of all Russian icons. It is regarded as one of the highest achievements of Russian Art.
Rublev used Lapis Lazuli pigment spectacularly in the large icon (142 x 114 centimeters) of the Old Testament Trinity. We can also find this scene in the Benedictine church of St. Savin.
Rublev´s Trinity was painted for Trinity Cathedral at Troitse-Sergeyeva Lavra, now Zagorsk. The communists confiscated it and put it in the Tretyakov, while a huge copy is now in the old cathedral.
It must be one of the most copied icons of all time.
According to the Genesis, the Lord with three superior beings came to visit the ninety-nine year old Abraham while he was camping in the plains of Mamre. He brought them water and ordered cakes and he also ordered a young man to kill a calf and dress it for the visitors.
Behind the table in the painting is the famous Tree of marme always depicted with a lower branch cut off because Abraham needed it for his camp fire. Seated at the table are the three beings. Three Angels dressed most beautifully and expensively in strong Lapis Lazuli robes. The majestic translucency of the pigment glowing from their garments.
Rublev would have learnt to use the precious pigment in the workshop of Theophanes the Greek. Who himself learnt it from masters in Constantinople and also from the Byzantine world.
The rarity of the pigment in icon painting testifies both to the superiority of Rublev as a painter, and also his recognition of the superlative qualities of his pigment.
Icon painting is alive and well today, in both west and post Communist east.
The painting is also full of symbolism and is interpreted as an icon of the Holy Trinity. The Trinity is also considered a Russian National patrimony.
The Russian Orthodox Church canonized Rublev as a Saint in 1988, celebrating his feast day on on the29th of January.
At the end of the Great Hall of the Winter Palace you can find a gigantic, square, Lapis Lazuli urn positioned on a dais. The lapis on the Hermitage Urns is superb. Their size, symbolic of the vastness of Imperial Russia, the suffering of miners, the toil of stone cutters, the terrible slog of those who manipulated the objects over land, river and canal, dragged them up the Jordan staircase on the orders of Tsar Nicholas I.
This huge urn was not made from one solid lump of lapis. Instead, a huge lump of cheap marble that had been veneered with lapis. It is fact ‘faceted’ in Ekaterinburg in the Urals in the 1830s. The craftsmanship was superb. The lapis was sliced incredibly thin and perfectly matched. There is a century old technique with old string and water. But what sort of tools were available to craftsmen in the Tsar´s ‘faceting factories` where the urn was made.
Erik Laksmn, a young geologist, in exile from the Tsarist system of justice was deported to the Nerchinsk region. He was the one who discovered Lapis Lazuli in 1785 on the Banks of the River Sludianka.
A stone cutting factory was established in 1787 at Kolyvan. Skilled craftsmen were experts at cutting the best parts of the Lapis lazuli, an almost purplish blue. It was dispatched to Ekaterinburg for pasting to the great urns demanded by the Tsars for the Jordan Staircase. The two thousand kilometer journey was nearly as long as that from Badakhshan to the Florentine masters. This journey was mostly accomplished in winter over the frozen steppe, then via frozen rivers and also canals.
The veneering technique became known as “Russian Mosaic”. The fragments could be fixed to stone or metal and imperfections ground down and polished. Some vases took as much as twenty years to complete.
I can keep going and going with the Magnificence of Russian Art. Like I said in the beginning, a single post isn’t enough. I hope you also enjoyed!
Lapis Lazuli History in Afghanistan
It is not easy to track the use of Lapis Lazuli by the Afghans. This is mainly because of hundreds, if not thousands of years of looting of ancient sites. Most dramatically of course in the last thirty years. We will learn a little about the famous Mehrgarh, Shortugai and Mundikak sites. As well as the efforts the DAFA are making to preserve the old and the new sites in Afghanistan. Archaeologists working in Afghanistan have always had a hard time, particularly keeping ahead of illicit diggers as well as keeping them out of the way once the official hole has been dug.
There are several places where lapis objects have been found. Some of the most important sites are:
The oldest of these sites is probably Mehrgarh. It is just over the Afghan border in Pakistan. It is at the foot of the Bolan Pass in Pushtu country. So it is considered by Afghanistan´s Pushtu majority as part of their terrain.
The Mehrgarh sites dates way back around 7000B.C when people were shifting from exclusively hunting and gathering into agricultural settlements. Settlements need graves as well as houses.
Tooled lapis beads appeared in Mehrgarh at all levels including levels between circa 4,400 and 3,500B.C, deposited in graves to assist that path to paradise. Here the sacred role of Lapis Lazuli begins.
Another significant site is Shortugai. It is at the north of the country. Not far from where the Kokcha River tumbles down from Sar-i-Sang to join the Oxus. Shortughai is especially important because in the Bronze Age of the late third millennium B.C. it guarded access to the lapis mines.
Here archaeologists found pottery probably imported from Harappa away in the Indus Valley and concluded that Shortugai might have been a Harappan colony. It could also have been involved in the export of lapis and other raw materials either via the Indus or northwards into Central Asia.
North of Kandahar, in the Helmand basin the Mundigak site is found. The huge site consists of a series of mounds spread over some twenty hectares. There are city walls and a pyramid like structure. Mundigak Lapis was also connected with Shahri-I Sokhta.
Several Afghan treasures have come to light over the years. Spread over several thousand years, they are the Fullol Treasure, the Oxus Treasure and the Tille Teppe. Only a handful of lapis beads turned up.
We can ask ourselves. Why so little lapis? One of the explanations is that the locals don´t like outsiders making holes in their patch. They assume people are digging for gold, not lapis. If they come across lapis they keep it. Another explanation are the looters the keep anything they find.
“The authorities have long feared encouraging looting by locating such sites. In fact, most have already been looted,” says Julio Bendezu-Sarmiento, a French-Peruvian archaeologist who heads the French Archaeological Delegation to Afghanistan (DAFA).
The project is going ahead now because “it is often the looters who are best informed about where the archaeological sites are”.
Afghanistan’s location and the variety and abundance of its bountiful mines of gold, copper and precious and semi precious stones like Lapis Lazuli makes it an archaeological holy grail.
Nowadays, an international team is working to map the country´s numerous sites and monuments. This done with satellite imaging into a huge database, a giant geographic information system (GIS).
In DAFA´s offices a large satellite image of the country is shown on a widescreen display. Heritage sites are indicated by yellow, blue and red dots. This depends on whether they have been excavated, identified or only recently discovered.
In 1982, DAFA had identified 1,286 heritage sites. Today, DAFA has identified five times this amount. On the map, there are numerous marks as the archaeologists try to connect information from the first excavations in the 1930s.
Mohamed Nader Rassouli, a consultant at DAFA, lamented that houses have been built over the sites around Kabul that DAFA excavated in 1937.
He also adds that in the provinces, sites have been destroyed by looters and antiquities traffickers as well as people simply working in the fields. It is vital to identify these sites, and then you know where they are when you want to build roads, operate mines or drill for oil.
Interest in mineral resources is not a modern thing and it was the desire to exploit and manage these resources that undoubtedly led to the creation of these great cities.
Once this map is complete, it will be publicly available for people so that they can participate in its protection, said a spokesman from DAFA.
The protection of these historical lapis sites is of uttermost importance to learn more of our history. It is well known that learning more of our past can help us in our future…