UNFORBIDDEN GEOLOGY  
 
Lapis Lazuli, Lazurite
Archae Solenhofen (solenhofen@hotmail.com)
(Last modified April 2, 2001)

   Lapis lazuli is a granular crystalline rock consisting almost entirely of the minerals lazurite (sodium aluminum silicate and sulfide, (Na5Al3Si3O12S3)) and calcite (calcium carbonate (CaCO3)), it has a rich blue colour and may contain small gold coloured specks of pyrite (iron disulfide (FeS2)) with white veins and patches of calcite. It is generally associated with contact metamorphism of limestone. Lazurite has a hardness of 5.5 on Mohs' scale and is easily worked, problems may arise due to the hardness of pyrite inclusions, and care must be taken in the polishing of this material to prevent undercutting (orange peel effect). It is believed the ancient Egyptian's main source of lapis lazuli was Badakstan in the north-east corner of Afghanistan through trade with western Asia, although some have claimed that deposits existed in Egypt (Lucas and Harris, 1962). Lapis lazuli was used in ancient Egypt from predynastic times onward, and was excessively used in both the Middle Kingdom and Empire periods. It was used for beads, amulets, scarabs, cylindrical seals, small vessels, and other similar objects, as well as for jewelry inlay (Lucas and Harris, 1962). During the 18th dynasty the Egyptians would make imitations of lapis lazul by inlay of polished quartz or glass in a blue coloured cement, an example being the majority of the blue inlay on the mask of Tutankhamun. 

References

Lucas, A. & Harris, J.R. (1962) Ancient Egyptian materials and industries. E. Arnold, London, 523 p.
 
 

Links to examples of lapis lazuli usage

a) Beads

New Kingdom beaded necklaces

b) Inlay

Old Kingdom period (4th Dynasty) bracelets of Queen Hetep-heres I made of Silver, turquoise, lapis lazuli, and carnelian (diameter: 9-8.8 cm; Egyptian Museum, Cairo).

New Kingdom: Tutankhamun's mask (kohl eye paint only)

New Kingdom period (19th Dynasty) pendant of a predatory bird with a ram's head made of gold, turquoise, jasper, and lapis-lazuli from Saqqara (span: 13.7 cm, width: 7.4 cm; Musee de Louvre, Paris).

Third Intermediate period statuette of the Osorkon Group made of Gold, lapis-lazuli, and glass from the 22th Dynasty (height: 9 cm, width: 6.6 cm; Musee de Louvre, Paris).

Late Period statuette of a oxyrhynchus fish made of bronze, lapis lazuli, and  red glass board (Michael C. Carlos Museum, Atlanta).