gems known as lapis lazuli are only the finest specimens of the
comparatively abundant mineral of the same name. This stone was a gem
of the Greek, Roman, and Hebrew scriptures, and throughout ancient
times was very highly prized. Pliny likens it to the blue sky adorned
with stars. Large quantities of it worked by artisans into various
forms are found in early Egyptian tombs. The Chinese have also long
held it in high esteem.
The Asiatic mines from which the mineral first came were visited by Marco Polo, in the year 1271 a.d.
color of the mineral is blue. It is quite opaque. The most prized shade
is ultramarine, but the stone occurs also in paler tints. Usually
grains of pyrite are scattered through the stones and from this effect
Pliny was able to liken it to a "starry sky." The name lapis lazuli
means blue stone.
The best lapis lazuli now comes from Badakschan, in the northeastern part of Afghanistan.