The Lapis Lazuli of Badakshan
Far away in a remote area of Afghanistan, lies Badakhshan,
producer of the earliest records of Lapis, and, some say,
producer even of the sapphire tablets of the bible which may well
have been made of this material. Badakhshan, some even say, was
locality for the Garden of Eden.
As for those of you who will never rest till they know how Lapis
Lazuli got its name, I give you this tidbit of info. There were,
once, ancient mines from which this stone was gleaned, and the
name of those mines was Lazurd. Take that name, and combine it
with the Latin word for stone, which is “lapis”…and voila!
There were great finds of Lapis in Sumeria, where the custom
was, according to the etiquette of the day, to bury a number of
ladies in waiting with their recently deceased queen in order to
give the queen what comfort they could as she entered the after
life. When Queen Shub-ad died, nine of her ladies where entombed
with her, and as they waited for death, one of them plucked the
strings of a harp, which was inlaid with…yup…you got
Alexander the Great, when returning from his forays in this land
of Badakhshan, helped spread the splendor of Lapis. The Greeks
and Romans used it to make a superior blue paint…which they
called “ultramarine” because the stone was imported from the
other side of the seas.
In the Middle Ages, Monks used Lapis to create a rich pigment
with which to enhance the book binderies of their manuscripts.
The pigment was quite expensive, and became a mark of wealth when
a painting was commissioned specifying the use of Lapis Lazuli.
The Chinese of the day, as they traveled the cross roads
reaching into this land in order to trade for this stone, called
the Lapis the “dark blue gold stone,” and they ground it into a
paste which the used for painting their eyebrows. This was
clearly before the great cosmetic firms, such as Loreal and
Channel, came out with eye-shadow.
So…with all this wealth in Badakhshan, how were the Bactrians
of the day protected from marauding hordes intent on stealing
their wealth. Well, luckily, winged griffons, who devoured men
and oxen without discrimination, zealously guarded the precious
material from theft. The griffin, clearly, came before the
Rottweiler as protector of hearth and home and precious stones.
It was the Bactrians who created and designed some of the
earliest inlays with Lapis, sliced flat and fixed into brooches
and earrings and sword hilts. It seems there was once a brave and
bold king by the name of King Humbaba, who had, in a carefully
guarded sanctuary, a rare and wondrous cedar tree upon which grew
precious stones. And the rarest of these precious stones, which
grew only on the topmost branches of our mystical tree, was the
Lapis Lazuli. I have to tell you, I would not mind having a
little plant like that in my back yard.
And as a last little bit of info, the mines in Badakhshan were
only worked in winter because the rock cracked more easily in the
gem bearing areas.
And there ya have it.
That’s it for this week folks.
Catch you all next week.
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