Lapis lazuli
August 19th, 2010
11:05 AM ET

Lapis lazuli: Afghanistan's blue treasure

KABUL — I’m in the back room of a gemstone workshop in Kabul. The owner of the store, Abdul Wasi, pulls off a large, dusty cardboard sheet and points to the pile of stones beneath it.

Raw, uncut, unpolished lapis lazuli, fresh from the northern Afghan province of Badakhshan.

Even covered with dust, the intense blue is visible. Wasi wets his finger and rubs it along the surface of one of the stones. It’s the bluest blue, a vibrant, intense shade of sapphire. Not shiny, but deep and glowing.

There are smaller deposits of lapis lazuli in other parts of the world: Siberia and Chile, for example. But Afghanistan is the mother lode of lapis. The country is the world’s leading producer of lapis lazuli from the Sary-Sang mine in Badakhshan.

It’s been mined there for 6,000 years, according to geologists at Kabul’s Museum of the Afghanistan Geological Survey. The ancient Egyptians used it for jewelry, decorative objects and even women’s cosmetics.

In Wasi's workshop, 20 employees take these hunks of lapis and turn them into a stunning variety of bowls, boxes, sculptures and jewelry.

They begin by cutting them with a diamond saw into smaller pieces, like pieces of mosaic. Making a bowl, they glue the pieces onto the metal base, maneuvering each one into a tight fit with the adjoining piece.

Hours, and sometimes days later, the piece is finished but still is in a raw state.

Now, it must be ground and rough-polished to make the surface smooth and even. Finally, a fine buffing to make the bowl or plate or vase gleam.

In the store he shows me an oval bowl. Its surface is smooth as saddle leather. The blue of the lapis lazuli is flecked lightly with a tiny dusting of golden pyrite. It’s the closest thing to gazing at a tropical midnight sky.

Boxes, statues, large vases, tiny toy animals — Wasi seems to have thought of everything to make out of lapis at his  Khisrawi Establishment store, all continuing ancient traditions but with a modern touch.

But one piece in particular catches my eye: an unfinished chunk of lapis about a foot high. Rough, lightly polished, just enough so the breathtaking blue is visible. It’s like a mountain stream, wild and blue, frozen in time — Afghanistan’s unique treasure.

soundoff (98 Responses)
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  5. xuyuan

    Hack again?!

    April 24, 2011 at 11:26 am | Report abuse |
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    March 29, 2011 at 11:01 am | Report abuse |
  7. oneStarman

    I have long loved Lapis Lazuli some with streaks of white that looks like wisps of Cloud. The Mineral wealth of Afghanistan will be its salvation or its undoing. Especially its deposits of Lithium and Rare Earths – both so vital to the technologies of Tomorrow. China which has produced over 90% of the World's supply for years is reducing drastically its export to the world in order to use it at home. A new source will become strategically Vital. Afghanistan's salvation – or undoing.

    September 2, 2010 at 4:41 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Bill

    All this babble started from a simple article about pretty blue blocks. God, Allah, or whatever you want to call the higher power is either laughing his ass off at you all or showing his sadness in tears shed, the tears of which have fallen in Pakistan.

    August 30, 2010 at 11:57 am | Report abuse |
  9. Jim in NM

    Yes, we are in Afghanistan for the same reason the Russians went in there. It's about the trillions of dollars in resources there and in the rest of the region. And, America would create a false flag to get it's people's support for war for those resources.

    August 29, 2010 at 9:11 am | Report abuse |
    • Kerrie

      Jill in NM, as a recent veteran retruning from Afghanistan I can assure you there are wonderful things happening. Just to inform you, prior to the Russians invading Afghanistan, they were a thriving country. Looking at some of the pictures prior to the Russian invasion you would almost mistake it for the United States. This country's people have been at war for so long and America's presence is to ensure they can become stable and united so they are no longer a victim of whatever country decides to conquer them. This country desperately needs some stability and we are there to help. There is a bigger picture than the killing of Osama bin Laden.

      June 18, 2011 at 6:55 am | Report abuse |
  10. gary

    I was in Bagram Afghanistan and bought a ring at a bizarre. Real nice for about $15.00. The man wanted more but I was able to talk him down. Real nice ring...stone is beautiful, very nice blue.

    August 28, 2010 at 10:35 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Carole Clarke

    I wonder if this is rationed the way the South Africans ration diamonds? Too much and the price goes down. Don't thihnk it will catch on in the USA – not too much use for statues, inkwells, tiaras, etc. Just as well.

    August 24, 2010 at 3:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • KellyinCA

      Actually, lapis lazuli has tremendous historical and cultural significance. During the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, the only durable pigment for the color blue came from the lapis lazuli that was known to be mined only in a region of northern Afghanistan. Because of it rarity in the West, its use as a pigment was generally restricted to depictions of the Virgin Mary – thus, the continuing association of blue with Mary. It was also because of the rarity and distance that lapis needed to cross that gave rise to the term "ultramarine".

      As for its marketability, it's considered a semi-precious stone, so its price makes it attractive for both retail-grade jewelry and for crafted jewelry. I purchased a 16" hank of lapis chips for beading for under $20 and used them in both my wedding headdress and a bracelet. Its a uniquely beautiful and surprisingly affordable stone.

      September 6, 2010 at 2:44 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Terry kelly

    G-d, Allah, ETC. probably put Lapis on this wonderful Earth because he knew we would fight like children. It is embarrassing to me the way people act.

    August 23, 2010 at 10:17 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Alexis

    when day exactly did he find the lapis lazuli?

    August 23, 2010 at 3:59 pm | Report abuse |
  14. dave

    so... we're in Afghanist for oil and this crap?
    or you kidding me? if we wanted oil that bad why would we choose this hell hole? honestly. take off your tin foil hats, and think about what you are saying. Afghanistan, would cost a crap ton of money to get oil from that place, and wouldn't be stable enough to even get that oil.... that, and these rocks are so abundant and cheap why would we want it. I hate liberals for their ideals that we are there just to gain more resources.... next time our land is attacked maybe you guys may understand that pre-emptive strick is a better idea. but alas, a majority of you would call me a gun totting imbecile. fortunately my "gun totting" gives you the right to take about how corrupt and evil we are.

    August 23, 2010 at 2:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Has a Clue

      Dave, clearly you don't know jack about the oil pipelines in Asia. Afghanistan was right in the freakin' middle of everything that gets piped anywhere in that area of the world when we invaded. That definitely speaks to control and oil interest. Get a damn clue.

      September 4, 2010 at 11:13 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Ma. Teresita Samson

    beautiful works of art. from a gemmologist's point of view, this is awesome. if people would simply focus on creativity and hardwork, we will be more productive rather than pouring your energies into war...

    August 23, 2010 at 9:39 am | Report abuse |
  16. Joe

    This guy should set up a website to begin selling his wares. Some of these items are beautiful, and I'm sure, command a very nice price. I would imagine though, that setting up a website and selling from Afghanistan, would be very, very diffcult. But still, I'm sure he would be able to sell the lapis, and bring some much needed currency into his shop.

    August 23, 2010 at 8:12 am | Report abuse |
  17. ybs

    The Taliban harbor Osama bin Laden & Al Qaeda. Bush/Cheney committed a blunder in invading Iraq, an easier punching bag but let there be no mistake, we'll pummel Al Qaeda & the Taliban 'til they serve Osama's head on a plate! Just watch!

    August 23, 2010 at 6:40 am | Report abuse |
  18. world peace

    no resource justify reason for life of human.

    August 23, 2010 at 5:43 am | Report abuse |
  19. Alison

    I enjoyed the article, next time will skip the comments.

    August 23, 2010 at 5:34 am | Report abuse |
  20. Delmar Knudson

    Lapis Lazuli is an incomparably beautiful stone. I would love to have some vases and such.

    August 23, 2010 at 3:29 am | Report abuse |
  21. Delmar Knudson

    Lapis must have been quite expensive in ancient Egypt. It was a long trek from Afghanistan where most of the Lapis is found to bring it to Egypt. It was much prized. Large chunks were no doubt a bit hard to come by when needed. Perhaps that partly explains why the blue stripes in Tutankhamun's Nemes headress is actually fake Lapis Lazuli.

    August 23, 2010 at 3:20 am | Report abuse |
  22. moodeaz

    i am a dr. and a muslim, i learned my faith/islam from the biology&physics taught me via british and american scientists,according to quran and the prophet of islam (figuratively)u.s.a. is in command of the world because it is the only nation whose colloquial lingo does not have the ugly word, "servant"..that is very humane evolution of a nation of my species, if i dont admit that i belittle my own species.any heart that has resentment/s does not know/allow true peace/serenity/love into it. why torture myself by hating or resenting? my country pakistan is flooded to the brim, the reason is the affluents' mtime wasting politics failing at making a dam they have talked about for 50 years, now if the 'displaced' poor are not rahbilitated they will turn onto the affluent..algebra says that is congruent,so does nature, and i will be a fool to construe a reason to blame the west or india for that..i hope the worst doesnt happen, but if it does, it was deserved and that is least others of my species will learn to not repeat the mistakes we committed as a nation.

    August 23, 2010 at 2:04 am | Report abuse |
  23. moodeaz

    i am a muslim and a dr. by profession, i learned to accept my faith through physics and biology taught me by the british and american scientists, i see no reason to hate them or to blame the entire nations for the mistakes of a few, according to quran and the prophet muhammad's hadeeth, (figuratively) u.s.a. leads the world only for one reason, their colloquial lingo does not have the ugly word, "servant"..they call it "the help"..this is humane evolution of a nation, of my own species, if i dont appreciate it then i am only hurting myself..a heart filled with any kind of resentment/s disallows peace/serenity/love set foot in it..i dont want any speck of resentments in mine..i am a pakistani and pakistan is flooded to the brim..i know my nation deserved it for the follies of it's affluent,and now if the 'displaced' poor are not rehabilitated, they will turn on the affluent...algebra says it is 'congruent' so does nature and i agree; however, i hope the worst does not happen.

    August 23, 2010 at 1:53 am | Report abuse |
  24. Jim

    Well, actually the Muslim Golden Age had a huge impact in the modern sciences, at a time when Christians were still trying work out how to bend the bible to fit their needs. The crusades, which were less than scientific, resulted in a huge downturn in the progression of Islamic science. Sucks when the crusaders come and burn down your libraries.

    August 23, 2010 at 1:52 am | Report abuse |
    • SyntricSam

      I love it when people argue as if they're not complete idiots.

      Nice article. and a comment thread full of lols.

      August 31, 2010 at 7:14 pm | Report abuse |
  25. Greg

    Hello again all of you simpletons!

    Good bye.

    August 23, 2010 at 1:04 am | Report abuse |
  26. ~Mia~

    OMG! You people act like there isn't enough hatred out in the world already. What happened to the real subject? Lapis!! Grow up people!

    August 23, 2010 at 12:26 am | Report abuse |
  27. Dutch

    I love lapis. I have lapis earrings and a bracelet and some beads. The color is usually so rich. I'd love that bowl that fellow is working on. It's a beautiful stone.

    August 22, 2010 at 11:24 pm | Report abuse |
  28. True Love

    Jesus Christ said love your enemy. Not to kill him. If thats the case we have to do the same in Sudan & Somolia & yemen
    And we don't have the will and money. I want might tax part of money back for the misuse of money for a war that has not accomplish it political objectives. Like retrired General are saying. Do your search & you will find out the true love.
    Its not for freedom. Its for the Militrary Arms industrial complex whos making money in this war. Love your enemy. St Luke gospell. Read it.

    August 22, 2010 at 9:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Stooly

      Jesus also said "Always bet on black." Or maybe that was Wesley Snipes. Whatever.

      August 31, 2010 at 9:09 pm | Report abuse |
  29. TheTruth

    So where can we legally purchase items like this? If there's an online shop that can support average Afghans I'd love to purchase something to help them out.

    August 22, 2010 at 8:35 pm | Report abuse |
  30. Heather

    Wow It is nice to see you all are staying on top off things! Lapis is nice, nice and blue. Afghanistan is one of the most mineral rich countries on the planet. In the trillions of dollars. But don't worry about that. The real value is in human potential. That would be you guys. Oh yeah, we're screwed.

    August 22, 2010 at 7:05 pm | Report abuse |
  31. Loren

    If he is a pig lover is is no son of Islam!!

    August 22, 2010 at 6:06 pm | Report abuse |
  32. Loren

    It sounds crazy some of the uneducated American voices on this blog! Engineering was inspired by those we hate in the middle east! SO those things we use that involve engineering well!! The hatred is something that bothers me! Both sides but more from the middle east. So many people say we are the bad guys but at the same time life means very little to many who profess Mohammed's teachings. I know that there are Christians and what have you that do the same but not on the mass scale I see today!! We are not infidels we are the Devil and Angels! Without the USA Afghanistan would be under Russian rule. Without our training and weapons they would be growing goats and poppies!
    Why after giving millions of pounds of funds and food for the floods and disasters are we the bad guys? Many of the Islamic nations are doing nothing with their oil wealth to help! Put your money and work to good and we would all benefit! Hate only gets more hate in return!! Forgive Abraham for being an idiot then maybe Christians could learn how to forgive those that killed so many innocent americans on Sept. 11. Some of my friends died that day but I hold nothing against the murderers!! They will face their own judgment that I am not in charge of!! I have a college education as well as a masters Degree! It does not help me with my emotions on this subject!!

    August 22, 2010 at 6:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • PB

      It's no secret that Pakistani Government (ISI) created the terrorists, and now US has to pay the Pakistani Government to fight that cancer of the world. The Muslim countries have invaded the world for centuries. Wherever they went they destroyed everything like locusts, killed innocent people ruthlessly, forcibly converted the residents and imposed jijiya etc. taxes on non-Muslims – the list of atrocities goes on. Then barely a couple of centuries ago the West overpowered the locusts and saved the world. The West didn't need to pay Pakistan Millions of Dollars if the Pakistani ISI didn't create the terrorist cancers of civilization.

      August 23, 2010 at 12:54 am | Report abuse |
    • PB

      There are people from various religious background immigrated to the USA (or any other western country.) Except for the Muslims nobody else has any problems. Did anybody notice that? Immigrants from rest of the religious sects have no issues abiding by the rules of these western countries. Why do only Muslims have all the problems? If anybody says anything about Islam they start riot in almost all non-Muslim countries. Did you see that from people of any other religion? Have you seen any other religion causing trans-world terrorism? There maybe some other localized terrorits groups in some countries but Islamic terrorits are International and terrorizing every country in the world. US and Europe give shelter to the Muslims who fled their miserable countries and how they repay? They go back to Pakistan, Sudan and places like that to join Osama-binLaden's group to bite the hand that fed them. That is Islam. It is strange that people from various parts of the world have the same general image of Muslims – untrustworthy, ungreatful and violent. Traits of a snake.

      August 23, 2010 at 1:30 am | Report abuse |
    • Snookie

      Let's be realistic here! I have nothing against Muslims, Hindus, Islamics, etc. I believe we all can worship as we feel fit and are comfortable with. I was raised Catholic and I still will hold to my belief system as will you. I would not try to convert you to my faith as that would be wrong. Now....just because I am Catholic does that make me a child molester? No it doesnt! Just like Muslims are not all terrorists! I have Muslim friends and we get along just fine. I find their religion intriquing as mine is to them. We have differences but we find that there is alot the same just in a different way. Instead of bickering we need to see the simularities in each other and build on that. Both christian and muslims dont believe in hating your neighbor so that would be a start. Just a thought.

      August 27, 2010 at 2:59 pm | Report abuse |
  33. Cajun Dude

    The posters commenting on this article of stonecutting and stonework should be ashamed of yourselves. Virtually every one (the exceptions are obvious) was just a rant against any religion or nationality that I could think of even remotely connected to southern Asia.
    I don't know if there will ever be peace in that region of the country, but its obvious that if they hold the same, deep-seated grudges without any interest whatsoever of accommodating those from another culture, it won't happen in my lifetime.
    Most find a news article that allows comments, and you just try to think of something sarcastic to say, whether it has anything related to the news piece or not.
    I'm all for a spirited discussion, but this is pathetic.
    The article was about LAPIS!

    August 22, 2010 at 3:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lonnie

      So the fact that we invaded their country and killed their people is cool with you? Just so long as we appreciate their art?
      If you are indeed a Cajun you should Know better! What if BP started running articles about the beauty of Louisiana's Bayou's after dumping millions of barrels of oil in the gulf? Wouldn't you see that as a mis-direction to pull your attention and the world's attention away from the crime that had been perpetrated against your home and it's people? Or would you just be allured by the shiny things?

      September 7, 2010 at 11:40 am | Report abuse |
  34. Phil

    I remember writing a small article on this back in the early 90's about how the Soviets were shooting mortars into the mountains to try to kill the bad guys and were dislodging pieces of Lapis Lazuli in effect making it easier for the locals mine the LL to sell and then fight the Soviets.

    August 22, 2010 at 3:13 pm | Report abuse |
  35. Learn to Spell

    Mother LOAD.

    August 22, 2010 at 2:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • JC

      You need to learn to spell a little better.
      lode [ləʊd]
      1. (Mining & Quarrying) a deposit of valuable ore occurring between definite limits in the surrounding rock; vein
      2. (Mining & Quarrying) a deposit of metallic ore filling a fissure in the surrounding rock
      3. A rich source or supply.
      4. A vein of mineral ore that is deposited between clearly demarcated layers of rock or that fills a fissure in a rock formation.

      August 22, 2010 at 4:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Air Force journalist

      Do me a favor and look up "lode" in the dictionary. Educate yourself before posting. It makes you look like a fool.

      August 24, 2010 at 1:01 am | Report abuse |
      • Anabel

        Actually both can be correct. The origin is both old English 'Lad' to rhyme with tide and old Germanic leite which has the same root as lead.

        August 24, 2010 at 6:44 pm | Report abuse |
  36. Geezis

    Everyone despises the words "treasure trove" and "intriguing." Why do you use those words in every other article?

    August 22, 2010 at 1:43 pm | Report abuse |
  37. KENNY

    A verifiable example of “Knowledge Is Power” is set forth in the people of Afghanistan. The Quran is the Muslim Bible and yet the nations leaders along with the Taliban make no effort to teach or allow the population to be taught how to read. You see, by keeping them ignorant and uneducated, they position themselves to be the “Anointed Ones”. They are seen the uneducated as the Wise Men. These men tell the uneducated what the Quran says and how it says they are to live and these men say what it also says about life and punishment and these people can know no better because they can’t read. These men realize that as soon as the population begins to read, they will know that they have been mislead and taken advantage of. These men, The Taliban, know that when that happens it would be almost impossible to control the population. In fact it is so bad that many, if not most of the Taliban fighters themselves cannot read. They have been conditioned to blindly follow the orders of the selected few that can read. This is no way for a people to live. It will change however. It will change. I am ashamed of the fact that even members of my family once tried to keep slaves from learning to read and write because they knew that from that the slaves would eventually seek and begin to gain their freedom but it was something that had to happen. It will happen too in Afghanistan. Believe me, it will.

    August 22, 2010 at 1:25 pm | Report abuse |
  38. free mind

    ...stupid s*** like this is why religion should be banned throughout the world

    August 22, 2010 at 12:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Me

      You are 100% right. However, people will find something else to fight

      September 2, 2010 at 10:29 pm | Report abuse |
  39. red13

    ... In for 3...

    August 22, 2010 at 7:57 am | Report abuse |
  40. mmi16

    Rock on – Rock off

    August 22, 2010 at 12:43 am | Report abuse |
  41. borisjimbo

    I have a small raw piece of lapis; it is indeed beautiful.

    August 21, 2010 at 8:32 pm | Report abuse |
  42. kate

    We need more of the postings like the one about lapis .
    The endless war news has too many uneducated people in America thinking everyone there is a terrorist .
    Please show More of this real life to educate people in the west .

    August 20, 2010 at 1:45 pm | Report abuse |
  43. JIm

    So THIS is why we invaded Afghanistan; it was that dastardly Big Lapis Lazuli lobby that paid off the Bush dynasty to cause all these wars.
    No Blood for Lapis Lazuli!

    August 20, 2010 at 8:22 am | Report abuse |
  44. Lex

    See, this is the problem with the world. No focus whatsoever, no interest in knowledge or culture, just verbal diarrhea and a head full of dung. The post is about Lapis. It could be about sausage, or the moon, and you fools would still find a way to turn it into a political or religious waffle. Get a life! I came here to learn about lapis lazuli.

    August 19, 2010 at 7:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • steven harnack

      Yeah, it doesn't take long for the pre-potty-trained crowd to take over the free expression of ideas and turn it scatological.

      August 22, 2010 at 1:38 pm | Report abuse |
      • Stooly

        I totally just pooped my pants.

        August 31, 2010 at 9:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • truth2power

      -well put sir!

      August 25, 2010 at 11:27 am | Report abuse |
    • Matt

      I agree with you. And to all you closed minded, self-righteous, cynical pea-brains: Leave your snarky political baggage at the door!

      August 30, 2010 at 9:41 am | Report abuse |
  45. Scruffles

    How would CNN educate the uneducated westerners if they themselves were uneducated westerners?

    August 19, 2010 at 5:23 pm | Report abuse |