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Lapis lazuli, often referred to as just 'lapis', has been used as a gemstone for thousands of years. It has been mined from Afghanistan since the early 7th millennium BC, and it was discovered in ancient burial sites throughout the Caucasus, the Mehrgarh and even as far as the Republic of Mauritania. The funeral mask for the ancient Egyptian pharaoh 'King Tut' was even discovered to have been decorated with lapis lazuli.
This historical stone has a name closely associated with its intense color. Its name was derived from the Latin word 'lapis' meaning 'stone', and from the Arabic and Persian word 'lazaward'. 'Lazaward" was the Persian name for lapis stone, as well as the name of its mining location. In other parts of the world, words for 'blue' were named after the color of lapis, including the English word 'azure'; Italian 'azzurro'; Polish 'azur'; Spanish 'azur' and Romanian 'azuriu'. Today, lapis lazuli is still considered to be one of the most important opaque blue gemstones available.
Lapis usually forms in crystalline marble through the geological process of contact metamorphism and due to its composition, it is technically defined as a rock rather than a mineral. It is primarily composed of lazurite, while the remaining composition is made up of sodalite, calcite, pyrite and other various minor constituents. The varying composition is what influences its exact coloring.