The Significance of Lapis in Ritual and Belief
“Lapis lazuli has consistently reflected significance in ritual contexts in Mesopotamia and in Egypt. It was considered to be a powerful apotropaic substance and a healing stone in Babylonian magical texts, particularly when worn around the neck or strung onto a thread as an amulet. This is attested from textual evidence as well as archaeological and art historical study. Lapis lazuli significantly shaped conceptual notions of truth within the Mesopotamian world, where it was used within sacred contexts. The physical nature of this stone, for the Early Dynastic Sumerians in particular (the most valued being luminous, dark and blue), it represented the sacred, the sky and masculinity. It was often paired with red carnelian in burial contexts, reflecting both masculine and feminine. This red-blue pairing is also found in burials of bronze and early iron age peoples in the Tarim Basin of Xinjiang, as red and blue cords were used to bind the hands of mummified bodies. This red/blue male/female connection may reflect a shared colour symbolism with a deep history.
The relevance of colour symbolism and the ritual use of lapis lazuli for the present study is that of the impact of this particular hard-to-find substance and its role in long distance exchange: we can begin to trace the spread of cosmological belief and ritual practice from across the Iranian Plateau, and Central Asia into and out of Mesopotamia, from the third millennium through the second, and begin to see movement in the archaeological record not so much as a spread of people per se, but as a spread of ideas. The potency of this stone in ritual and magic, coupled with its scarcity, would have certainly encouraged a migration of practice .”
FROM: Irene Good. When East met West: Interpretive Problems in Assessing Eurasian Contact and Exchange
in Antiquity, pp..25 – 26 [Peabody Museum, Harvard University] [Available online]