Afghan woman inside her traditional Pamiri house. #Wakhan, #Badakhshan, #Afghansitan. Photo by Eric Lafforgue @ericlafforgue. #everydayBadakhshan, #everydayAfghanistan, #everydayAsia, #everydayeveryWhere, #Instagram.
نگاره از یک زن افغان در خانه ای که به سبک مردمان پامیر و واخان، طراحی و ساخته شده است. #واخان، #بدخشان، #افغانستان.
(at Wakhan, Badakhshan, Afghanistan)

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In his travels Marco Polo vividly described the cold province of Badakhshan, a prosperous land where horses that descended from Alexander’s horse Bucephalus were once bred and where priceless rubies and the finest lapis lazuli were found.

Since ancient times lapis lazuli has been sourced in this remote region, north-east of modern Afghanistan, and exported over vast distances. Its mines on the steep Hindu Kush Mountains, above the Valley of the Kokcha River, can only be reached through a tortuous and dangerous route. 

Lapis lazuli consists of a large number of minerals, including the blue mineral lazurite, the white mineral calcite and golden specks of iron pyrites.

A laborious process transforms this composite mineral into the pigment ultramarine; various grades of ultramarine can be obtained, from the purest extremely expensive deep blue, composed mostly of lazurite particles to the pale grey so-called ultramarine ash.

Our conservators recently attended a 2-day workshop learning how to make their own ultramarine pigment for use in our own conservation. See the entire process in our Case Study!


Afghanite: a beautiful rarity

Named after the country where it was found and the main locality for the lovely gemmy blue crystals like the one in the photo, it is a metamorphic mineral, born in the crushing heat and pressure of the ongoing mountain building event that is upthrusting the Himalaya, Hindu Kush, Altai, Pamirs etc into contorted folds of squished transformed rock. It was first discovered in 1968 in the Lapis Lazuli mine of Sar-e-Sang, Badakhshan Province where it cuts veins of another blue mineral called lazurite, which remains the main locality. It formed as sea bottom limestones turned into marble.

Colours include colourless and yellow alongside these vivid blues, and the hardness is medium at 5.5-6 on Mohs scale, the same as feldspars. The mineral glows bright orange in UV light, as electrons are excited by the energy, jumping up a level and giving off the energy as visible light as they fall back down. Other sources include Germany, Italy and Siberia. The specimen in the photo (4.2 x 3.8 x 3.7 cm) is Afghan.


Image credit: Joe Budd/Rob Lavinsky/

AFGHANISTAN, Argo : Afghan villagers pray over the site of a landslide in the Argo district of Badakhshan province on May 3, 2014. Rescuers searched in vain for survivors May 3 after a landslide buried an Afghan village, killing 350 people and leaving thousands of others feared dead amid warnings that more earth could sweep down the hillside. Local people made desperate efforts to find victims trapped under a massive river of mud that engulfed Aab Bareek village in Badakhshan province, where little sign remained of hundreds of destroyed homes. AFP PHOTO/SHAH Marai

Earthquake in Badakhshan

Afghanistan, Pakistan and northern India were rocked by a 7.5 magnitude event yesterday afternoon that struck some 210km beneath the Hindu Kush, and dozens of fatalities have already been reported across the region, though the remote and inaccessible nature of many of the affected areas means that the toll will certainly rise over the coming days as emergency workers begin to reach them. Early reports are suggesting that the damage is extensive. It is the strongest quake in recent decades in the mountainous and war wracked country. The shaking was felt as far away as Delhi, where buildings were evacuated and the metro ground to a halt.

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