Lapis Lazuli

Nova Scotia land grants in the second half of the 1700s often specified that any lapis lazuli found within the granted lands belonged to the Crown - which is odd since there was no evidence that Nova Scotia had any lapis lazuli.

Lapis lazuli is rock that contains a number of minerals including, most importantly, lazurite, which gives lapis lazuli its striking blue colour. Lapis lazuli usually also contains calcite and pyrite (fool’s gold). Various other minerals can also be in it. To be called "lapis lazuli," a rock must have a distinctly blue color and contain at least 25% blue lazurite (

Lapis lazuli has been used as a gemstone, sculpting material, pigment, and ornamental material for thousands of years. It has mostly been mined in Afghanistan.

In Biblical times the word "sapphire" was often used as a name for lapis lazuli. Many scholars believe at least some of the references to sapphire in the Bible are actually references to lapis lazuli.

Lapis lazuli started to be seen in Europe during the Middle Ages as jewelry and finely ground pigment which made ultramarine blue paint.

During the Renaissance and into the 1800s, paintings done with ultramarine blue were considered a luxury because of lapis lazuli’s high cost. (In the 1800s, painters invented synthetic ultramarine blue paints that approximated the colour of lapis lazuli but were much cheaper. Lapis lazuli paints are used only rarely today because of their cost.)

For centuries, lapis lazuli’s price was similar to that of gold, an indication of how highly-valued it was.

It was against this backdrop that Nova Scotia land grants to individuals and townships in the second half of the 1700s often specified that any lapis lazuli belonged not to the landowner, but to the Crown (i.e. the monarch).

The land grants varied over the years so they can only be discussed in generalities. However, they usually allowed the grantee to keep various minerals and rocks found on their properties, including limestone, gypsum, slate and clay.

However, the land grants usually reserved for the Crown certain other minerals. For example, the 1765 grant to Annapolis township included 65,000 acres of land and reserved for the Crown gold, silver, lead, copper, coal, precious stones and lapis lazuli. The 1761 grant to Falmouth, Hants County, gave the township 50,000 acres and reserved gold, silver, precious stones and lapis lazuli.

Henry How, a professor at King’s College in Windsor, wrote in his 1868 “Mineralogy of Nova Scotia” - a century after those land grants - that “Lapis lazuli has not been found in the province so far as I am aware.”

In other words, the Crown had no particular reason to think Nova Scotia would produce lapis lazuli, but the rock was so desirable that it was reserved for the Crown just in case. This highlights both how valuable lapis was and what a frontier Nova Scotia was back then – a place with vast natural resources where all manner of riches might be found.

Two and a half centuries later, Nova Scotia is still not a hotbed of lapis lazuli discoveries. Lazurite, the key mineral in lapis lazuli, was discovered in a drill core in Nappan, Cumberland County, according to a 1957 government report. Ronnie Van Dommelen, who has an excellent web site about minerals, says this was likely the only reported discovery of lazurite in the province (