Lapis lazuli has been mined in Afghanistan since at least the 4th millennium BCE. Ancient Egyptian, Mesopotamian, Greek, and Roman civilisations all obtained lapis lazuli from Afghanistan. The blue stone decorates the funeral mask of Tutankhamen - lapis defines the eyebrows of the pharaoh’s mask - and ceremonial weapons found at Troy.
Since the Middle Ages, lapis lazuli has been exported to Europe. Artists used to grind the stone to make ultramarine, a highly prized pigment. Painters would use this valuable blue colour in depictions of the Virgin Mary’s clothing and Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer used it in 'Girl with a Pearl Earring' (1665).
Panjshir emeralds are of excellent quality and are highly prized around the world. Even though the quantity of mined stones remains small, the industry generates an estimated $10 million per year. Afghan miners use dynamite and drills to remove the black shale that holds the emerald-bearing quartz. This process damages many of the emeralds. Over the last few years, improved mining methods with safer mineshafts and open pits have both reduced the use of explosives and made working conditions safer, yet mining remains an poorly regulated industry.