From the Greek, ALABASTROS, derived from a town in upper Egypt Alabastron where this white massive variety of gypsum was mined.

There are two types of alabaster. The fine-grained massive type of gypsum and the fine-grained banded type of calcite. The calcite type is also known as "Egyptian alabaster", "Oriental alabaster" and "onyx marble".

In general, ancient Egypt and the Mesopotamia used the calcite type for their statues and ornaments and in medieval Europe, it was gypsum. Moreover, the Assyrian panel reliefs were made with gypsum. Though both types of alabaster have similar properties, they are distinguishable by their hardness level.

Gypsum alabaster has a hardness level of only 1.5 to 2 on Mohs scale making it so soft that a fingernail could scratch it. Calcite alabaster has a hardness of 3 which makes it not soft enough to be scratched by a fingernail but it yields to a knife.

Calcite alabaster effervesces when contact with hydrochloric acid, while gypsum alabaster remains mostly unaffected.

Both are usually lightly colored and translucent. But they can be heat treated to become opaque like marble. As they are porous, they can also be dyed easily.

They have been used throughout history primarily for carving decorative artifacts. The purest form of alabaster is white and translucent. However, it may contain impurities of ferric oxide which creates veins or patches of blacks, browns and yellows in the stone.

Alabaster had been used since the Bronze age and many artifacts made of alabaster has been found in Egyptian tombs.

In ancient times Alabaster was used to make priestly perfume bottles. These bottles contained the sacred oil for anointing kings, priests and initiates of religious occult orders. These perfume bottles were called Alabastra.
In Smith's Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, under Alabastrotheca, we read:

“ALABASTRUM and ALABASTER (ἀλάβαστρον, or rather ἀλάβαστος, as it is written in classical Greek: in pl. ἀλάβαστρα or -στα. Lat. pl. Alabastra, sometimes -tri; see inscription below), a small tapering or pear-shaped vessel, having no feet, used for holding perfumes and ointments. Such vessels were originally made of alabaster, of which the variety called onyx-alabaster was usually employed for this purpose.”
This name became generic for bottles made from other minerals too.

The tradition of using sacred oil to anoint the new King, was set down in the book of Exodus 30:22-33 where it was stated that alabaster vases were sealed in such a way that the top had to be broken in order for the sacred oil to be released. Being in the hot desert of the Middle-East, they did this supposedly to prevent the sacred oil from evaporating into the air.

In ancient Egypt, Alabaster was equaled to the purity of the soul. This is the reason why Alabaster was used in the making of sacred objects such as statues of the gods, sarcophagi and other sacred artifacts and ornaments.

One of such sacred objects were the Egyptian canopic jars. These jars were made from several materials including limestone, calicite or alabaster. They were used to contain the embalmed internal organs of the dead during the mummification process.

Each canopic vase represented a son of Horus, protectors of the dead known as Kesta, Hapi, Tuamutef, and Qebhsennuf. These jars were buried together with the bodies in the tomb.

Beautiful sarcophagi of calcite alabaster of the following have been found:

1) Alabaster sarcophagus of Queen Hetepheres.

2) Sarcophagus of Pharaoh Seti (Sety) I of XIXth dynasty. This was made with two monolithic blocks of alabaster. Religious scenes and figures from the Book of the Gates where it chronicled the Sun's journey through the Twelve Gates of the Underworld (Tuat) were elaborated carved and inscribed into the alabaster tomb. The Book of the Gates is one of the oldest magical books in the world.

This last sarcophagus rests in Soane Museum, London.

Alabaster was also mentioned in Matthew 26:7, of the King James Bible. Where we read:

“There came unto him a woman having an alabaster box of very precious ointment, and poured it on his head, as he sat at meat.”

In Mark 14:3 of the King James Bible, it says that when Jesus was "in Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at meat, there came a woman having an alabaster box of ointment of spikenard very precious; and she brake the box, and poured it on his head.”

The BOX spoken here is the mistranslation of the Latin ALABASTRUM.

For example, the Latin version of Mark 14: 3 reads: “vul et cum esset Bethaniae in domo Simonis leprosi et recumberet venit mulier habens ALABASTRUM unguenti nardi spicati pretiosi et fracto ALABASTRO effudit super caput eius.”

Alabaster were also made into window panes in churches and cathedrals in medieval Europe.

Alabaster can be found in Austria, Ecuador, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Peru, Poland, Russia, Slovakia, Spain, Switzerland, UK, and in the United States.

Pure specimens of alabaster were made into talismans and amulets for protection against accidents especially those while on the road. It was also used for mental clarity and release of tension.

Alabaster was known as the drawing stone. This means that it draws away what you do not need and draws towards you what you desire and need in your life.