Amber and Natural Materials.....
Amber is a fossilised tree resin, the parent tree being a species of pine, Pinus succinifera. The tree grew together with palm trees, camphor laurels, bay tree oaks and yews in the early Eocene period of the Tertiary Formation, roughly fifty million years ago on a then luxuriantly wooded part of the European mainland which today is covered by the Baltic Sea. Distribution of the amber pine seems to have been largely restricted to this area.
Generations of trees for many thousands of years exuded their resin into gigantic storage chambers in the ground. Until eventually with the sinking of the land and the invasion of the sea, the tree trunks were swept away and a new stratum was built up from the resin and other components of the soil.
Over millions of years when the land upheavals eventually stopped and the countries surrounding
the Baltic assumed their present form, deep down on the sea bottom the blue stratum was
brought into contact with the water and in places even formed the surface of the sea bed. From
then on it was the action of the water, the altered configuration of the soil and with the added
effect of wind, vegetation and animal life, the blue earth was sucked out of the sea bed or washed
from the submerged coastline into the sea and onto the shorelines.
Amber has been found in all the countries bordering the Baltic and the North Sea, including
Great Britain and as far away as Sicily, Central Europe, the Balkans, the Carribean and even Burma.
But the northern coast of Prussia has always been the greatest source of the worlds' amber.
On this Baltic shore, the peninsular of Samland going north from Konigsberg (now Kaliningrad),
was the centre of the famous amber-bearing dark sand and clay layer known as the "blue-earth"
Other layers containing amber were deposited above the blue-earth. In later ages, gigantic
glaciers descended from the north and swept away portions of the amber bearing layers,
scattering them over the North - German lowlands. This explains why isolated finds of amber
have been made in clay soils and sandpits all over Germany. Amber varies in colour showing every hue from white to to dark red and even black. Through the ages the
various colours have been valued according to changing fashions and the superstitions of many peoples as
to their inherent protective or curative properties.
According to Pliny, in ancient Rome the white or wax coloured amber was regarded as worthless and used
only as incence, while the transparent reddish amber was much prized. The clear golden yellow was the
most favoured of all. During the Middle-Ages, under the rule of the Teutonic Knights, the white amber was
in the greatest demand for the making of rosaries.
Baltic amber is mainly yellow, but there are so many shades of this that no two pieces seem alike. It can be
completely clear or completely opaque, or an intriguing mixture of both.
There are also the greenish tints and the very rare blue.
Apart from variations in colour and translucence, all types of amber contain odd marks and imperfections.
These are usually small inclusions of biological material : fragments of leaves, tiny specimens of tree bark,
and all kinds of insects (though these are much rarer) which include various larvae and caterpillars, bees,
ants, flies, earwigs and butterflies. Among the non-insects have been found spiders (see one encased in amber in above image), centipedes and small land snails. Creatures trapped millions of years ago in the
sweet smelling but very sticky resin and preserved sometimes almost perfectly.
Amber was mostly obtained by fishing, dredging or mining. Fishing is probably the oldest method apart from
simply gathering what was washed up on the seashore.
The working of amber makes use of methods derived from or closely connected with techniques for working
glass, ivory and gemstones.
Amber is a material of greatest antiquity. It was already much in demand long before the Christian era and is
still a great favourite among gemstones today.
View amber in slideshow on page 2 of collectable beads.