Formation Of Amber – Early History

by Manisha G

amber-formationAmber is of vegetable origin. consisting of more or less considerably altered fossilised resin of trees long since extinct, it is not a mineral. Amber is a fossilised tree resin, the parent tree being a species of pines (Pinus Succinifera). The trees grew together with palm trees. Camphor, laurels bay trees, oaks and yews in the early period of the tertiarera roughly 50 million years ago, on European Mainland known as Baltic region today.

Generations of trees for many thousands of years ex­uded their resin in to gigantic storage chambers in the ground, with the sinking of the land the tree trunks were swept away, a new stratum was built up from the resin and other components of the soil.

From the scientific and archaeological study of the fossillised plants of that time, conclusions of three distinct era of vegetation present in those days emerged. The first produced ordinary black coal, the second produced brown coal and the third submarine forest.

Amber has been found in all the countries bordering the Baltic and the North sea, including Great Britain, and as faraway as Sicily, Central Europe, the Balkans the Carribean and even Burma. But the northern coast of Persia was always the greatest source of the amber for the rest of the world.

PALAEOLITHIC (450 000-12 000 BC)

Amber, or fossil resin, was first associated with man in Palaeolithic times. Lumps of amber have been found into dwelling caves in Austria, in Romania. Since all these finds occur in southern Europe, far from the major source of the Baltic, it is thought that these pieces are either erratics, or curiosities found further north by the hunters and carried southwards to the caves by man who at this time is known to have lived a life similar to that of the Eskimo people, and to have covered many miles in the summer month in pursuit of migrating animals.

The southern boundaries of the natural occurrence of Baltic amber coincide with the limits of glaciation. Amber has been found from Palaeolithic times in Britain in Gough’s cave (Tratman, 1950).

The attraction of this strange substance to primitive man is an obvious one. Its brilliant colour, lightness of weight, warmth to the touch and the fact tht when rubbed it attracts other objects. Amber is recommend highly as an amulet, with magical powers.

MESOLITHIC (1200-4000 BC): NOMADIC HUNTERS

Nomadic people made decorations of Amber, generally drilled series of various shapes may be either purely of artistic merit or may have been used for counting devices or tallies. It has been postulated that the phases of the moon and the seasons for hunting are recorded on some of these Mesolithic artefacts.

The animals these hunters sought were represented on amber, the oldest three-dimensional works of art in northern Europe. They date from about 7000 BC and first found in Denmark.

NEOLITHIC (4000-1900 BC) : THE FIRST FARMERS

The shortage of animals to hunt became so acute that man had to evolve new methods of survival. Fields were cultivated for the first time of Neolithic man, cereals introduced, and evidence of a community rather than individual becomes apparent from bigger housing drainage etc.

MEDITERRANEAN CULTURE

Lumps of fossil resin are common in ancient Egyptian graves of all periods. These are probably local resins as this substance was used to fumigate the tombs.

Amber may have been found in Anatolia and Mesopo­tamia, the latter in the second and third millennia BC, but there is a lack of positive identification. However, in Mycenaean Greece influxes of amber appear in 1600 B.Cl., 1500 BC and 1200 BC.

THE MYCENAEAN CULTURE

The advent of bronze in northern Europe coincides with the first notable appearance of Amber in Mediterranean culture, and recent investigations using infra-red spectroscopy have shown that the vast majority of these ambers are of Baltic origin. Amber appears quite suddenly in the shaft graves of Mycenaen Greece. The design of the beads and their rough nature, even allowing for poor conservation, indicate that they were imported as beads, not worked locally; As these ambers are found along the coast at the major population centres, it is probable that they crossed Europe by way of the major rivers, like the Rhine and the Rhone, and were then, exported locally from Lipari.

THE WESSEX CULTURE

The Wessex culture flourished from c.2000 to 1400 BC, its importance originating from the location of Wessex with regard, to large ceremonial monuments in the preceding late Neolithic period.

Not much is known about the people of Wessex culture. Their society was hierarchical, their wealth was concentrated in the hands of a few, and their burials contained rich grave goods such as copper daggers, stone battleaxes and attrac­tive personal ornaments, of amber which may not have been of local manufacture. The richest graves were found in the area of Southern Britain known as Wessex, one of the first to be developed agriculturally, and the proximity of the monument of Stonage may also have played a part in the location of these barrows.

Goods found in the graves reflect the prestige and status of the occupant : manual tools are seldom found, and in Britain too, examples of the most outstanding amber objects of this period have survived.

THE IRON AGE : CLASSICAL CULTURES

Very little amber has been found in Mediterranean regions till 8th century. At the end of the 8th century amber again became either available (the route having halted in Macedo­nia) or fashionable : 212 fragments were found in excava­tions on Rhodes, 46 on Ithica – including two small figures of animals and a pin head – and 54 at Perachora – including some intaglio seals (Strong, 1966).l

In ancient Greece, amber was used extensively as an inlay with gold and ivory. Especially popular were the bronze and amber fibulae (pin brooches) worn on garments by both men of rank and by ladies.l

Amber from the Italian peninsula abounds in the sixth and fifth centuries BC, occurring first among the Etruscan people who used it as inlays, beads for fibulae, scarabs and small-figure pendants. Because Etruria was the first part of the Italian penisula to employ amber extensively, many other Later Italian ambers are vaguely termed Etruscan when in fact they are from the southern states.

THE BRONZE AND IRON AGES, CENTRAL EUROPE: HALLSTATT PERIOD

Whereas in the Bronze Age amber reached the south of  Europe via the Elbe and the Rhine from Jutland, in the Iron Age a second route developed from the eastern Baltic area, by way of the Vistula. This latter route extended not just to the Mediterranean but also the Black Sea.

The link between the Bronze and Iron Ages from the viewpoint of amber is the Hallstatt period, which takes its name from a cemetry near Salzburg, Austria in use 700 to 450 BC.

Its importance in the history of the use of amber results from the fact that the finds from this area include not only imported amber goods but also others thought to be of local manufacture, which in turn were distributed by river overa large area of south-east Europe. The amber was used, somewhat crudely, in necklaces, fibulae, as pin heads and as inlay.

ROMAN AMBER

Although Rome was founded in 753 BC, the use of amber is restricted to the period between the first century BC and the first century AD. Roman interest in the decorative arts was fostered initially by the constant stream of plundered treasure brought home from victorious campaigns. It is very likely that amber was only worked during certain periods of the two centuries under discussion. Popular items were rings – very thickly worked with figures such as Venus or Cupid around the shank or, in later models, ladies with elaborate coiffeurs, small toilet vessels were made, with lids carefully turned on a lathe to give perfect alignment. Tiny flasks (amphora) and mirror handled have also survived, but there is little evidence today of the larger vases which are said to have been made.

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