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Amber specimen from the Baltic sea, Russia

Amber is the common name for translucent fossilized tree resin that is appreciated for its inherent beauty. It belongs to a group of gemstones of plant and animal origin, that were formed by living organisms, as well as copal, jet, ivory, bone, antler, horn, rhino horn, tortoiseshell, pearl, shell, coral, and many other less recognized materials. Amber comes in many colors, including yellow, reddish, greenish, whitish, black, and blue. Most of the world's amber is in the range of 30-90 million years old. Heating amber will soften it and eventually it will burn, which is why in Germanic languages the word for amber is a literal translation of BURN-STONE (In German it is Bernstein, in Dutch it is Barnsteen etc.). The Greek name for amber was ELECTRON because of its electrostatic properties and was connected to the Sun God.

Baltic amber carving

The resin contains, in addition to the beautifully preserved plant-structures, numerous remains of insects, spiders, annelids, frogs, crustaceans and other small organisms which became enveloped while the exudation was fluid. Even hair and feathers have occasionally been represented among the enclosures. The occurrence of insects inside amber was duly noticed by the Romans and led them to the correct theory that at some point, amber had to be in a liquid state to cover the bodies of insects.

Home to the largest known deposit of amber is the Baltic region, about 90% of the world's extractable amber is located in the Kaliningrad region of Russia on the Baltic Sea. Pieces of amber torn from the seafloor are cast up by the waves, and collected at ebb-tide. Sometimes the searchers wade into the sea, furnished with nets at the end of long poles, which they drag in the sea-weed containing entangled masses of amber; or they dredge from boats in shallow water and rake up amber from between the boulders. A lesser known sources of amber are in the Ukraine, on the east coast of England, on the Mediterranean and on the Adriatic, in Netherlands, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Mexico, in the United States and in Indonesia.

Amber Room in the Catherine Palace of Pushkin, Leningrad region, Russia
click to enlarge

Amber was much valued as an ornamental material in very early times. It has been found in Mycenaean tombs; it is known from lake-dwellings in Switzerland, and it occurs with Neolithic remains in Denmark, whilst in England it is found with interments of the bronze age. A remarkably fine cup turned in amber from a bronze-age barrow at Hove is now in the Brighton Museum. Beads of amber occur with Anglo-Saxon relics in the south of England; and up to a comparatively recent period the material was valued as an amulet. It is still believed to possess a certain medicinal virtue.

The world well known Amber Room in Russia was a collection of chamber wall panels commissioned in 1701 for the King of Prussia, and then given to Tsar Peter the Great. The room was hidden in the Catherine Palace from invading Nazi forces in 1941, who upon finding it in the palace, disassembled it and moved it to Konigsberg. What happened to the room beyond this point is unclear. Amber Room is presumed lost, but it was successfully re-created in 2003.

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