Amber is fossilized tree resin. It can contain plant or animal material as inclusions. It was formed about 50 million years ago from the resin of huge coniferous forests that were flooded by what is today the Baltic (but it also happened in parts of theDominican RepublicandNew Zealand). Resin from the trees formed together with what had been the trees, shrubs and ground level plants a layer of earth that was conserved for millions of years. Heavy storms cause these layers to be rinsed ashore where the amber can be found.
Amber can range in color from bright white gold to brown and even green, blue or black. It is less dense than stone, but too dense to float. It is a soft material that can easily be carved. It burns already at low temperatures, leaving nothing but ashes and a particular smell. It can be electrified by rubbing it against clothes. It feels warm to the touch. It was deemed precious throughout the ages (at some times a small statuette of amber was worth more than a slave) and is said to have magical and healing properties.
The Greek name of amber was electron what translates as formed by the sun. This name is connected to the sun god Helios or Sol, who was also called Elector or the Awakener. He allowed his son Phaeton to drive his chariot. Yet, Phaeton wasn’t strong enough to control it. His wild ride caused Heaven and Hell to blast up in flames. Zeus had no other chance than to kill him with a lightning bolt in order to avoid more damage. Phaeton’s sisters mourned him deeply. They turned into poplars and their tears for their brother became the resin that created the amber. (The ancient people used amber as incense and sacrificed it to the gods, thus the tears of the gods were once more given to them as a sacrifice.) The modern word electricity derives from the ancient Greek word electron as amber can acquire a charge.
Other names for amber: Tears of the Gods, Sunbeams of the North
If it just washes to the shore after storms, who possessed the amber?:
- until medieval time whoever found the amber was its owner though it was very expensive when traded via the Amber Routes
- beginning with feudalism the Order of the German Knights fought to gain control over the amber trade and with support of the church gain the monopole by 1283. They employed locals for minimal wages, often just in trade for the salt they needed to conserve their fish, to collect the amber by catching sea weed from the freezing cold waters after the most promising autumn and winter storms. The Knights sold the amber to craftsmen, who had formed their own guilds to compete with the power of the Knights.
- Over time trading and craftsman rights changed hands many times until Elector Friedrich I of Prussia, who had lived in Koenigsberg for several months on the occasion of his coronation, bought most of the rights for himself. He was known as patron of the arts and founded the Academy of Arts (1696) and the Academy of Science (1700) in Berlin. His buying the trade and crafting rights marked the start of a new blossom of amber art. Everything was made from amber or with amber covering from jewelry, statuettes, statues, church devotionalia to whole pieces of furniture and altars – and a room.