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The history, legends, myths and magic of Amber.

Posted by splashofice on May 24, 2010 at 2:21 PM

We know that Amber is the fossilised resin of ancient pine trees from the pinaceae family which are now largely extinct.

 

As the pine resin oozed out of the trees it covered anything in its path, such as flies, spiders and many insects. In fact more than 1000 extinct species have been identified in amber. The process of hardening took many millions of years.

Interest in amber dates back to ancient Greece where it was known as Elektron due the static electricity charge, when the stone is rubbed.

 

Roman warriors war mail was studded with amber for luck. In Nero's time amber was considered more valuable than a slave. The emperor was angered at having to pay middle men for the amber and dispatched an emissary to establish contact with Germanic tribes nearer the source. The emissary returned with 13000 pounds of amber. Thus direct trade was established between Rome and the north.

 

The ancient Romans burned amber as incense. The amber trade dwindled during the early middle ages. In the 14th century amber works of art were created around the Baltic sea and guilds were set up to control distribution. Amber beads and amulets have been found in stone age tombs all along the Baltic coast, in Ireland, England and as far as the Adriatic. Stone age man used it to wear and to worship.

 

Amber was of great significance to the Assyrians, Egyptians, Etruscans, Phoenicians, Greeks and Romans. Ovid wrote that when the Phaeton, a son of Phoebus (god of the sun), convinced his father to allow him to drive the chariot of the sun across the sky for a day. He drove too close to the earth and it set on fire. To save the earth, Jupiter struck Phaeton out of the sky with his thunder bolts and he died, plunging out of the sky. His mother and sister stricken by grief turned into tree whilst weeping and their tears dried by the sun turned into Amber. Another ancient writer, Nicias, said that amber was the essence of the setting sun, congealed in the sea and cast up on the shore. The ancient Greeks discovered that sparks were produced when the amber was rubbed against cloth and attracted small particles which is why the ancient Greeks called amber Elektron.

 

Amber was considered to contain magical powers and was, often worn as charms to offer protection from evil spirits and witchcraft. According to Mohammed, a true believers prayer beads should be made of amber. It was acclaimed to possess the power of healing. In 79AD Pliny wrote that the women of north Italy wore amber beads to protect them against Thyroid disease. Hippocrates, father of healing, declared amber active against a number of diseases including delirium tremens. Martin Luther carried a piece of amber in his pocket as a protection against kidney stones. Powdered amber was mixed with honey and prescribed for asthma, gout and the black plague. A collection of old prescriptions can be found at the university of Bologna the oldest university in Italy, in a book written in 1750. It mentions amber pills and used as an excellent medicine for head diseases. Today, amber paste is sold at herbalist shops in Poland and used to alleviate rheumatic and other ailments.

 

These kinds of pastes and ointments date back to the 19th century in Europe and wearing amber bracelets or beads is still considered medically beneficial.

 

Amber is very popular for making jewellery and as a result it is valuable and often fake. These can be identified visually without resorting to damaging tests. Modern amber jewellery from the Baltic had circular inclusions, commonly called sun spangles, produced as a result of heating and cooling the amber. Baltic amber sometimes contains hairs from flowers of oak trees but these occur very rarely.

 

A faked inclusion will belong to a living species not an extinct one and examination of the amber using microscope will show that it has been cut and hollowed. Victorian jewellery used pressed amber, which was made by heating small pieces of amber together. It came in a variety of colours either cloudy or clear. Pressed amber cannot really be called fake amber because it is made from genuine amber.

 

 

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