Amber Trade

Meet amber – a unique gemstone!

Amber is a very popular gemstone but its origins and different variants of that gemstone such as colors, shapes, and kinds may be surprising for many. It is definitely worth knowing this wonderful stone and learn more about its value!

Let’s start from the beginning! Amber is a hard fossil resin of conifers, sometimes also resinous deciduous trees. The oldest polished amber tiles were found in the Leszczyn Upland. This took place in the Paleolithic era (40,000 – 10,000 BC). Interestingly, amber has been around since the beginning of people’s lives on the globe! Amber was popular in the whole of Europe. In Poland, there were many workshops specializing in amber, especially in Gdańsk. What kinds of products were manufactured? There were many for example boxes, figurines, mosaics, secretaries and many more similar objects. In Italy, a famous Awuilee was being made. Italian amber products were transported to the Rome Empire. Amber was considered as a gemstone of great power.


Origins of amber’s name

The etymology of the word “amber” is not fully known. One of the first names for this gemstone derived from Greek’s term ‘”elektron” and meant “coming from the sun”, but also “a stone which attracts”. Linguists claim that it is surprising that in ancient Egyptian language the name for amber – “sakal” sounded similar to Lithuanian word “sakas” (sakai – resin). In this language “gin taras” also means “amulet” (an object which protects). In the language of ancient Prussia, the term “gen tar” appeared. This word was adapted by other Slavic languages as “jantar”. Bernstein – the german name of amber, is a mixture of two words: brennen (to burn) and istein (a stone), what could be translated as “a burning stone”. This term was adapted from German to Polish and Hungarian. In English, the term “amber” derives from Latin and Arabian term “anbar” – a cachalot. Similar names can be found in Spanish (ambar) and French (ambre).


Amber in Mythology

Amber’s origins were always fascinating for people. There were many different theories about its origins. In ancient Greece, there were several myths about Phaeton. In 43 BC until 17 AD in Ovid’s poem “Metamorphosis”, he wrote about Pheaton (a son of the God of the sun Helios and a sea nymph Clymene). In that poem, Phateon was supposed to move the sun carriage over the sky. He did not get approval from Helios, but despite that, he completed his task. Being not experienced, he could not control flame horses. He lost control over the carriage and got closer to the Earth, bringing the sun closer to the globe. The heat from the star burnt down the territory of modern Africa and changed the skin color of its residents. Zeus, to save the world from destruction, hit Phaeton with one of his lightenings. He fell into the Eridanus river and died. He was found by his sisters Heliades, who they mourned his death and cursed the gods. They were turned into trees and their tears into amber.

Amber was called by Polish people “jantar” and was a subject of their own myth. They believed that on the bottom of the Baltic Sea, there was an amber castle of the Sea Princess – Jurata. The castle was full of radiant gold colors. Once upon a time, during one of her walks, she met a poor but really handsome fisherman and fell in love with him. The almighty ruler of the Baltic Sea was furious when he found out. He hit the fisherman’s boat with a bolt of lightning and killed him on the spot. Jurata fell into great despair, seeing the ruler, threw another lightning at her and the amber palace, which crumbled into a million crumbs on the bottom of the Baltic Sea. During storms, the sea began to throw gold, beautiful amber onto the beach, which was to remind people of the tragic love and enormous anger of the ruler of the sea.

People leaving near the North Sea and the Baltic have been using amber in the form of decorations since the Paleolithic era. In addition, amber was the object of worship, which from ancient times was called “the gold of the North”, the electron “sun stone”, glaesun (transparent) and succinum (petrified juice). It was transported to the Mediterranean and Egypt and sold there. Currently, the name amber comes from the early German word Börnstein (burning stone).

In Greece, amber was associated with the sun. Amber amulets were believed to deter evil spirits. It was also believed to contain trapped sunshine. It was symbolically associated with longevity. To this day, it is used in traditional medicine and considered to be one of the most effective remedies for sore throats and diseases. It was once believed that the legendary Eridanus River was the place of extraction of amber. According to these beliefs, it had its source in the Country of Hyperboreans, i.e. where the real amber route ran north. Amber was once associated with this mythical, mysterious land, as well as the northern one.

See also: Other origins of amber