WHAT IS AMBER? 

Baltic amber is fossil resin produced by pine trees which grew in Northern Europe about 50 million years ago. The resin was washed out of the forest floor by large rivers and transported south towards the sea. Over time, the resin was transformed to amber due to processes of polymerization and oxidation.

 

 

FORMATION - 50 MILLION YEARS AGO

Scientists say that amber (or succinate) is a fossil pine resin that has achieved a stable state through oxidation, an action of micro-organisms and other processes. If we want to imagine how everything happened, we should travel some tens of millions of years back to the southern regions of the present day Scandinavia and nearby areas of the bed of the Baltic Sea (the formation of the Baltic Sea began only 13 thousand years ago) where conifer forests grew more than 55 million years ago.

 

The climate became warmer, and conifer trees started to exude significant amounts of resin. Any smallest wound caused an excessive flow of resin. Of course, today there is no one type of pine which had similar characteristics to those of the fossil trees.

 

 

 

AMBER INCLUSIONS - ENTRAPPED BY TIME

Tree resins were very fluid and solidified very quickly through evaporation. A little fly or ant caught by the sticky resin remained trapped for centuries, and this is how inclusions were formed.

 

Most common inclusions are insects (86,7%) and Arachnids (11,6%), while animals of other classes occur only in 1,7% and plants in 0,4% of cases.

 

AMBER COLOURS

Transparent (with a yellowish shade). This color of amber could be called "primary"- fresh tree resins are like this. About 10% of amber is transparent, but this is mostly found in small pieces. Big transparent amber pieces are scarce and valuable. The shade of transparency could change from yellowish to dark red; it depends on the degree of amber oxidation. Inclusions are usually found in foliated transparent amber.

 

The natural red shade is scarce (0.5%). Red tones can vary from Usually Baltic amber is yellow or bright yellowish. The colors of amber range from white, yellow, brown to red. There is greenish, bluish, gray and even black amber. Even more subtle shades and combinations are among them. Amber can be entirely transparent or opaque. Amber is not always one-colored: the unique combinations of two or more colors and shades, patterns (sometimes they form the most brilliant compositions of art) can be found. For these reasons, amber becomes attractive, charming and unique.

 

Tree resins are the main amber material. They are the transparent, bright yellow-the color of fresh honey.

 

orange to dark black. This color of amber is mostly obtained artificially by heating transparent amber (oxidizing it).

 

Yellow amber is the most common color of amber (about 70% of all colors). As a rule, this amber is cloudy, not transparent, and it occurs in various shades of yellow. This amber is an inherent part of the national female costume.

 

 White amber is very rare (about 1-2% of all amber). Usually, this amber is distinguished by its variety of textures and "natural ornamentation." Amber of this color is also called "Royal" or "Bony." It could be with some "colorful intrusions" (yellow, black, blue, green, transparent amber) with new patterns.

 

Blue amber is the rarest shade of amber and the most valuable (only 0.2% of all amber). Most Frequently this shade is found in white amber.

 

Green amber. Greenish amber is also rare (about 2% of all colors). Green transparent amber is very interesting, as it has "sugar structure."

 

Black amber is a common color of amber (about 15%). It is attractive because it is natural - the most substantial part of black amber consists of the remains of tree barks and vegetable matter.

 

 

FROM SOIL AND WATER 

Until the 13th-century seacoast inhabitants collected amber from the seashore and later they learned how to obtain amber by combing the seabed with nets. Most often they worked at night lighting the shore with a barrel of tar put on a hill or a tree. Later bigger fishing nets and in shallow places - special hooks were used for this purpose. With the appearance of the diving suit, amber was collected directly from the ground of the sea.

 

 More severe amber excavations began in 1854 when while deepening the fairway in the Curonian Bay near Juodkrantė significant deposits of amber were found. Stantien and Becker, two Jewish businessmen from the Curonian Bay region, founded a company that soon became rich and in 1857 began mechanized excavation of amber - with the help of steam dredgers. It was here that the famous R.Klebbs' collection, which attracted the attention of world anthropologists, was found. People became interested and started to talk and write about this place and this amber. The industry activity was in full swing. 30-50 tons of amber was excavated per year. After some time the owners of the company bought another amber producing mine in Palvininkai (now Yantarny, Kaliningrad Province) and built an amber-processing factory. It is not surprising that these two merchants became one of the richest industrialists in eastern Prussia because the Palvininkai deposit contains 90% of the world's amber. Even now 500-700 tons of this mineral per year are excavated in an open mine using modern mining equipment. In Juodkrantė locals still, find pieces of amber while digging out the potatoes in their fields that had been enriched with the slit from the bay.

 

 There were many attempts to resume the mining of amber in the Curonian Bay, but the mining methods were primitive, and the efforts were entirely unsuccessful. For example, Count Tiškevičius tried to excavate amber in swamps not far from Palanga. Even though only a few hundreds of kilograms of amber were obtained, it was here that the "Palanga treasure" was gathered.

 

 Fishermen of the Curonian Bay used to comb amber from the bottom of the sea with so-called "keselė," a net dragged by two boats. The loss had special hooks that scratched the seabed and lifted pieces of amber. Then Amber got caught by the net. This method of production of amber was used only in Curonian Isthmus and was not known elsewhere.

 

 At the end of the 19th century, wealthy merchants abandoned the Curonian Bay deposit, and its exploitation was resumed only recently. The amber-bearing layer with an area of 3000 hectares was reached while deepening the fairwater of the Klaipėda Seaport.

 

 Even though many methods of amber production have been used throughout history, and those introduced in the last century were very perspective and efficient, collecting of amber pieces from the shore remains the most popular and lasting.

 

 Even today amber hunters (about 30 persons) on the shore of the Baltic Sea near Karklė or Melnragė, if the cast of the net is successful, can catch 30-50 kg of amber.

 

 

TREATMENT

Nobody can tell when exactly people started using amber in the manufacture of adornments and amulets and started conferring magic powers. It is known that it was processed using flint knives, cutters, scraping tools, whetstones, and sand. The oldest known amber article dates back to the end of the Stone Age. It is an amber plate found in a reindeer hunters' camp near Hamburg. European museums have many works of art made of amber.

In the Baltic lands in the New Stone Age and the old Bronze Age raw amber was processed in three major centers - in Sambia Peninsula, Prussia; in the village of Šventoji, Lithuania; and in the villages around the Luban lake, Latvia.

In the early Middle Ages amber rosaries and small crosses were made. The use of amber for the making of works of art became especially popular in the 17th - 18th centuries. By that time artisans learned how to cut and polish and shape amber on a lathe.

In the 9th-13th centuries, with the spread of handicrafts in Lithuania, artisans specializing in the processing of amber appeared. Palanga was one of the most important ancient amber-processing centers. Before World War I in Palanga usually 20,000 kg of raw amber were processed per year, and 300-500 workers were employed in this industry. There were also many individual artisans and an amber factory in which about 80 workers manually made different adornments, cigarette holders, crosses, rosaries. Amber beads were exported to African and Asian countries, and brooches and cuff links and other articles were exported to Scandinavia, Holland, and France.

There was a time when artisans used amber only as a raw material. Even if forgetting all those flowers and bunches of grapes or ornaments that were glued together from hollowed and polished amber, 75% of the most significant natural piece of amber was wasted. Nobody thought of natural beauty of amber - it was pressed, melted and colored with pigments. After World War II designer Feliksas Daukantas gave rise to a new trend in amber processing. He encouraged artists to show amber's natural beauty.

REAL AMBER OR NOT? 

In the middle of the nineteenth century, scientists discovered ways to synthesize precious natural substances, and Baltic amber fell prey to falsification. Nowadays the counterfeiting of amber (especially inclusions) is widespread. People who know only a few things about amber could be deceived. The falsifications could be sold as natural amber to them and sometimes for a high price. In this article, we will observe the most popular amber forgeries and the ways to distinguish them from real amber.

 

MATERIALS MOSTLY USED FOR AMBER IMITATIONS:

Copal

 

Copal is sold as Baltic amber, but in fact, this is a very young tree resin ( 1000- 1million years old). Natural inclusions are possible in Copal, but usually, they are falsified. Insects are inserted in them that are too big and too good-looking. Copal melts at slightly a low temperature (lower than 150 C ), and tends to melts rather than burn. After heating, it diffuses the "sweet" smell of burning resins.

 

Glass

 

It is easy to distinguish glass from amber. It is more solid, and it cannot be scratched by metal. Glass is cold and fireproof.

 

Phenolic resins

 

Frequently, this material is found in artificial amber beads. These amber beads have especially exact shape (oval, faceted); the color is very similar to real amber (dark red, cloudy yellow, limpid). After heating, it does not diffuse the smell of pine-tree resins, which is characteristic for Baltic amber.

 

Celluloid

 

Celluloid (cellulose nitrate) is usually yellow and cloudy. Optically it is difficult to distinguish it from amber. Celluloid is more robust and not so combustible. After heating, it diffuses the smell of burnt plastic.

 

Casein

 

This is a plastic made from milk. The beads have a cloudy, turbid yellow color. It is a little bit heavier than amber. After heating, it diffuses the smell of burnt plastic.

 

Modern plastic

 

Modern plastic (polyester, polystyrene) are used to produce artificial amber and inclusions. Optically this substitute can hardly be distinguished because with its official amber colors and limpidity can be obtained. Like in Copal, falsified inclusions are too big (more than 10 mm) and clearly seen, inserted in the very center of the plastic. After heating, it diffuses the smell of burnt plastic.

 

TESTS TO ASCERTAIN REAL AMBER

"Smell" tests                                                                                              

Smell tests are the most effective because natural amber has a specific smell, which is difficult to obtain when producing falsifications. After heating real Baltic amber diffuses the specific delicate fragrance of pine-tree resins. Falsifications using Copal diffuse the smell of "sweet" resins when heated and those using other materials diffuse the smell of burnt plastic.

 

 "Rubbing" tests

(The best way is to rub into the palm) It is possible to heat real amber by rubbing until it releases the smell of pine- tree resins. This method needs a strong hand, as it is somewhat tricky to heat amber (exceptionally when polished) to the necessary temperature, and it could be difficult to experiment with amber set in jewelry, as trying to rub it into other materials the amber could get scratched.  

 

SPECIFIC AROMA

 "Hot needle" tests- the most effective

To stick a heated needle into an invisible place in the amber (a hole of a drilled bead, etc.). If you smell definite pine-tree resins, it means it is real amber. Deficiency: the slight mark of burning remains-this is uncorrectable.

Amber is fragile - sticking with a hot needle, you will notice some cracks, while a needle will pierce plastic without cracking it.

''Salt'' tests

Pour 7-8 full spoons of salt into 300ml of water and stir. After several minutes of stirring the salt will dissolve. Carry out the test and wash the sample with pure water. Deficiency: it will not detect polystyrene and copal; and jewelry (with metal, strings of beads and clasps make the piece sink).

The specific gravity of amber (copal and polystyrene also) (1.04-1.1) is a little bit lower than the particular salt-water gravity (1.15). Therefore, those materials will all float in the water, while others will sink.

To be finally convinced that floating material is amber, the "hot needle" test is indispensable.

 

IR-spectroscopy

IR-spectroscopy is the most effective scientific method for identifying fossil resins. Baltic amber could be characterized by an IR-spectrum segment called "Baltic amber shoulder."

 

Reliable shops

There are a lot of complicated methods on how to ascertain natural amber; however, the safest way to purchase Real amber is by buying it in reliable shops. There you'll also be given a certificate which testifies that you have bought Real amber.

 

QUALITIES

Baltic amber is conifer resin that lost the most significant part of its volatile components during fossilization.

Different amber pieces are found from crumbs of 1-2mm to bars one meter long and about 10kg weight. The biggest amber piece is 47cm long and 9.817kg weight. It is in the Berlin Natural Science Museum.

 Amber distinguishes itself by its wide variety of colors: scientists count about 250 various colors and shades. Pliny the Elder (23-79 years A.C.) wrote about the possibility to obtain any color of amber by processing it uniquely. Now heating (amber gets red shade) and clarifying are the most popular ways of changing the color.

Amber luminescence in yellow or greenish color exposed by a cathode and ultra-violet rays.

Amber rubbed into woolen fabric obtains negative charge and attracts small paper pieces.

Index of amber light refraction n=1.53-1.55. Like other minerals that refract light weakly, amber can display its range of colors only when it is polished into convex surfaces; geometrical amber surfaces are usually not effective.

Amber hardness is measured according to the Moss scale at 2-2.5; sometimes it increases up to 3 (e.g., diamond - 10).

Its density is 890-1098 kg/m3.

The specific gravity of amber is low and fluctuates from 1.05 to 2, and it floats in salt water. The specific gravity of entirely transparent amber is 1.1; specific gravity of white amber is 0.93-0.96 - it drifts in pure water.

Amber melting point is about 375C

In the air, amber burns with a bright, strong smoke flame diffusing a pleasant fragrance reminding pine-tree resins.

 Amber never melts completely in any solvent: 20-25% of amber material melts in methyl alcohol; in ether 18-23%; about 23% in acetone; about 205 in chloroform; 21% in benzene, etc.

The organic amber structure is not monolithic. Like new tree resins, it consists of carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen. Frequently it contains 79% of C, 10.5% of O and 10.5% of H. According to O.Helm amber has from 3% to 8% of Amber Acid.

 

AMBER IN MEDICINE

 Already famous Hippocrates (460-377 BC), father of medicine, in his works described medicinal properties and methods of application of amber that were later used by scientists until the Middle Ages.

 

In ancient Rome was used as medicine and as a protection against different diseases. Calistratus (?) famous physician of those times, wrote that amber protected from madness, powder of amber mixed with honey cures throat, ear and eye diseases and taken with water cures stomach illnesses.

 

Pliny the Younger noted that Roman peasant women wore amber medallions not only as adornments but also as a remedy for "swollen glands and sore throat and palate."

 

Persian scientist Ibn Sina (Avicenna) called amber remedy for many diseases. There was a belief in eastern countries that amber smoke strengthens human spirit and gives courage. In China "amber syrup," a mixture of succinct acid and opium, was used as a tranquilizer and antispasmodic.

 

In the Middle Ages, amber beads were even worn for the treatment of jaundice. It was believed that the magic force of this yellow stone could absorb unhealthy yellowness of the skin and the weakness of the organism. Terms Oleum succinic (amber oil), Balsamum succinic (amber balsam), Extractum succinic (amber extract) were often used in the recipes and records of the alchemists of those times.

 

Prussian duke Albrecht decided to follow the recipe of a Roman physician and sent a piece of amber to Luther as a remedy for stone disease.

 

As could be seen from legends and myths Prussians and Samogitians also used amber in the manufacture of incenses. In former times Lithuanian tribes employed such incense to drive away evil spirits from the dead and help the soul travel to good spirits. The newly born babies were fumigated so that they could grow faster, the newly-weds - that they could live happily and those going to war so that they could return with spoils of victory.

 

Before World War I amber was still used for the treatment of various diseases, e.g., tincture made of pieces of amber and vodka was thought to increase sexual potency of men. In Lithuania and Tsarist, Russia nannies had to wear amber beads to protect themselves and babies from diseases. As late as before World War II, especially in Germany, amber beads were put on babies to make the eruption of teeth less painful and make the teeth grow stronger.

 

Even now in Lithuania, many women suffering from goiter purchase curative amber beads made of unpolished pieces of amber to wear around the neck. At least nobody would be able to contradict the fact that amber beads collect an electrostatic charge when touched and the oxidized surface contains the highest amount of succinic acid. It is a biostimulant that has a positive effect on the nervous system, the heart, and the kidneys and stimulates recovery processes.