History of Amber

The History of Amber

The history of amber is shrouded in mystery. Until today some facts connected with its creation have not been explained. Baltic amber, called succinite, is fossil resin created about 40–60 million years ago. Since that time it has undergone processes of hardening and weathering, which contributed to its exceptional charm. However, it still remains unknown what tree exuded this specific kind of resin. It has not been explained why those trees tapped so intensely, either.

The ancients were convinced that the amber bearing trees were willows (or poplars), cedars or pines. Studies by German botanists from the 19th century have shown that the “mothers” of amber were long extinct so-called amber bearing pines (Pinus succinifera). Amber was created in the subtropical climate, where pines do not grow. Therefore, there are speculations that the amber bearing plant could have been a tree similar to an acacia. As for tapping of those trees, there are at least a few hypotheses. It could have been caused by a sudden climate warming, volcanic processes, tree diseases or presence of pests. It could have also been a natural process in the trees’ lifetime growth.

In the period when amber was created in the area of contemporary Scandinavia there was a land called Fenno-Sarmatia and in the area of today’s Europe there was the Tethys Ocean. From Fenno-Sarmatia resin was transported by the Eridan river and it precipitated in its delta, where now Gdańsk Bay (Poland) is. It is in those areas that the largest deposits of amber are. They were uncovered and rinsed by rivers flowing under a glacier about a million years ago. The terrains of Fenno-Sarmatia were covered by Eocene amber forest. It was a mixed forest, presumably a pine and oak one, with a resin bearing pine, Pinus succinifera. Here and there magnolias, sequoias and cinnamon trees grew. Thujas and cypresses were also numerous, and in the undergrowth there were grasses, mosses and ferns. The background was presumably very dank, otherwise liquid resin flowing from the trees would seep into the ground.

The beginnings

The oldest grinded and polished amber plates have been found on Wysoczyzna Leszczyńska. They are estimated to be Paleolithic (40000–10000  BC), that is from the twilight of the Ice Age. Thus, amber has been present in human life since the pre-beginnings of their presence on the Earth.

In Poland the most amber workshops were in the area of Gdańsk and Kurpie. Amber was used to produce secretaires, boxes, figures, mosaics. It was fashionable in entire Europe. In Italy as early as in the 2nd century BC famous amber workshops were active.