Art / Lithuania / Science / Travel

Baltic Amber: Humble Beginning, Flashy Finish

 

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A hungry mosquito buzzes through a thick Lithuanian pine forest in search of a plump eohippus. His little bug belly growls to let him know he hasn’t eaten, and he decides to rest. This is one unlucky mozzie, because he not only can’t locate breakfast, he’s just landed in a sticky, gooey drop of resin on the bark of a large pine tree. Forty million years later, he’s part of a very nice amber necklace in a Vilnius jewelry store window.

Amber, which is nothing more than fossilized pine resin, has been highly prized for thousands of years. It’s used as an ingredient in perfumes, as a healing agent in folk medicine, and most notably, in jewelry.

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Surprisingly, the Baltic Area, and Lithuania in particular, is the source of 80% of the earth’s amber. In addition to being mined, amber nodules wash out of the native rock onto Baltic sea beaches, making lucky beachcombers very happy. Jewelers and craftsmen enjoy using amber for its highly varied color. This Wikipedia photo shows the color variation from deep brown to clear, golden yellow.

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One of the most astounding and famous uses for amber was “The Amber Room”. Created in the 18th Century, stolen and lost by the Nazis, and reconstructed by Russia in 2003. It now sits in the Catherine Palace in Saint Petersburg, Russia.

However, artisans and jewelers in Vilnius craft amber ware with a wider appeal, and the Old Town is crammed with stores. If you can imagine it, the shops sell it in amber. They sell paperweights, carved animals, letter openers, keychains, sailing ships …

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… and my personal favorite, sandals! Wearing these shoes will definitely get you noticed.

Happy Trails,
James

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4 thoughts on “Baltic Amber: Humble Beginning, Flashy Finish

  1. Thanks for liking one of my posts, as it led me to your blog. I am making my way through your Lithuania posts. My mother grew up in Lithuania (before WWII when everyone fled), and she had fond memories of beach-combing for amber with her siblings. She said there was so much of it, and the children would throw the bigger pieces at each other. Hard to imagine!

    • Thanks for the comment Ruth, and for dropping by the blog. We went to the beach at Jurmala (froze our butts off), but didn’t see any amber. I’m sure that the locals know exactly where and when to go to find the good stuff. But, the shops in Vilnius are loaded with it, and it’s carved into everything imaginable. ~James

  2. Nice post! I deal with Baltic Amber. The main confusions happens when it comes to the source of amber. You mentioned Lithuania. In fact, there is no amber in Lithuania, except for some tiny pieces scattered along the Baltic Sea shore. When it comes to the Baltic Amber, it is mined only in near the city of Kaliningrad (Russia), a few hours driving from Lithuania. As far as Lithuania concerned, they make the best amber beads there and Baltic amber beaded jewelry. But only from the amber purchased from Russia.

    all the best!

    Evgenia

    http://www.amberregina.com
    http://amberregina.blogspot.com

    • Thanks for the comment, for dropping by the blog, and for the additional information on Baltic Amber. It’s good to hear from an expert. I’m a geologist and I understand how amber is formed, but it’s still amazing to me how so much amber could be concentrated in such a small area. ~James

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