Amber is a fossilized tree resin found in the Baltic Sea, a remnant of Earth’s ancient forests. It has been recognized by many cultures throughout history for its powerful healing properties. Amber is a calming, grounding substance that promotes healing and renewal of the nervous system, balancing the right and left hemisphere of the body.
Baltic Sea, Poland
Third Chakra (Stomach/Solar Plexus)
For thousands of years Amber, especially Baltic Amber, has enchanted and fascinated people, its mysterious nature igniting the imagination of ancient and modern peoples. Amber is one of the few gemstones that are derived from organic vegetative substances, being the fossilized resin of 30 – 150 million year old trees. Amber’s heterogeneous composition consists of various resinous substances and hydrocarbons that over millions of years and under high pressure polymerized to form the amber that we know today. Its general chemical formula is C10 H16 O and it has a hardness of 2 to 2.5.
The resin that oozed from these prehistoric trees quite often trapped small insects, leaves, debris, and pollen, beautifully preserving them for millions of years. Amber nodules containing preserved specimens are treasured by collectors and offer today’s scientists a fascinating data library of our biological history.
Amber comes in a variety of colors including black, brown, yellow, green, red and blue, although the more popular and sought after Baltic Amber has warm and rich shades of yellow, red, orange and gold with high transparency and translucency. Rare Amber from Dominican Republic changes to a blue color in sunlight.
Amber is found all around the world mainly in prehistoric lignite layers and quite often together with coal. But the finest is considered to be Baltic amber, and 90% of the world’s amber is extracted from the Kaliningrad Oblast locality of Russia. Amber can often be found along the coasts of countries that border the Baltic Sea where wild storms produce strong currents that rip out amber pieces from the sea bed and deposit them on beaches. Baltic Amber has been mined and collected from countries such as Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. Other Amber localities around the world include Myanmar, Mexico, Lebanon, Sicily, Japan, USA, Canada, New Zealand and Greenland. How long Amber has been used by humans is not exactly known but this golden resin has mesmerized and enchanted people at least since Neolithic times.
Amber jewelry has been found dating back to 13,000 B.C. and hundreds of Neolithic burial sites have been found in Germany, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia containing Amber. Baltic Amber has been discovered in Egyptian tombs dating back to 3200 B.C. It has therefore been a lucrative trading commodity for thousands of years and was known as ‘Gold from the North’ during the Viking era. The Amber trade has been controlled by powerful lords throughout history and anyone illegally collecting Amber from many Baltic states, or not handing it in to respective Kings, Dukes and Knights were punished by hanging. Intricate and precious silver and gold jewelry and ornaments have been discovered in Egypt, Greece, Rome and China dating back thousands of years. Its warm colored beauty, transparency, softness and amorphous structure make it an excellent medium for fine detailed carving. Chinese carvings of Burmese amber, known as Burmite, date back 2000 years.
The word Amber is derived from the Arabic word for Ambergris, ambar, a similarly colored substance derived from Sperm whales that was used in perfumery. Like ambergris, amber also floats in seawater and when burned or heated exudes a resinous perfume, so it was possibly mistaken as solidified ambergris when it was washed up on sea shores. Amber when rubbed gets charged with static electricity and is able to attract light objects. The Greek name for amber was ηλεκτρον (electron) and was connected to the Sun God, one of whose titles was Elector.
The modern terms ‘electricity’ and "electron" derive from the Greek word for Amber.
Amber features in many myths and legends including Greek, Norse, and Lithuanian. In Greek mythologya amber is formed by the tears wept by the three sisters of Phaeton, the son of the sun god Phoebus, who was slain by Zeus after nearly causing the destruction of the planet by driving the sun chariot too close to Earth. Phaeton’s body fell into the River Eridanus and after his three sisters found his body they wept day and night, vowing to stay by his side, whereupon they were transformed into trees, and as their tears continued to flow they hardened in the sun and turned to amber.
In Lithuanian myth it is the tears of the mermaid Jurate that turn to amber. She weeps amber tears for the lost love of the fisherman Kastytis, killed by a lightning bolt sent by Perkunas, God of Thunder, who was angry that the immortal Jurate was in love with a mere mortal, especially when she was promised to the god of water, Patrimpas. Now her amber palace at the bottom of the Baltic Sea slowly disintegrates during wild storms and her tear drops form the clearest and finest pieces.
In Norse mythology it is the tears of Freya who wanders in eternity in search of her husband Odur, who ran away after Freya lost her self control and committed adultery in order to obtain the precious and beautiful amber necklace known as Brisingamen. When her tears touch the sea they are transformed into amber.
Amber vibrates to the numerological number 3 and is associated with the astrological sign Leo. Its warm colors and the belief that amber was made when the sun’s rays solidified on touching the sea have associated it with the fire element, and the fact that it can be burned to produce a healing incense links it to the air element. As trees absorb the sun’s rays for photosynthesis and later the resin dried in the sun’s warmth, amber retains solar qualities and is ideal for working with the 3rd chakra, the Solar Plexus.
Amber has warm and positive vibrations that uplift the spirit, re-energizing the flow of chi and purifying one’s aura. It is a stone of protection and talismans have been fashioned for this purpose since prehistoric man and in recent history by Christian believers who wore rosaries and crosses fashioned of amber.
Amber stimulates the metabolism, lifts depression and strengthens the immune system. Trees hold the memory of the history of the planet, and as amber is the resin of prehistoric trees, they can help one connect to ancient knowledge.
In folklore tradition amber has been dissolved in alcohol to be used as an external rub for colds, flu, chest complaints and headache. You can still buy this remedy in Poland today. Other uses have included powdering amber and mixing it with honey to be taken internally, and as amber is a tree resin, it can be burned to produce a vapor similar to pine resin, which was breathed in to help unblock congestion and sinus problems.
The German word for amber is bernstein, which literally translated means ‘burn stone’. Pieces that were not suitable for jewelry and ornaments were often used medicinally. It is theorized that the healing properties of amber are due to the presence of succinic acid and the higher the succinic acid ratio the greater its properties, and the greater its worth. Baltic Amber has the highest amounts of this acid. It is believed that different trees produce different types of amber around the world, but because of its preciousness people have tried many different ways of enhancing its value, or completely faking it with plastic.
Amber can be gently heated in an oil bath and reconstituted to produce a pristine transparent effect. Other effects can also be created with various techniques to increase amber’s desirability such as adding air bubbles to increase rainbow refraction, milk to produce creamy swirls, and coloring to imitate rare forms such as green Baltic Amber. Other resins and even plastic can be added to imitate amber.
A simple test to tell if the amber is real is to place amber in a solution of water and sea salt. If it floats it is likely to be amber, if it sinks, it is probably fake. Another method is to heat a needle and touch a part of the amber. If you get a whiff of pine- like resin then it is likely to be amber. If it smells of plastic…! Insects that appear too perfectly positioned in amber are likely to be imitations.
Copal is another resin that can be confused with amber but which is thousands of years old instead of millions. It does have its own inherent beauty and properties but should not be mistaken for the more valuable amber.
So here we have a transparent gemstone that is thrown up onto beaches by violent storms, often contains mysterious insects and plant matter, which shines with the various shades of the sun, and when burned produces an aromatic healing essence.
It’s no wonder that Amber has fascinated mankind throughout the ages, entering the realms of mythology and shaping trade routes to finance kingdoms.
Hi, I am Katy Sawyer, co-founder of Arkadia with my husband Jacob.
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