mercredi 18 mai 2011

The Amber Road

As desire for amber circled the world, a need to transport it as a saleable good developed. As the markets grew, so did the transportation system. An Amber Road was established.

This transcontinental trade route coincided with the Baltic Bronze Age, when amber was traded for tin and copper. Amber was initially traded to central European cultures, then sent to Mycenaea and Greece via the Amber Road. According to Marija Gimbutas, a Lithuanian anthropologist, it began 1600 B.C., according to finds in Mycenaenan tombs.

The Amber Road was a system of waterways and ancient highways that for centuries spanned Europe, expanded into Asia, and returned. It also stretched from northern Europe to the Mediterranean Sea. Amber was transported from the North Sea and Baltic Sea by numerous rivers and over land to the rivers of Italy and Greece, onto the Black Sea, and across the Mediterranean Sea to Egypt.

In Roman times, one route moved amber from the Baltic coast into Prussia, through Bohemia, and on to the Adriatic Sea. Here it was sent on to the temple of Apollo at Delphi as an offering to the gods. Earlier, amber had made its way into Egypt where Tutankhamen had it placed among his burial goods. Amber that made its way to the Black Sea would continue on to Asia the Silk Road and be enjoyed by even more cultures.

With the demise of the Roman Empire by the early fifth century A.D., the Dark Ages set in and the road became less important. Literary references to amber and its route disappear, but the people still retained their love of the stone. During the medieval period the road was slowly re-established, but never regained its importance as a major trade route.

The Amber Road has been credited with expanding trade between people whose paths may never have crossed, except for their desire to buy and sell this material. Discovering the path that amber took helps to understand how civilizations spread.

Scandinavian countries especially prized amber and were part of the amber trade. Along with amber came European ideas that influenced their civilization, such as being credited with giving rise to the Nordic Bronze Age. This simple, organic stone had lasting impact on many civilizations.

From “Amber: Jewelry, Art & Science” by Nancy P.S.Hopp, 2009

samedi 7 mai 2011

The Preparation and Working of Amber


That cloudy amber could be clarified apparently was known as early as the first century, for Pliny, in his Natural History, mentioned that pieces of amber were “dressed by being boiled in fat of a suckling pig by Archelaus, King of Cappadocia”. This is thought to be the first attempts at clarifying amber. It was Johannes Wigand, in 1590, who discovered other oils could be used rather than the “fat of suckling pigs”, and, by the end of the 17th century, methods of ridding amber of internal obscuration had been well established.

Heat Treatment

To produce a rich brown “antique” color, amber is imbedded in pure sand in an iron pot, then increasingly heated for 30 to 40 hours. The resulting rich brown color closely resembles the oxidized amber hues produced by aging. Such treated amber is often sold under the term “antiqued amber”.

An unheated autoclave or “pressure cooker” is used to drive the oil into air pockets of the porous material to produce clarification. Next, the amber is placed in an electric oven and gradually heated to soften it. During this stage, any air bubbles left within the mass of amber expand to form discoidal fractures. At the same time, heating speeds the process of oxidation and causes the amber to deepen in color. Oxidation occurs from the outside in, causing outer layers to be generally darker than the cores. The longer amber is heated, the darker it becomes. After porous pieces have been subjected to this treatment, they tend to be harder and more durable than they were previously. This process produces beautiful amber, in great demand by amber connoisseurs, and one which is still considered to be genuine amber. It is most commonly found in the finished pieces imported into the USA and Western Europe.