The earliest known use of worked amber beads by man was between 7,000 and 11,000 BC in Denmark and southern England.
Amber Beads Starting 3,400 B.C...
Amber beads have been found in Egyptian tombs dating to 3,400 BC. It has also been found in Mycenaean (Greece) tombs. By the Bronze Age (3,000 to 1,000 BC), there was significant trade of the gemstone throughout the region of the Baltic Sea. As early as 600 BC, amber's curious property of generating static electricity when rubbed with wool was reported in Greece. The Greek word for amber was "elektron" (meaning "sun gold") and it is the root for the word electricity. In the first century AD, Roman Emperor Nero dispatched an expedition to Scandinavia to find "northern gold," which resulted in the establishment of important new trade routes for the Empire. Amber is known from lake-dwellings in Switzerland, and it occurs with Neolithic remains in Denmark, whilst in England it is found with interments of the bronze age. A remarkably fine cup turned in amber from a bronze-age barrow at Hove is now in the Brighton Museum. Beads of amber occur with Anglo-Saxon relics in the south of England; and up to a comparatively recent period the material was valued as an amulet. It is still believed to possess a certain medicinal virtue.
Baltic Amber is Oldest
Baltic amber is perhaps the oldest stone used to decorate the human figure in the vast area of Europe. Not long ago, in the caves of the Pyrenees, home to the Aurignacian culture of 16,000 years ago, large (25 to 30 mm in diameter), round beads were found, formed of amber by human hands, belonging to those who considered this material to be so beautiful as to carry it over thousands of kilometers from a distant hunting journey to the north of Europe. Amber talismans in the form of pendants and necklaces from the late Palaeolithic, the Mesolithic and the Neolithic ages appear in numerous archaeological sites from the Ural Mountains to the British Isles. However, it was only the ancient Mediterranean culture that introduced amber in the kind of goldsmith works which we today would consider jewelry. This is certified not only by museum collections, such as the enormous accumulation of the most ancient decorations in the Archaeological Museum in Athens, but also in literary works full of admiration for the beauty of amber. A passage from Homer's Odyssey says: "There came a man versed in craft to my father's house, with a golden chain strung here and there with amber beads. Now the maidens in the hall and my lady mother were handling the chain and admiring it, and offering him their price.
Baltic Amber has been used for decorative items since prehistoric times. A Baltic amber amulet has even been found in Egyptian tombs. Amber was also very popular in ancient Rome during the reign of Nero when: jewelry, ornaments, amulets, and even dice were made from amber.
The Middle Ages
During the Middle Ages, prayer beads were exported as the main product of tooled Baltic amber. From the 16th century into the 18th century, bracelets, necklaces, containers, boxes, bowls, plates, flutes, buttons, mouth pieces for pipes, chess sets, watch cases and even luxury interior fittings were made using amber. The bulk of the amber trade took place in Königsberg and Danzig, modern Russia and Poland, respectively.
The most famous wives of the Roman emperors would wear grand sets of amber gemstones, including Livia, Messalina and Poppea, the wife of Nero, who loved amber in the reddish tint of her hair. In time amber became an uncommonly popular and expensive gemstone in the Roman Empire. It was commonly used to decorate fibulae, pins for formal dress. The great demand for fibulae with amber led to such an enormous growth in their prices that Emperor Maxentius was forced to issue an edict on their official maximum. Such limits were imposed on only a few dozen luxury products on the Imperial market.
The Amber Room in Russia
To seal a peace treaty in 1717, the incomparable Amber Chamber was given to Russian Tsar Peter the Great, from Prussia. It was constructed of six tons of amber arranged in ornate wall panels. The Nazis seized the treasure in 1944 and its whereabouts remain unknown to this day. Artists from the People's Master Artists of Applied Art, in Latvia, decided to re-create the lost ''amber room'' in 1975. This project included archaeologists, critics, librarians, archivists and many artists. A new room was created in exacting detail from photographs taken... more