Thursday, November 18, 2010

Amber - The Gemstone of Millennia

Gemstones of every color have attracted the eye of men (and women) since the dawn of time. Their attractiveness also made them items of great value. One of the oldest known of these 'pretty rocks' is also one of the few gemstones that have its origins as a substance from a plant. It began as resin that seeped from certain types of trees. A combination of pressure and chemical changes, the gemstone called amber was produced. Amber can be 45 million years old.

Pendants made from amber have been found that date back to 12,000 B.C.E. There have been quantities of amber found in the foundations of ancients buildings, leading to the speculation that it was placed there to ward off evil. Amber has been highly valued throughout history and was one of the first known commercial products. The demand  was so great that a trading route called The Amber Road developed that brought amber from the Baltic Sea all the way to Italy. This trading route lead to the possession of amber in many areas of the ancient world. Amber artifacts have been found in areas of ancient Greece, Egypt and England.

When the resin seeped from ancient trees so many million years go, sometimes it would trap various objects within it. These items are called inclusions, and can be a variety of insects, leaves, twigs, and other organic matter. These inclusions can contain insect and plant species that are no longer found on earth, and they add to the value of the stones.

Amber comes in many different colors such as orange, red, yellow, white, green, brown, blue and black (black is merely very dark shades of one of the other colors). It can also range in clarity from clear to cloudy. Seawater Amber, as its name implies, is found either floating in seawater or entangled in beds of seaweed.

The beaches and seaweed beds of the Baltic Sea was the greatest source of amber in the ancient world, and was the starting point for the original Amber Road. The stone is also mined on land, and is the greatest source of amber being used today, mined in this manner it is encrusted with other minerals and rocks, while sea amber has been polished smooth by water. Sea Amber is of greater value than the version found on land.

Much of the amber found today still comes from the Baltic Sea region of Eastern Europe and Russia, with many of the richest deposits found in Poland and Lithuania. Other major deposits are also found in The Dominican Republic and many different areas of Asia. Small localized areas of amber deposits have been found in The United States, with the largest U.S deposits being found in Arkansas.

The ancients credited amber with many magical properties. It gave the wearer strength, helped ward off evil, aided in healing, and enhanced the power of magicians, among others. The beauty of the stone still has the power to attract the human eye, and amber jewelry remains very popular. A thing of beauty is a joy forever, said the poet. In its many colors and forms, amber was a thing of beauty for the ancients. It remains a thing of beauty for us.


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