©J. Paul Getty Trust
Causey, Faya. Where Is Amber Found?, Ancient Carved Ambers in the J. Paul Getty Museum
Ed. Faya Causey. Los Angeles: Getty P, 2012. museumcatalogues.getty.edu. Web. 25 March 2019.
Where Is Amber Found?
Deposits of amber occur throughout both the Old and the New Worlds, and many varieties are recognized. Of the many kinds of amber found in the Old World, the most plentiful today, as in antiquity, is Baltic amber (figure 12), or succinite (so called because it has a high concentration of succinic acid). This early Tertiary (Upper Eocene–Lower Oligocene) amber comes mainly from around the shores of the Baltic Sea, from today’s Lithuania, Latvia, Russia (Kaliningrad), Poland, southern Sweden, northern Germany, and Denmark. The richest deposits are on and around the Samland peninsula, a large, fan-shaped area that corresponds to the delta region of a river that once drained an ancient landmass that geologists call Fennoscandia. This ancient continent now lies beneath the Baltic Sea and the surrounding land. Although this area has the largest concentration of amber in the world, it is a secondary deposition. Amazingly, the fossil resin “was apparently eroded from marine sediments near sea level, carried ashore during storms, and subsequently carried by water and glaciers to secondary deposits across much of northern and eastern Europe” over a period of approximately twenty million years. In antiquity, most amber from the Baltic shore was harvested from shallow waters and beaches, where it had washed up (once again, millennia later), especially during autumn storms that agitated the seabeds. It was only in the early modern period that amber began to be mined. With the introduction of industrial techniques, huge amounts have been extracted since the nineteenth century. It is estimated that up to a million pounds of amber a year was dug from the blue earth layer of the Samland peninsula in the first decades of the twentieth century.
Other kinds of amber used by ancient Mediterranean peoples have been identified with sources in today’s Sicily, Lebanon, Israel, and Jordan. In addition to European sources, ancient accounts mention amber from Liguria, Scythia, Syria, India, Ethiopia, and Numidia. However, of the varieties used in antiquity and known today, only succinite, or Baltic amber, is found in the large, relatively sturdy jewelry-grade pieces such as were used for the sizable objects of antiquity, like the pre-Roman pendants of this catalogue, or for the complex carvings, vessels, and containers of Roman date. Small pieces of amber and the wastage of larger compositions could have been used for tiny carvings and other purposes. Non-jewelry-grade amber would also have been employed in inlay, incense and perfume, pharmaceuticals, and varnish, as is still the case in the modern period. Burmite (found in Burma, now Myanmar) and some amber from China, types also found in large, high-grade pieces, have long histories of artistic and other uses in Asia.
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Where Is Amber Found?