An ancient site in Somerset, England, contains a vast cave discovered over a century ago. Since then, it has yielded many rare artifacts and bones, including an ancient seated skeleton dating back nine thousand years. In 1950, this place, named "Gough's Cave" after the Victorian captain discovered it, also yielded perhaps the oldest piece of traded gem-type material ever found - Amber.
Thousands of years ago, trees oozed resin as a self-healing mechanism to create Amber. There had to be something special for an ordinary forest with a modest drizzle to become amber. Some say it was prehistoric global warming when the earth's weather was erratic and the sun got too close. Others argue it was evolution and trees have decided to weep.
As time passed, most of the resin dripped into the soil and was absorbed. However, some solidified and started the long process of fossilizing. Some amber is still buried underground, hidden forever in the folds and tucks of the earth. However, some washed from the rocks and were transported by rivers and glaciers around fifteen million years ago.
Amber is often considered a poor cousin to the other treasures in our jewel boxes. It is light, soft, and cheap and does not appear to be very rare at all, but in the past, it has been valued more highly than gold because of accidents, history, and some remarkable physical qualities.
Amber is known to the Greeks as elektron, meaning "the sun," since it comes in all the colors of the sun, from bright yellow to sunset red, and because when it is rubbed, it attracts lint and dried grass, causing light sparks to appear. In 1600, the English physician William Gilbert noted that Amber shared this property with several other substances, including tourmaline, glass, jet, sealing wax, sulfur, and resin. He named this phenomenon "electricity," after Amber's Greek name.
But not everything was light in amber. In the XIV century, Knights hunted forests and win ladies' hearts. That was their traditional pursuits; however, they were plagued by boredom. If a knight were found breaking his vow of chastity to a woman, he would be demoted to "brother-servant" for a year; if he broke his vow to a man, he would be executed. Knight monks were not allowed to consume much alcohol or drink much.
A few chose a life of prayer; some preferred internal politics, tax collection, and international trade, all of which their order engaged enthusiastically. Such priorities did not meet with much approval outside monkish circles, however. A letter from the people of Riga to Pope Boniface VIII in 1299 complained that, while they were knights and desired to be treated as such, they dealt in every trade unworthy of a knighthood, including market-men, who sold fruit, cabbage, radish, onions, and other commodities. One such commodity was the amber trade. Some have found amber to have a noble value, but Knights saw gold and greed.
They kept amber prices high by maintaining a monopoly and defending it with threats and terror. The punishment for violating this rule was death. As amber attracted dried grass after being rubbed, ancient cultures believed it attracted luck. Still, it brought only sorrow. A Dominican monk named Simonis Grunovii arrived on the Prussian coast from Rome to buy an amber icons for the pope. As he described, the peasants were roped together and forced to run into the sea with nets to catch amber, when the waves became too high; they climbed the high poles they carried to avoid drowning.
Due to icy waters they had to be thawed before going back to their huts, Grunovii wrote, "big fires are kept upon the shore." Amber was expensive, and people were poor, so few were picked it up from the beaches. This was not an idle rumor. Grunovii had seen several bodies hanging from branches if they were caught stealing. But Amber would find its way into politics and diplomacy.
The most famous example of Amber as a tool of diplomacy was a gift given by Frederick Wilhelm I of Prussia in 1716 to Peter the Great of Russia by Frederick Wilhelm I of Prussia. Initially, it did not make much of a splash, but when it disappeared two centuries later, it became one of the most famous gems ever. It is interesting to note that this Amber Room was, in fact, not jewelry at all but a clever alternative to wallpaper: the Amber Room.
Even though many Americans are familiar with amber due to the Hollywood movie "Jurassic Park." Europeans, especially Russians, have been captivated by amber for centuries due to the golden and jewel-encrusted Amber Room, made from several tons of the gemstone. Unfortunately, the Nazis looted the room during World War II, and the amber panels packed away in crates disappeared in the war's final months when they were no longer available. The original, the Eighth Wonder of the World, was rebuilt in 2003, but its contents have remained hidden for decades.
As Frederick III learned that his palace cellars contained tons of Amber left by the Teutonic Knights in 1699, he decided to build a chamber whose walls would be lined entirely with Amber, known as Baltic gold at the time. A Prussian architect and a Danish master craftsman who knew all the secrets of the amber furniture-making industry were employed by him. But the virtues of Amber are not confined to history. There are other powers hidden in amber - healing powers.
Amber has been used in natural medicine for centuries in various cultures and is believed to have healing properties. Baltic Amber is known for its healing, cleansing, and transformation properties. In addition, it contains high levels of succinic acid, a natural anti-inflammatory compound.
Amber absorbs negative or stagnant energy, stimulating the body's natural healing abilities by aligning the mind, body, and spirit. As a result, Amber has become increasingly popular in recent years for treating teething pain in babies. Many positive anecdotes support these healing claims, but modern science has yet to confirm them.
The rich history of Amber is the history of fossilized insects, rainbow colors, suffering, beauty, and electricity. Most of all, it will contain the wonder of this electric, eclectic material that was probably the first gemstone traded in the world. It is hoped that this will illustrate why the prophet Ezekiel chose Amber as a simile to convince his listeners he had seen the glory of God.
Sources and credit: Jewels, A secret History by Victoria Finlay