6000 year old traditions show amber prevalence and respect of people, who lived on the Baltic Sea coast (Lithuania and the Kaliningrad area). At first these traditions were created by ancient inhabitants of the Baltic coast, and Balts since 2000-1800 BC. In Lithuania the oldest findings of amber are of Neolithic period (4000-1600 BC). Neolithic amber jewellery – pendants, beads, buttons, amulets – were discovered in the former settlements near the Baltic Sea (Curonian Spit, Palanga, Šventoji and Prussia).
The first biggest amber treasure was found while dredging amber in the Curonian Lagoon in the vicinity of Juodkrantė in 1860-1881. Scientists from all over the world got interested in unique New Stone Age decorative amber objects dating back to the 3rd millennium B.C. This is the famous R. Klebs collection called Juodkrantė’s Treasure. It consists of raw amber and 434 complete handicraft articles. The collection contains many pendants of different forms: long and narrow, regular with an oblique base, almost rectangular and oval. There were different buttons found: small round and oval, up to 4,5 cm long, big boat-shaped; some of them had plain surface, others were decorated with dots. Also, there were found different tube-shaped beads with straight to slightly curved sides that had surface ranging from lightly retouched to highly polished, and many links and disks. New Stone Age plastic art objects (amber statuettes of people and animals) are an exceptionally valuable part of this collection. All these objects were described and published in R. Klebs’s book “Amber jewellery of Stone Age” in 1882.
Count F. V. Tiškevičius dug amber in the wetlands near Palanga. Raw amber contained just a few hundred kilograms, but during the work there has been collected number of archaeological findings (Palanga’s Treasue). Some articles of Palanga’s Treasure are similar to articles of Juodkrantė’s Treasure. They are ornamented with points, strips, and holes. One article of this treasure depicts a schematic man. One foot is fractured. In the upper part of the figure – the head – a hole is drilled. This shows that it was worn as an amulet. This figure like the shield shaped pendants, buttons with the V shaped holes and cylindrical beads are of Neolithic period. Other articles of Palanga’s Treasure: necklace-discs, wheel-spindles and a number of pendants are from later time that reaches even the Brass and Iron Age.
Similar treasure was found near Šventoji while excavating Neolithic camps. These 20 years of excavations were carried out by Dr. R. Rimantienė. And that is how the Stone Age amber treasure of Šventoji was collected. This treasure gave new information about life of people, who lived on the seacoast. In the 4th millennium BC Narva culture population wore amber jewellery. People drilled a hole in a piece of amber and had a pendant; they produced small buttons, figurines, amber tubular beads, although to get the tube shape they had to put a lot of effort. At that time colourful amber was not valued, which is contrary to our nowadays choice. Lots of them were found just dropped and broken. Then people particularly liked one-colour, smooth, honey-coloured amber. In the 3rd millennium BC amber workshops began to set up on present territory of Lithuania. One of them was found near Šventoji, where pendants and buttons were manufactured for northerners, who lived in the current Estonia, Finland, and Novgorod areas. The most interesting articles they produced to themselves. It was not only jewellery. Scientists are still making suppositions about the meaning of figurines of people and animals. It is estimated that for fishermen and hunters they meant the guardians of life – Gods of the world. Also, they could serve as amulets.
On the Curonian Spit, 4 km north from Pervalka raw amber treasure was found. This amber was collected in the beginning of the early Bronze Age: 13 sizable pieces, each weighing about 600 grams. They were lighter than the same sized amber pieces, which were found on the seacoast because they lied on the surface of the sand dunes for a long time, got a lot of oxidation and became porous. Not far from this raw amber treasure on the coast were identified culture-specific Rope ceramics, fine flint and burnt wood coal. As a result, finding dates back to 1800-1600 BC. Comparatively sparing raw amber and its products confirm that Neolithic and Bronze Age coastal population widely used amber in jewellery; for others amber had not only ornamental, but also magic value.
Amber in Stone Age
Doctor of Historical Sciences, R. Rimantienė
More than one location on the coast of the Baltic Sea keeps the layers of amber but they are deep underground. A primitive was able to learn about amber only when nature itself had opened up its secrets. In Schleswig Holstein, in undermined amber layers, people began to collect this nice mineral and make a variety of ornaments and figures of it in middle Stone Age. However, these reserves were too little. In Neolithic period amber layers opened on Semba peninsula. As long as the sea level was low, Baltic Sea did not undermine these layers. After the climate became warmer and humid, sea level began to rise and water began to disassemble amber layers. Water brought the light mineral to shallow locations. People from Stone Age began to collect amber pieces on our coast.
For centuries people were used to do a variety of decorations of materials, which were found in nature: animals’ teeth, stones and plates of birds, thin stones. So, they immediately applied amber pieces to their adornments.
In Lithuania Narva culture population wore ornaments of amber already in 4th millennium BC. It was easier to do pendants of amber than of bones or stones and amber ornaments were more beautiful. People wanted to do the same amber ornaments like they did it of stone or bones. They loved to wear the necklaces in the form of tube (of birds’ bones), so they tried to polish amber in this shape. They started to produce tubular amber beads, while the natural shape of amber pieces was a disadvantage. Amber buttons and figures were started to be cut, and previously they used horn, bone, or even flint for that.
In the Stone Age settlements very beautiful pieces of amber are found near the artefacts of amber. Stone Age people did not like colourful but honey-coloured amber.
In the 4th millennium BC fishermen and hunters lived relatively closed community life and they did amber jewellery for themselves. Therefore, there were just few of them and very simple.
In the 3rd millennium BC Finno-Ugric began visiting the seaside and news about the sea amber widely spread to the north. Our exchanged artefacts of amber are found in Estonia, Finland, Novgorod region, etc.
In the 3rd millennium BC even amber workshops started to be set up (e.g. the 23rdsettlement of Šventoji, Lithuania; in Latvia near Lubana lake) producing uniform pendants and buttons for northerners. The most interesting ones, with all their beauty shining among Juodkrantė’s Treasure items were made for themselves. They were not only ornaments. Figures in the form of people or animal were not used for adornments; their real meaning remains a mystery for us. Speculating about the meaning of these figures it is not possible to break away from every day life, that is the key to understand the mentality of fishermen and hunters. Perhaps the figures depicted the guardians (Gods of the world) and were used as amulets. Maybe it was a female being, because sometimes a female character can be seen – a female triangle mark and tress. On the other hand, gender could not be necessarily defined.
In the middle of the 3rd millennium BC neighbours from the south got interested in our amber. They were people of upper culture (Globular Amphora culture). They were stockbreeders and farmers. Dealing with them, our fishermen learned to work in the production of livestock and land. With the generation of agriculture the attitude changed, it became abstract. Because of the Globular Amphora culture, our people became acquainted with new expression and new symbols. These neighbours were not content with primitive ornaments, which were transported to the north. Their conception of the universe is reflected by models of the world – round (and sometimes other forms) plates with crosspiece of points (because the world is composed of two intersecting axes). A pendant in a shape of trapezium with some rows of points depicted a human. Round and quadrangular buttons complemented round ones. Tubular beads were thickened in the middle.
Thus, the evolution of amber jewellery reflects the evolution of mindset and relations with neighbours, and later will still reveal things unknown to us.
The settlers of late Neolithic culture adorned with very beautiful pendants of amber, but they also wore just natural amber piece with a hole. They believed that amber was like a miracle material. At that time, the centre of amber production and exchange was concentrated in Poland. However, there are also some products of this period in Juodkrantė’s Treasure.
Therefore, we could raise a question of how artefacts of a variety periods and kinds of culture got in one place. There were some suppositions that raw amber could be washed ashore from the Stone Age settlements of Semba peninsula through the waterway (at that time Kuronian Spit had several of waterways). However, it was also doubted that the treasure was washed ashore to one particular place. Could it be a permanent place of sacrifice? It is known that sacrificial sites remained for centuries in the same place. In addition, in the Stone Age sacrifices were often sunk in water, the burning of sacrifice occurred only when farming emerged.
All historical interpretations strengthen our admiration of these wonderful artefacts; we are fascinated by their beauty with a history of 5000 years.