BALTIC AMBER

Museums
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Amber hunters
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Catching amber from the bottom of the sea
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Amber fishing in the Baltic Sea
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Amber mine in Palvininkai (water-colour)

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Amber mine in Palvininkai of the firm "Stantien&Becker" (19th - 20th century)

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Amber mine "Anna" (19th century)

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Territory of amber mine

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Amber mine "Anna". Walther's transporter.

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Amber mine "Anna". Underground leaching of amber.

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Amber mine "Anna". Lift tower and Walther's transporter.

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After amber leaching amber has been sorted by color, size and shape

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Sorting of amber

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Amber from the "Blue Earth"
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Amber piece in the "Blue Earth"

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Mining and flushing of the "Blue Earth" in the Primorsky strip mine. Yantarny

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Amber extraction at the mouth of the Vistula. Poland

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Larger amber pieces are "fished out"

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Catch

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K. Mizgiris near amber sifting machines. Yantarny

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Amber sorting in Amber factory. Yantarny

Amber Extraction

Amber is mentioned even in the 10th century BC in Assyrian cuneiform. It says that in the sea, where Northern winds are changing (Persian Gulf), his (king’s) merchants gather pearls, and in the sea, where Northern Star shines (Baltic), they fish amber. In about 600 years BC Ezekiel describes king Tyre’s clothing decorations, and mentions amber jewellery. Amber is very often mentioned in Greek literature. It was mentioned by Homer, Tales from Millet, Hasid, Sophocles, Aristhofan, Xenophont, Plato, Aristotle and other Greek oracles. Roman philosopher and orator Deon Chrisostom (Gold-mouthed) wrote that in the north flows the river where there is as much amber on its coast as small stones in Rome. Some present day historians say that Chrisostom had in mind Vistula or Nemunas. The first who mentioned Lithuanian tribe name was Cornelius Tacitus. In his work “Germania” he described Aistians and amber in the following manner: in the right corner Swebian (Baltic) sea washes shores of Aistian tribes, whose customs and clothing are like Swebian and the language is more close to British. They are praising to Mother of gods. They wear statuettes of wild boars that serve like weapons and protect from everything, they protect worshipper of goddess even in a welter of enemies. Swords they use rarely, usually only sticks. Cereals they grow more diligently than lazy Germans. They also search around the sea; in shoals and on its shores they are only ones that gather amber and call it "glesum".   

Until the 13th century amber was gathered on the sea coast, later on local people learned to fish it with long-crested landing-nets in the sea. Usually people worked at night time: they used to light up pitched barrel on a high hill or in the tree to brighten the coast. After some time people began to fish amber with special nets and hooks in shoal places. Fishers of the Curonian lagoon gathered amber from the bottom of the sea with kesele – from double bottomed boats with net and hooks people broke the bottom of the sea and moved pieces of amber. They were lifted from the bed of the sea and got to pulling out net. This gathering of amber was used only in the Curonian lagoon.

However, it was not always allowed to gather and fish amber. In the 13th century amber extraction was monopolized by crusaders. Local people, who used to gather and sell amber for many years, lost their right to do that – all collected amber was given to authorities. It was even forbidden to walk by the sea side. Later in Prussia, until the beginning of the 19th century, there used to be special Amber Court, during which people were cruelly punished for amber stealing: amber thief was put in a pillory, birched, deported from the country, hung or even broken on a wheel. Barons of Kuršas also used farmers and fishermen to collect amber and give it to authorities. Forest guard of the coast made farmers and fishermen to collect amber also and followed if there were no strangers by the sea. An alien caught near the coast had to be punished no mater if he or she had not stolen anything. Farmers and their grown-up sons were forced to claim that they will collect amber and give it all to authorities. Father had to watch that "wife, children or my people or somebody else neither secretly nor openly take even the smallest piece of amber". When sons became 18, they promised that "if I see or notice that my father, mother, brothers, sisters, masters, workers or other people abuse or are going to abuse amber, I promise to forbid them to do that and I will not make any concessions to them". For a farmer the biggest encouragement was exemption from military service and the biggest penalty was to be recruited.

Since the beginning of the 17th century and especially during the 19th century, when diving costume was invented, divers simply collected pieces of amber from the bed of the sea.

There was lots of amber found by deepening the seaway in the Curonian lagoon near Juodkrantė, in 1854. After that amber was started to be dug out in Lithuania. Two businessmen of Jewish nationality – Stantien and Becker – founded their firm. It soon got rich and since 1883 amber was dug out mechanically by steam suction dredgers. Here famous Klebs collection was collected and attracted attention of world archaeologists. This place and amber itself became a point of interest. Life of industry burst. From 30 to 85 tones of amber were dug out every year. After some time the businessmen bought one more amber mine in Palvininkai (present day Jantarnyj, Kaliningrad region) and built amber treatment enterprise. It is not a surprise that two merchants became one of the richest industry men in Eastern Prussia because 90% of all amber in the world is in Palvininkai. Amber is now dug out in open quarry by modern mining technique. However, the recourses are decreasing, and numbers prove that: at the end of the 20th century 500-800 tones of amber were dug here, and now it decreased to about 150 tones per year.

At the end of the 19th century the rich merchants left the reservoir of the Curonian lagoon. There were trials to renew amber mining but in primitive methods and unsuccessfully. Count Tiškevičius tried to mine amber in marshes near Palanga. Though there were only several hundred kilograms of amber dug out, but during the work there were quite a few archaeological findings discovered (Treasure of Palanga).

Later, during the deepening of Klaipėda’s seaway, amber layer was touched. It is assumed that it takes about 3000 ha and there are about 112 tones of amber. People sometimes find amber when they dig out potatoes in the fields formed by lagoon thrown slit. Though various amber collection methods were applied, still the most popular method is to collect amber on the sea coast.

Today amber fishers gather amber on the coast of the Baltic Sea near Karklė or Melnragė. However, luck does not smile all the time. Amber is only thrown in piles of polished sticks from the sea (the bigger are the sticks, the more possibility to find amber, shells, different remains of sea animals and plants). The best throw is after big storms, when streams move amber deposits from the depth of the sea. The coming throw could be seen from dark spots of seaweeds and sticks in the water and flying gulls above them. When fair south-western wind blows and waves throw a lot of sea rubbish, it is better to use landing-net by sticking it to waves, wishing to catch amber together with the sea trash. After that all caught things are shaken on the shore and pieces of amber picked. Amber catcher V. Stripeikaitis shares his experience: if you saw a big piece of amber in water but you did not manage to catch it, that piece of amber would come back to the sea and you would never see it again.