Amber Gathering and Use in the Baltic?
Already in distant antiquity, the people living along the shore of the Baltic Sea not only collected amber for trade, but also made practical use of it as a decorative, curative and religious material. The oldest amber animal figurines date from the 8th-7th millennium BC. In the territory of present-day Latvia and Lithuania amber processing began in the 4th millennium BC. The most interesting finds of artefacts come from Sārnate, Lubāna and Juodkrante, and recently also from Purvciems (Ğipka). Many of these finds have been obtained in work directed by Dr hab. hist. Ilze Loze, corresponding member of the Latvian Academy of Sciences, who is also a member of the Amber Committee of the International Union of Prehistoric and Protohistoric Sciences. Amber was widely used as a magical material with curative properties and as a component of religious rituals among the neighbouring ancient Slavic peoples in Kievan Rus and Poland.
Along with the conquest of the Baltic by the crusaders in the 13th century, the local amberworking traditions declined. In the coastal area around Danzig, the Dukes of Pomerania established for themselves a monopoly right to collect amber. The Teutonic Order, having taken control of Prussia, seized the right to all the amber that was obtained. The local people, if they did not give up amber, were punished by hanging. The coastal villages of Latvia too were "adorned" with gallows for amber-thieves. To prevent theft of unworked amber, workshops were established as far as possible from the sources: at Bruges in 1302, at Lübeck in 1310, at Danzig in 1477, at Elbing in 1539 and at Königsberg only in 1641. The craft corporations produced mainly rosary beads. Gradually, the technique of amberworking was perfected. Characteristic finds from the 17th and 18th centuries include amber mosaics, inlaid designs and various sculptures. This was one of the boom periods of amberworking, when a unique Amber Cabinet was made, and later an Amber Room as well. The 19th century saw a transition from amber collection to amber mining at the sources in Palmnicken (Jantarnij). Initially, mining was from shafts, but opencast mining later developed. These are the world's richest sources of amber. The source is on the seashore, and part of it is under the sea. The prevailing marine current still transports lumps of amber from these sources, to be washed up on the shore of Lithuania and Latvia. The source is worked by the Kaliningrad Amber Plant.