Skip to main content

Amber archeology

Throughout the territories of the Baltic Sea coast (before called Sarmatia) from Riga to Dancing (now called Gdynia) where our ancestors Sarmatians lived (Aiscians and Balts), we count a 6000 year old amber gathering, processing and using traditions.

The oldest amber findings in Lithuania are from the new Stone Age – Neolithic period (4000 B.C.).

Neolithic period amber jewellery – pendants, beads, buttons and amulets – treasures and isolated finds were found at the living-sites that were on the Baltic Sea coast – in those times densely populated Curonian Spit, Palanga, Šventoji and Prussia.

During the Neolithic period amber has already penetrated the settlers‘ mode of life and was processed pretty successfully with flint and bone tools: amber pieces were cut, polished and prettified.

During the XIX century, while searching for amber in the Curonian lagoon for manufacture – scooping up the sand from the bottom of the lagoon and sifting it – besides Juodkrantė a highly valuable Neolithic amber treasure was found consisting of  434 articles.

The very consistent drawing photocopies done by Dr. R Klebs, as well as all five plaster mullages found in the treasure and picturing humans (the figurines were made from bigger pieces of amber) that were made before the Second World War according to the originals kept in Konigsberg were exhibited at the Palanga amber museum during its first decades of opening. I am text block. Click edit button to change this text. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Ut elit tellus, luctus nec ullamcorper mattis, pulvinar dapibus leo.

These figurines differing in their form and individual sculptural processing can be presumed to be the oldest plaster art examples in Lithuania. One of them possibly represents a woman, the other one only the human face. It is thought, that those figurines were carried as amulets, because some of them had holes drilled through.

At this Juodrantė treasure a very schematic figure of an animal, possibly a horse head was also found. Mostly cylindrical beads, buttons, circles and stone axe shaped pendants were found.

Amber buttons of lens form and pendants that were worn 4000 years ago by the dwellers of the Curonian Spit had a V shaped hole to put a thread through were drilled with primitive flint drills typical to the Neolithic period and early Brass Age. Because the drill was short with a little bit sharper top, the holes had to be drilled from both sides and meeting with its tops in a cone shaped spot. Amber pendants, buttons and circles were polished, so it‘s difficult to see previous processing signs on its surface. So it‘s very important to research the holes untouched by polishing when dating the artifact.

There‘s a small amber human figurine found a bit later than the Juodkrantė ones by Dr. V. Hench south of Nida together with stone axes and other Stone Age artifacts and is related to the human figurines found in Juodkrantė treasure. It‘s close to the bone figure representing a human found in Tamula (Estonia) by its form and processing.

Part of the Nida Neolithic treasure found earlier than the Juodrantė one were shared-out by separate amber lovers. For example, one human figurine got to private collector‘s  in New York hands. And the whole Juodkrantė treasure together with other unique amber exhibits that was saved at the Konigsberg’s museum at the end of the Second World War disappeared together with the famous amber room.

The greatest exposition‘s wealth is composed of the 100 artifacts from the so-called Palanga collection and they‘re very similar to Juokrantė findings.  The collection first belonged to Palanga counts Tiškevičiai and they‘re exhibited part of it in Paris. 153 exhibits were taken over by Kretinga museum in 1936. Soon afterwards the set from Kretinga museum was taken over by M. K. Čiurlionis Art museum in Kaunas and in 1960 the set together with the whole archaeological department was transferred to National Museum of Kaunas where part of the artifacts is still exhibited there.

The Palanga amber collection isn‘t from one period – its separate groups belong to different periods. It is believed that this set was created from findings from moors of Palanga and Šventoji regions, as well as from amber raw materials, maybe even from the ancient sand burials that were uncovered. Various form artifacts are exhibited in the museum from this particular collection: pendants, necklaces, circles, and buttons with V form holes. Part of it is identical to the Juodkrantė finds by form and processing technology and is attributed to the Neolithic period. Some of the Palanga (like was at Juodkrantė) collection artifacts are ornamented with dots, strips and holes.

One artifact of the collection portrays a schematic human form (clear leg forking, slight waist tightening). One leg is broken off. On the top part for the figurine (on the head) is a drilled hole. From this we can understand that it was carried as an amulet. This figurine as other shield form pendants, buttons with V letter form holes and cylindrical necklaces are attributed to the Neolithic period.

Other Palanga sets artifacts: disc necklaces, disc spindles and large part of pendants are from a later period – Brass or even Metal Age.

A later period seashell astray and a little clog accidentally got into the amber collection of Palanga. They‘re exhibited together with other old age national creations, because nobody wished to dissemble the set.

A finding from a dug-up Neolithic homestead at the former Novgorod‘s province Konchanskoje area is very similar to Juodkrantė and Palanga artifacts. The finding consists of 300 various pendants, buttons and other adornments that are thought to be of Baltic descent even though the finding place is 850 km away from the Baltic Sea shore.

Amber raw materials are also exhibited in the museum. It‘s amber collected during the early Brass are: 13 quite large pieces weighing about 600 grams. They‘re lighter than amber of the same size that‘s washed out, probably because it lay on top of dunes for a very long time, thus oxidized and got porous.

This interesting raw amber was found by Lithuanian TSR Academy of Science at the Curonian Spit, 4 km north of Pervalka (it was transferred to the Amber museum by LTSR MA History Archeology department). Not far from it rope-type pottery smithereens, little flint clovens and burned wooden coal typical to Seashore cultures were found. That‘s why the finding is dated around 1800-1600 B.C.

Quite large raw amber pieces were found in Palanga in 1958 when cleaning River Ražė and maintaining its slopes near Daukantas street. This amber laying on the bottom of the River Ražė together with animal horns and bones laid there from IIIrd millennium B.C. to IInd millennium B.C. unfortunately, without acknowledging the scientific value of the find the finders just gave the amber out to tourists.

Comparatively little Neolithic and Brass age amber raw material and artifact finds show that at this time the seashore settlers widely used amber for adornment, for some it might have had not just decorative, but also magical meaning.

Far much more amber is dug up from 1st millennium A.D. burial sites. I-XIII century archeological amber finding site map of Lithuania shows that amber burial shrouds of that period were found at over than 100 places in Lithuania.  Most of them are in the west closer to the seashore, the other part is in Sarmatia and Middle Lithuania. These burial shrouds confirm that during the decomposition of tribal living (I-IV centuries), class society forming (VI-VII centuries) and early feudalism (IX-XII) period amber played a great role in Lithuanian life.

In Eastern Lithuania – eastward from Šventoji – very little amber burial shrouds are found, because the dead were burned during V-XIII centuries there and amber just burned together with the body. And the few surviving East Lithuanian IV century exhumed graves don‘t include amber.

That such burial shrouds of the period appeared in Eastern Lithuania as well show only a couple of fact: in the New Vilnia territory formed Žvirblių village VI-VIII grave an unburned amber enclose was found, probably put in there after the burning of the body and in Pabarė, Šalčininkai region X-XI burned grave found two unburned beads.

Amber reached East Lithuania from the Baltic Sea shores, but it is found in quite distant from the sea places in the till deposit layers: at the shores of Širvinta River around Širvintos, near Kernavė, Gaurė, Lipniūnai, Utena, Lukšto and Plateliai lakes, River Nemunas shores (around Kaunas lagoon) near Pažaislis, around Alytus, at Strėva shores, in Kalviai region in Sandrava stream around Žaiginiai village and other places. There‘s no doubt that our ancestors used amber for jewellery and other needs in East Lithuania as well.

Amber burial shrouds are found at Aukštkiemių, Barvų, Kurmaičių, Gibaičių, Maudžiorų, Sargėnų, Seredžiaus, Stragnų, Šernų, Šilutės and other place  barrows and flat burial grounds. At women‘s graves amber spindles were found – flat, quite thick or with double cut cone shape – also amber necklaces and bead holders. Though, I-IV century bead holders made mainly from amber weren‘t found; they‘re used together with brass strands or blue glass beads, sometimes even with enamel beads. Such twining from amber and blue glass beads was received for Šilutė ethno cultural museum and is exhibited in the Amber museum of Palanga.

Amber artifacts of the mentioned period were also found in Palanga at the current Baltic square not far from Ražė stream when researching II-IV 20 women graves. Together with other burial shrouds amber necklaces and pendants were found, too.

During the formation of class society (V-VIII century) amber jewelery production didn‘t diminish – actually amber necklaces of that period are found even more. Though, to adorn the neck brass and silver collars were used, but also and small twines made from various beads (as well as amber) and brass strings.

V-VIII century amber twines were found at the burial site of Rūdaičiai (Kretinga region); one of them is made out of 27 amber cone shaped beads. The same shape twine form 13 amber and 12 glass beads and several brass strings was found in Lazdininkai. Women of those times adorned themselves with irregular shaped amber necklaces. In order to show the museum visitors these decorations, a women‘s grave from V-VII century Eiguliai burial site (borrowed by National Museum of Kaunas) together with the bones, well preserved and wealthy burial cerements was exhibited. Here we saw 2 brass  spoon-shaped collars, small, enamel covered and glass bead twine, 6 brass string bracelets, 4 brass string rings, spiral ring, elk or deer horns. Because at Eiguliai burial site No. 2 many necklaces were found and great part of them is amber, so to this grave on exhibition 14 irregular shaped flat amber necklaces were added from another woman‘s grave that didn‘t preserve so well.

Amber beads and beaded twinings, spindles were also found at these burial sites: Baitų, Eigulių, Griežėnų, Paklibakių, Panevėžiuko, Reketės, Rubokų, Uogučių, Upytės, Tūbausių, Žvirblių (New Vilnia). At Maudžoriai pendants reminding small stone axes were also found.

The archeological finds show that during the later Metal age (the time of early feudalism) West and Middle Lithuanians used amber widely. Together with blue glass bead and brass string twinings amber twinings were also very fashionable.

At the museum, a big double-cut cone-shaped twining of 45 amber beads is exhibited created out of 2 IX-XII centuries Paulaičių and Nikėlų burials‘ necklace twinings. The biggest bead is in the middle of the twining and they get smaller towards the ends. In 1966 the exposition was enlarged again by adding to it 30 various size amber bead necklaces found by ethnographers of the Švėkšna middle school during the 1957-1958 dig of the Nikėlai burial site. Also at Nikėlų, Paulaičių, Mockaičių and Skomantų burial sites 24 necklaces were found during the 1925-1941 dig. Similar twinings were worn mostly during X-XI centuries. They‘re found not only at Nikelėnai, but also at Paulaičiai, Švėkšna, Straganai and other.

At the late Metal and middle Brass Age an amber bead was sometimes inserted into the center of the twinings. The scope of amber usage for jewelery can partially be shown by the 300 amber beads found in a gravesite of IV-XII centuries at Aukštakiemiai (Klaipėda region).

Single amber beads were found in numerous Western and Middle Lithuania burial sites: Balsių, Dargalių, Dimitravo, Eketės mound, Gintališkės, Griaužų, Jauneikių, Juodsodės, Jurgaičių, Jurkiškių, Kuntaičių, Laivių, Lepšių, Linksmučių, Mockaičių, Pryšmančių, Rimaisų, Siraičių, Skomantų, Vilkų edge, Vėžaičių areas. Although amber wasn‘t only used for twinings in those days.

During a grave dig in Palanga during 1961-1962 Lithuanian TSR Science Academy archeologists found more than 270 men, women and children graves near the territory of „Gintaras“ (translates as „Amber“) hotel pine forest. They revealed many pages of the history of amber: besides the amber twinings they found 2-3 amber beads in the headbands of women and men as well. Men carried amber pendants in the form of combs on their belts, warrior spears and horse curbs were adorned with unpolished amber necklaces. When burying a woman a round plate of polished amber wrapped into a veil was put under her vertex, besides a polished amber spindle and sometimes natural amber pieces in a cup or a box. All of this was probably connected with still yet unknown customs that had magical meaning.

Young girls during the IX-XII century wore diadems and the hair was either loose or braided and the braids tightened with amber bead. Such double-cut cone-shaped flat bead was found in the VIII-XIII century Palanga graveyard during the 1961-1962 dig, it is thought that the end of the braid was put through such a bead to tighten it. A similar bead is exhibited at the Palanga collection.

The unique and never again found miniature artifacts are exhibited in this museum that had a symbolic meaning made especially for burials: a spindle with a handle, 4 square string winding plates and a knife to beat on the threads. There are real working tools at the exhibitions as well: amber spindles more than 4 cm wide and 1,5 cm thick from the IX-XII century burials at Mataičiai and Pagrybis, and XI-XII century Skomantų burials. The visitor can see analogical burial amber round plate and comb-shaped pendants at the Palanga museum that were found in VIII-XIII century Kiauleikiai burial site as well as beads that were found in Veršvai (VIII-XIII) and Griaužai (IX-XII) horse burial sites. 1-2 unpolished beads were woven into the horse‘s fringe. Amber beads were also found in the early feudal period Mikytų, Rimaisų, Ruseinių, and later on in 1963 at Pakalniškių (near Gelgaudiškis) horse burial sites. These horse adornments probably had some magical meaning.

The mentioned burial findings tell us that even at the first millennium Lithuanians used amber. In 1949 a Latvian archeologist L. Vankina at the Baltic seacoast location Sarnatia (north of Liepaja) found a amber polishing workshop of the late Neolithic-early Brass age where many flint fragments were also found together with many amber artifacts. At Sarnatia 387 unpolished amber pieces and 2900 amber slivers and pieces that were started to drill were found.

A Latvian archeologist I. Lozė near Luban lake Nainiekstė campsite found 218 amber adornment, 3000 unpolished pieces and slivers (many round buttons with V form drilling holes, cylindrical necklaces and other) 1964. She also collected the semi manufactures – unfinished necklaces, pendants (some with unfinished drilling holes, others still unpolished). Also a big part of flint drills and sandstone stones for polishing were uncovered.

When the irrigators were digging channels in 1966 South of Šventoji town in the great swamps local dwellers found artifacts of Stone Age camps. During 1967-1972 dig led by archeologist Dr. R, Rimantienė new archeological digs were done that gave as new data about the seashore dwellers‘ way of life.

Two Stone Age camps were researched during 1967-1969. At the first campsite‘s lower layer, apart from abundant ceramic artifacts – pots and their smithereens, fishing gear was also found – paddles, boats, remains of nets, floaters and wintches to pull out the nets. Many arrow and spear handles were found together with round amber and teeth buttons-beads used for jewelery. According to its ceramics the camp belonged to the western Narva-Nemunas cultural group that is represented by the Sanatia and Juodkrantė finds. The campsite is dates to the IIIrd millennium B.C.

The top layer shows of dwellers of later times, probably around the beginning of IInd millennium B.C. Here besides abundant ceramic and wood artifact remains many flint triangular arrowheads, stone hatched used in ships with a wooden handle, holding stone axes, amber trapeze-form pendants, square and round buttons-beads and long cylindrical necklaces were found.

At the bottom horizon of the second camp apart from huge amounts of fresh-water fish bones, fishing equipment was also found – paddles, wooden reel, shucks and fabric element woven from linden tree.

The most interesting find of this site is the alder tree log with a cut-out human head on the top. Some unpolished, but cut amber pieces were found as well as some planchettes for long necklaces, round buttons-beads, trapeze-form irregular pendants. This horizon belonged to the IIIrd millennium B.C. second half of VI Century.

After researching the 1500 m2 area of the 23rd camp – a narrow strip along the side of the former lake – more than 6000 pot shatters were found, around 5000 pieces of amber, many billets and broken planchettes for round buttons. Ornamented amber trapeze form pendants, flat and large ring adorned with dots, cylindrical necklaces and triangular fling arrowhead, knifes and scrapers were found that were probably used to treat amber. The big flat longitudinally split granite stones were probably used to polish amber. Some wooden house utilities also survived – paddles for breaking nuts, scoops and hemp yarn.

Using radio-carbon dating method it was established that the camp existed around 2280-2240 B.C. It was constituted that when the Narva-Nemunas culture people started to communicate with other tribes – ceramic and rope pottery people the latter ones took over the methods of fishing, tools and amber adornments from the locals.

When digging through the 3rd Stone Age camp at Šventoji in 1972 R. Rimantienė found 2 very rare ceremonial sticks with moose heads at the top.

Hundreds of unusual form amber figurines and adornments found in East Prussia, Juodkrantė, Palanga region and Latvian seashore, forced scientists even of the XIX century to think when amber processing started. By researching the adornments and figurines with thorough scientific methods it was constituted that they‘re made during the Stone Age. During the XX century it was specified that amber necklaces, anthropomorphic and zoomorphic figurine manufacturing tradition was born in the South-Eastern Baltic seashore around IV millennium B.C. It was started by Narva culture people that were the first ones at the Baltic Sea shores, around the lagoons and bays and it was them stat started to collect amber and manufacture artifacts from it. The secretive appearance of amber from the sea and its unusual qualities (it burns emitting a pleasant aroma and is always warm when touched), probably made great impression to the old Narva culture hunters and fishermen. They gathered it in great amounts thrown out by the sea or in shallow lagoon lakes, made jewellery from it or sold it a little bit processed. In this way they got the knowledge on how to treat it, trade it and spread these wonderful artifacts all over North East Europe.

The oldest Baltic seashore amber cultivators were attracted to this material not only by its colors and clarity, but also with the warm inner glow that reminded them of the worshiped fire and sunlight. The masters first considered the natural forms of the raw materials when processing amber and making figurines. While changing it slightly they managed to create collections of various form amber artifacts. They change the natural form by slightly polishing the surface and the edges, sometimes by chopping it up a bit. The ornaments weren‘t complicated as they were only dots and shallow geometrically laid out rows of markings.

The pendants make up the biggest part of the amber artifact group. Natural and very clear amber plates that were formed in the timber fiber or in the hollows under the bark of the tree were used for their manufacture. These are oblong, oval, regular form, lens cross-cut and very smooth surface plates. Only polishing was needed. Using a flint drill a hole was made from both sides and the golden color amber adornment opened up in its full beauty. Later on (around IIIrd millennium  B.C.) the amber masters learned how to make oval disks, sheaves and ornament them with crossing rows of dimples or shallow incisions.

Another beloved form was the cylindrical oblong necklaces made out to amber droplets. For the manufacture of these necklaces clear layered amber was used that formed when the resin dripped slowly from the scarred part of the tree. Out of 20 cm long and 2-3 cm wide cylindrical form droplets very pretty (sometimes reaching up to 10 cm long and 2 cm wide) cylindrical necklaces were made by chopping them up, polishing with long flint drills from both sides and drilling holes through. An especially large amount of such necklaces was found in the famous Juodkrantė treasure in 1882.

From amber drops double buttons were made and from flat amber pieces they manufactured round or square amber buttons. The good side (the outside) of the button was polished especially precisely and form the inside 2 V form holes were drilled in such a way so they‘re unseen form the good side. Such buttons weren‘t very strong, but very pretty. Clothes weren‘t buttoned with them, amber buttons were used as adornment only, that is, sowed on the outer side of the clothes. There is Stone Age burials and their findings show that sometimes up to 300 (!) buttons were sown onto the clothes. Their size varies: from 0.5 cm to 5 cm wide. This form makes up the greatest part of Stone Age amber adornments. In South-Eastern Baltic seacoast and North East European Stone Age campsites and burials tens of thousands of this sort of adornments were found.

Anthropomorphic and zoomorphic figurines found even at the end of the XIX century in the Juodkrantė treasure. For more than 100 years they represent the Eastern Baltic Stone Age Art in all publications of the world. The newest archeological materials from Lithuanian and Latvian coastal dwelling sites – Šventoji and Sarnatė – allows us to make a conclusion that most of the Juodkrantė treasure figurine faces were made in the same manner as the wooden idols: with clear brow bend and a nose.

It is thought that those sculptures from 4000–2500 B.C. Small zoomorphic figurines representing moose heads, birds, bears are found in various Baltic region Stone Age monuments. They‘re made from especially clear amber and only in general terms reflect the characteristics of an individual animal’s body parts or the whole figure. It was impossible to represent the figures in more detail because of the fragility of amber and the size of the figurines.

The oldest artifacts of animals made by the Narva culture people were full-figured images and probably were the symbolism of animal cult. Amber was especially suitable to present such symbolism. Amber discs and chains were made only form the very good quality and clear amber. Often center-oriented ornaments were used. They could have been the symbols of the Sun. Third place in the burials of the period is special, too – they were put onto the eyes of the dead.

The historic Europeans, first of all the Narva culture tribes, seem to have had at least three amber manufacturing center and their artifacts vary greatly in forms. A big center was in Šventoji and north of it, at Sarnatė near Liepaja, and the other one – in East Latvia – at the surrounding of Luban Lake where amber was carried by River Dauguva from the Baltic Sea. An important amber processing center later on was in the Semba peninsula. Every center manufactured distinctive artifacts. According to their forms the archeologists can establish which centre the amber artifact came from and in which direction the amber was traded.

The most intensive amber trade was during 3500–2500 B.C. This is proven by the biggest amber treasures. At the surrounding of Luban lake in Eastern Latvia almost 20 000 amber artifacts were collected. During the early period of amber manufacture and trade eastern and northern trade routes dominated. Later on during the indo-European cultural period, at the end of the Stone Age and during the epoch of the early Metal Age, manufacture centers in the Sembian peninsula and near the mouth of Vysla River influences rise. Amber trade turns south and reaches the early Egyptian and Mycenaean civilizations.

Shopping Cart