The evidence of amber being a precious substance that was very much sought after, fought for and cherished goes back to 3,400 B.C. There have been many lore and myths about amber and many of them are most prevalent in Europe today. People believe amber to be very useful and helpful in many aspects and still a very popular substance for jewelry, medicine, cosmetics, oils, decoration, and so on. Here are some such myths, lore and facts:
One day Phaeton, the son of Helios, the God of the Sun, managed to convince his father to allow him to drive his horse-drawn chariot down the firmament. The father agreed, but as soon as the horses felt that the charioteer was inexperienced, they bolted. The sun burnt the African land to ashes, tanning its inhabitants black. So as to prevent further damage, Zeus was forced to strike Phaeton with lightning into the river Eridanus. Phaeton's sisters, the Heliades, lamented his fate, cursing the gods. They were turned into poplar trees as punishment. Grieving, they kept crying. Their tears became resin, which turned into amber. Years later, the sea is still throwing the sisters' amber tears onto the shore.
Many myths surround the origin of amber. The Greeks called amber elektron, or sun-made, perhaps because of this above story, or perhaps because it becomes electrically charged when rubbed with a cloth and can attract small particles.
Homer mentions amber jewelry - earrings and a necklace of amber beads - as a princely gift in the Odyssey. Another ancient writer, Nicias, said that amber was the juice or essence of the setting sun congealed in the sea and cast up on the shore. The Romans sent armies to conquer and control amber producing areas. Emperor Nero was a great connoisseur of amber. During his time, wrote Roman historian Pliny, the price of an amber figurine, no matter how small, exceeded the price of a living healthy slave. The ancient Germans burned amber as incense, so they called it Bernstein, or "burn stone." Clear colorless amber was considered the best material for rosary beads in the middle Ages due to its smooth silky feel. Certain orders of knights controlled the trade and unauthorized possession of raw amber was illegal in most of Europe by the year 1400.
The existence of ancient amber amulets is evidence that people believed in the power of the stone since the earliest prehistoric times. Amber has also been used as a kind of foundation stone to ensure health and good luck for inhabitants of a dwelling. The faith in the effectiveness and power of amber continues until today.
But the most fascinating is perhaps its unequalled color diversity. The uniqueness of amber also results from the visual properties of the raw stone. Forms created by nature are interesting: drops, icicles, and nuggets with a natural opening were used as the first amulets. They were strung on a leather thong for protection or as a decoration. Then there were figurines of animals, birds, and fish which were to guarantee successful hunting or fishing. People believed that just as amber attracts dry grass blades, such amulets attract luck and happiness and have a special power to ward off evil.
Various amber amulets, such as amber hearts, crosses, and elephants with a raised trunk or figurines of Buddha are still used today. Necklaces are also a type of amulet. In the Polish regions of Kurpie and Kashuba we may come across "pajaki" and "kierece" which decorate peoples' homes. "Kierce" are connected with the cult of the sun.
"Stone Age man imbued amber with supernatural properties and used it to wear and to worship," Mr Federman said. "Amber took on great value and significance to, among others, the Assyrians, Egyptians, Etruscans, Phoenicians, and Greeks. It never completely went out of vogue since the Stone Age. Between 1895 and 1900, one million kilograms of Baltic amber were produced for jewelry."
Unfortunately, amber is not forever. Roman beads, 2000 years old, have developed a new thick crust. The Baltic amber jewelry from the last centuries has the fine net of new crust on the surface. It is possible to polish it, but it is very difficult with the faceted kind of jewelry that was common at that time.
Some amber from the Dominican Republic crusts already after 10-20 years of use. In Museum für Naturkunde in Stuttgart, Germany, their valuable collections of inclusions are preserved in plastic-coating to keep them from the devastating oxygen. Only the amber deep down in geological deposits has "survived" since it oozed from the trees. So, what is found today is only very little of all the resin the trees have produced during millions of years.
When rubbed, the gem attracts lint. Amber was used to remove lint by the Phoenicians & Etruscans & was therefore nicknamed "Straw Thief" in Turkey.
Amber is warm against the skin. In contrast, minerals and glass are heavier and cooler than room temperature. Stones like jade, lapis and turquoise feel cool or even cold to the touch, but amber feels warm. This, along with its obvious sunny color, is why it is known as "sunshine" to Lithuanians.
True amber is light enough to float in salt water, if not weighed down by other substances (like silver), but it won't float to the top, it floats like soap would in a bathtub. This quality probably helped in its discovery-inhabitants of the Baltic Sea area can still find raw amber washed up on the shore after storms.
The gemstone Amber is one of the birthstones listed for the Sun Sign for Taurus.