Mokslas, technologijos

Lithuanian Amber Artifacts

The first reference to the Baits in ancient sources is in connection with amber, frequently dubbed ‘gold of the north’; amber had an important role in the history of Europe. Although the information on the Baits provided by the written sources in the middle of the 1st millennium and the Roman period is only of general character, even these short accounts inform about the Baltic peoples and their trade in amber. The Roman historian Publius Cornelius Tacitus was the first one to refer to ‘gentes Aestiorum’ as all the Baltic tribes collectively in his opus ‘Germania’. Tacitus mentions the ‘gentes Aestiorum’ being distinct from others, as they are the only tribes known to Tacitus to collect amber (in their language glaesum) on the Mare Suebicum (Baltic Sea) coast. Yet, being barbarian, they never explore the nature of amber. The ‘gentes Aestii’ bring raw amber to merchants; they take reward for it with surprise. This observation by Tacitus is of great value: besides emphasizing the fact that the Baits collect amber washed up by the sea, it also points out that they bring it to markets known to both sides involved in this trade. However, another Roman writer, Caius Plinius Secundus, in his ‘Naturalis Historia’ mentions the fact that the Germanic tribes take amber to Pannonia, whence the Eneti provide it to the Romans. Since it is known that the Goths left the lower Vistula region in the 2nd century, it is possible to assume that the area where the west Baits collected drift amber includes the lower Vistula region, Samland peninsula and coastal Lithuania. In modern language that would mean south-eastern regions of the Baltic coast.

Articles focusing exclusively on amber are not numerous in Lithuania, as the role of amber in prehistoric Lithuanian territory did not receive sufficient attention in the archaeological material. However, there are quite a number of publications that refer, in more or less detail, to amber artifacts and trade routes. Researchers who focus on intertribal trade aspects view it as a wide cross-regional phenomenon. Trade in amber and trade routes of different periods have been discussed in detail by a number of well-known authors. The second theme that is always touched upon by Lithuanian researchers is the role of amber in religious beliefs and burial rites of the Baltic tribes. The provenance of amber artifacts of the Roman Iron Age, and the relationship of artifacts with the pagan world outlook was analyzed by Rasa Banyte-Rowell.

The role of amber in religious beliefs and burial rites of the Baltic peoples, its economic significance, the sites of amber finds and tribal differences in application are the aspects covered by Raymond Vytenis Sidrys studies, in which he has applied a nonparametric statistical method. Amber for the Baltic peoples was a rare and expensive material, and that rituals and prohibitions restricted its everyday application.