Amber, that marvelous creation of nature, attracted man since prehistoric times. Glorified in songs and legends, made famous by poets and scholars on Antiquity, it became part of the history of human culture.
Having fossilized and preserved in itself bits of flore and fauna which existed tens of millions years ago, amber is prized not only by beauty lovers but also is an object of scientific studies.
Found in many parts of the world, amber is nowhere else so deeply rooted into everyday life, folklore and art as in Lithuania. Thus it was not accidental that the openning Amber Museums of Palanga in 1963 was met with great enthusiasm. The opening of the museum was a significant event not only for the people living on the Baltic coast. It was a major even in the cultural life of the whole Republic. In the course of 25 years a small exposition occupying 96 square metres and containing only 478 items has grown into important centre of amber collecting, studying and popularizing.
The Museum is housed in the former mansion of count F. Tyszkiewicz (built in 1897, architect F. Schwechten).
The exposition displayed in the 15 halls of the mansion (total area 750 square metres) acquaints visitors with the origin and processing traditions of amber. Due to systematic work carried out on scientific basis a rich collection containing 25000 items has been accumulated. They are being studied and systematized on the basis of perforated cards system.
The present exposition provides about 4500 carefully selected items surveying amber from two aspects:
Scientific advice was provided by V. Katinas, scientific of geology and mineralogy.
Amber was mentioned for the first time in the Assyrian cuneiforms in the 10th century B. C. Ancient myths and legends reflect mans attemts to solve the mystery of the origin of amber. The Lithuanian legend about sea-goddess Jurate and a fisherman Kastytis is the first attempt of Lithuanians to explain the origin of amber. According to the legend amber pieces are fragments of goddess Jurates underwater castle struck by Perkunas (the Thunder god) and her tears.
The exposition occupying the first flor reveals formation processes of amber. The area of the amber pine forest, climate, relief and hydrography allow to determine conditions of amber formation processes. All this profound and ample information is displayed in the show-cases, designed by architect V. Vizgirda. Amber (Lat. Succinum) is fossil pine resin of the Eocene Period (I. E. 45 or 40 million years old), changed by microorganisms, exidation, polymerization and other processes. It formed in the forests of coniferous and broad- leafbearing trees which grew in Fennoscandia. The warming of the climate caused increased resin Fennoscandia. The processes of amber formation are well reflected by the shape of its pieces. Morphological varieties of amber are divided into internal (about 1 percent) and external (about 79 percent). In the show-cases are amply displayed intrawood, underrind and interrind resin excretions, icicles, drops and accumulations on trunks. From the scientific point of view very interesting are microdrops and microicicles (amber in amber) i. e. fossilized first portions of resin excretions.
Inclusions are fossilized bits of flora and fauna of amber pine forests, the ancestors of the present-day forests. 86.7 percent of inclusions are insects, 11.8 percent are spiders, 0.1 percent are bits of plants and 1.3 percent are other groups of fauna. About 3000 species of fauna is fossilized in amber. Well preserved inclusions indicate that amber originated from liquid resin which was quickly hardening.
The Palanga Amber Museum has the collection of 15000 inclusions the study of which provides ample material for the investigation of the history of amber and million-year-old flora and fauna. On display are arthropoda inclusions: centipedes, arachnida, ephemera, termites ants and others.
The migration of amber started since its formation and was going on throughout all geologic periods. Complicated geologic processes which took place in the Paleogene, Neogene and Quartery periods played an important role not only for the spreading of amber but also for the geologic structure of amber deposits and for the formation of its diverse genetic types.
The main amber deposits formed in the Königsberg region and Poland in the deltaic deposits of rivers flowing from Fennoscandia in the Eocene Period (45-50 million years ago).
The exposition presents a geologic strata af amber deposit molecule spectra and peculiarities of amber. It provides the inner structure of amber, its range of colours and processed products. Also on display are other fossil resins found in the territory of the Sakhalin, Kamchatka, Chukhotka, Taimyr.
About 150 varieties of fossil resins (in Lat. Fossiles means excavated) are known all over the world. Most of them occur in northen hemisphere, i. e. in Europe and America, as these continents are well investigated geologically.
About 50 varieties of fossil resins dating to various ages are found in Europe. Best known are rumenite (Rumunia, the Carpathians) aykaite (Hungary), simatite (Italy). In Asia occurs burmite (Burma, Thailand). Kindred to fossil resin copals dating from the Quartery Period are found in Africa. Chemawinite (sidarite) is found in Alaska and Canada and fossil resins of broad leaf-bearing trees calles Mexican amber are found in Mexica and Dominica.
As fossil resins possess different chemical composition, properties and genesis, they cannot be identified with amber.
The unique shape of amber pieces is a valuable material for morphologic studies of amber as it reveals processes of resin transformations.
70 samples of unprocessed amber from the rich Museum collection are on display, including the the biggest piece weighing 3.698 kilograms. The exposition on the ground floor reveals the history of the cognition and application of amber.
In 1860-1881 while minning amber in the Curonian Lagoon, near Juodkrante, a settlement unique Stone Age artifacts were discovered which attracted scientists attention all over the world. This collection was of utmost importance for studying the material culture of our ancestors. As these valuable findings perished during the wars, only their coppies made according to professor R. Klebs study written in 1882 are on display. The copies have been made by artists B. Kunkuliene. Lithuanian sea coast (Palanga, Sventoji) yields numerous amber artifacts dating to the Neolithic Period (4000-1600 millenium B. C.). Numerous amber artifacts are being found in the gravers dating from the 1st-3rd century A. D. Judging by the grave goods, amber played an important role in the everyday life of our ancesors. During archeological expeditions, the staff members of the Museum collected about artifacts are found in western Lithuania, the environs of Palanga included.
Amber was used in many spheres of human actiity. The curative properties of amber were desribed by the slassic of Antique medicine Galen (A. D. 180-190), Arab scientists Al Riz (A. D. 864-925) and Avicena (A. D. 980-1035), Dominican monk Albert the Great (A. D. 1139-1200).
Artistic processing of amber flourished at the end of the 17th beginning of the 18th century. Such guilds functioned in Brügge, Lübeck, Danzig, Königsberg.
The biggest masterpiece an amber was the Amber Chamber (1709, architect A. Schlüter, master G. Turau) which during World War II was dismantled and taken a way by Germans from the summer residence of the Russian Tsar in Tsarskoye Selo (now Pushkin).
In Lithuania amber processing has old traditions too. On display are a 15th century ring, a 16th century amber cross, amber jewerly made by goldsmith P. Kilijonas of Kaunas dating to the 17th century. In Palanga amber workshops were functioning already in the 17th century. At the end of the 18th century they took the lead in amber industry in Russian Empire. Before World War I about 2000 kilograms of raw amber were processed in Palanga annually. They were not of high artistic level. It was mainly round beads, various brooches, cigarette-holders, boxes, rosaries and others.
In the Republic nearly 500 artists are engaged in making and designing amber jewelry and other artifacts. On display are works by H. Taleikis, I. and F. Pakutinskas, D. Varkalis, V. Kurklietiene and others.
Modern professional artists carry on successfully the centuries-old traditions. All their efforts are directed toward the revelation of natural qualities ef each pieces. In this connection mention should be made of such artists as Professor F. Daukantas, B. and E. Mikulevicius, L. Sulgaite, P. Balcius, K. Simonaitis and others.
Works of Lithuanian artists were exibited in such European countries as Hungary, the GDR, France, Denmark, Finland and others.
(From Palangos gintaro muziejus. V., 1991)
Samogitian Cultural Association Editorial
Page updated 2003.05.15 .
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