My family comes from Latvia, a beautiful Baltic country made up of various trees, rivers and lakes, and a very wide range of biodiversity. While Latvia is well known for its amazing architecture and extensive liquor making, Latvia is also often sought after its beautiful and very resourceful Amber coast.
Since I was a child, special beads, bracelets, necklaces, and other ornaments made of Amber have been passed around in and outside of the family. My elders and even young cousins still tend to ooh-and-ah over all of the various colors, shapes, sizes, textures, and even insect surprises they find in their amber pieces. Needless to say, it has always been an honor in our small Latvian-American culture to receive a new piece of Amber.
Amber essentially is translucent, fossilized tree resin which varies in color from orange, yellow, cherry, green, and in rare cases, blue. Although over 90% of amber is found in north-eastern Europe on the Baltic Coast, there is a surprising amount found in the Caribbean and Dominican Republic. In the Dominican Republic, blue and florescent amber is dwelled out from big tunnels and shipped around the world for profit. Amber can be sold in its rawest, most natural form, or it can be modified, reconstructed, and even bonded.
What makes Amber so special? Perhaps it is the way it is made. Perhaps it is the prehistoric and legendary history. For my family, it has always been the heart-warming feeling when holding onto something from ‘home’. For Latvians, Amber generates a lot of trade and tourism for the country. For others, the amber may be considered special because of its natural beauty as it is often used as jewelry, in glass blown smoking pipes, as folk medicine, and even in perfumes.
Amber is often referred to as “The Gold of the North”, as it has been used as a trading resource since before the Stone Age. Even more interesting, there are pieces of amber which contain flies and mosquitoes which date back 40-60 million years ago. Amber has also been found in the ancient tombs and temples of popular ancient rulers throughout Egypt, Syria, and surrounding the North Sea. This is includes ancient Egyptian Pharaoh Tutankhamen and even Apollo of Delphi. The best way to trade and ship amber in the past and today was by use of the Amber Road. The Amber Road makes up multiple routes throughout the Baltic States, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Belgium, Germany, France, and other parts of Central Europe. The Amber Road continues to bring trade and tourism to the continent, especially in the Baltic States.
Culturally, amber is the result from an Amber Palace bursting at sea in The Legend of the Sea Queen, as told by many Lithuanians. In the Baltic legend, Queen of the Sea, Jurate, lives in an Amber Palace. When her father finds that she in love with a fellow named Kastytis, he jealously destroys her palace leaving the sea and shore with pieces of her beautiful-resin made estate.
The real Amber Palace perhaps is the Palanga Amber Museum found in Lithuiana. This beautiful museum houses all forms and sorts of amber from all over the world. My family and I cannot wait to go and visit.
I am a recent graduate from Grand Valley State University where I studied Film/Video and Anthropology. My goal is to serve the world with communication of and about other cultures; the many different practices, alternatives to cooking and medicine, and to enlighten those who may have suffered from xenophobia.
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