According to Greek legend, Helios, the god of the Sun, accepted that his son Phaethon should drive his chariot but Phaethon lacked the skill required to control the willful horses. Phaethon allowed the chariot to come too close to the Earth, causing a terrible drought. Zeus, anxious to avoid the worst, struck Phaethon with a thunderbolt that knocked him into the river Eridanus where he drowned.
Phaethon’s sisters, the Heliads, wept so bitterly that the gods transformed the siblings into poplar trees so that they could mourn their loss eternally.
Their tears were resin which turned into amber.
A golden-yellow, occasionally orange-tinted fossilized resin, amber has fascinated Man ever since the Neolithic age, when it was (and still is) gathered along the shores of the Baltic Sea.
Evidence that amber was used as a decorative object at such an early stage has been found.
But where exactly does amber come from? That it was found on shores suggests that it formed in the sea, yet specimens were discovered that imprisoned tiny insects.
It was not until 1811 with research by a Prussian scholar that amber revealed its origins: it is the fossilized resin of a variety of the pine tree (Pinus succinifer) that covered much of Northern Europe over thirty million years ago.
Amber has long been coveted for its beauty, but also for its mysterious “inhabitants”.
Indeed, these “insect inclusions” have always been a source of fascination.
Pope Urban VIII (1568-1644) owned a piece of amber containing three bees, while philosopher Emmanuel Kant always carried a piece of amber with an insect trapped inside.
Steven Spielberg enthralled movie-goers with a tiny mosquito inside a piece of amber in ‘Jurassic Park’.
The protector of plants and animals, amber was also known to protect and even cure humans, often ground into powder or burned for its fragrance. Amber has been used to make jewelry and rosaries.
The King of Prussia had a magnificent amber cabinet, entirely covered with an amber mosaic, which he gave to Peter the Great in 1716.
Stolen by the Germans from Tsarskoe Selo Palace during the war, it was never seen again.
Hardness: 2.5 to 3.
Baltic Sea, Santo Domingo.