Experiments with amber

Amber has accompanied humans for a very long time. Objects made of it are found already at the Paleolithic sites where it was used (as in the remaining periods) for a variety of purposes. Probably it was used in many magical rituals (incensing caves or camps to chase away the evil spirits), but also as a fuel. Above all, however, it was used to produce ornaments and amulets.

Members of the Society for Experimental Prehistoric Archaeology conducted a series of experiments aiming at reconstruction of techniques of amber treatment with the use of stone, flint and bone tools. Performed are also experiments the aim of which is to recreate the methods of lathing this material and ways of its cutting with the use of threads and strings made of organic materials. During the Society’s works, amber is also subjected to treatments that affect its color, clarity and frangibility.

An example of amber treatment:

The first step is to peel a lump of amber of the weathered part (bark). This operation can be performed with the help of a flint knife, scraper or a framed chip. Next, one splits the amber (similarly as flint) into lumps of desired size. Instead of splitting one may cut the material with the help of a string attached to an arch-like curved fire-bow the cutting results in smaller losses of material, moreover fire-bow gives the opportunity to cut out holes of various shape). After cutting (splitting) amber one may proceed to giving it the desired form. The idea of this activity is to grind the material (dry or wet) on a plate made of a fine-crystalline sandstone. Stone can be replaced with a torn piece of wood sprinkled with sand of small grain fractions. The final shape of an amber ornament can also be obtained employing for this purpose flint tools. The last phase of amber treatment is polishing on deerskin, wool or with such substances as for instance horsetail. If one is making a hanging ornament, one should also (sometimes it is advisable to do this at the beginning) to drill a hole in it. Here on can use bone or flint drills (long holes are drilled from both sides using both types of drills: in the initial stages the flint one, then the bone one which is usually longer and thinner).

                                                                                                                                                                                                          Eryk Popkiewicz