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Recovery Methods

While some people were fishing for food or pearls, others were in search of the "gold of the north". People did fish for amber in the past. There is a drawing, first published in Philip J. Hartmann's book from 1677, which shows fishermen fishing for amber! The sea is the oldest known source for amber. Prehistoric people picked up amber from the Baltic shore, when strong storms and winds brought the material up from amber-bearing strata under the sea. Sea amber or scoopstone has provided a livelihood for coast-dwellers for many centuries. Amber was named scoopstone because of the nets used to gather it from the seaweed. These poles and nets, called "amber-catchers," were first detailed in the Hartmann book. In marshy regions or areas where the tides were unpredictable, amber was collected on horseback. These collectors were called "amber riders". Hartmann also described "amber divers" in his 17th century book. The divers carried a wooden spade to loosen the amber from the sea floor. A method of collecting amber in an 1892 publication was from broad-beamed rowboats. Fishermen would lay over the side of the boat, rake the bottom and then catch the dislodged lumps of amber in nets. In some areas large boulders were hauled up from the sea floor to be used as building stones. Amber was recovered and this method was referred to as "amber poking".

In 1854 Whelhelm Stantien obtained a lease from the government to dredge for amber. In 1869 Mority Becker joined Stantien to form the business, Stantien and Becker. They continued increasing their dredging operations and provided divers with modern equipment for picking amber off the sea floor. They were working in the Prussian province of Samland, which is today the Kaliningrad Oblast, Russia. Geologists had determined the glacial debris containing amber in Germany, Denmark, Poland and other Baltic lands derived from the blue earth or a Tertiary glauconite formation found in this area. In 1870 Stantien and Becker purchased the right to mine on land for amber. They built dams to keep the sea back, as the stratum was below sea level. In 1895 their operation produced a record high of 1,200,000 pounds (over 540,000 kg) of amber. The government bought them out in 1899 and once again all amber became the property of the state. The government operated this Stantien and Becker mine until 1925.

Other mines continued operation with modernized mining and recovery techniques. Many of the mines were open-pit operations where the blue earth was scooped onto conveyers to rail cars. The cars were emptied into the spray house, where pressurized water flushed the amber from the soil. World War II temporarily halted amber production and by the mid-twentieth century most Baltic amber was under Soviet control. For more information regarding amber recovery and environmental degredation, see D. Jacobson's work, Amber Trade and the Environment in the Kaliningrad Oblast.

In early times, amber was the absolute property of the finder. As amber became a lucrative business in the Baltic region, dukes, kings, Teutonic knights and different countries tried to control the collection and sale of this commodity. Fishing rights were granted and rescinded by the "Amber Lords" as early as 1264 A.D. When amber was collected without supervision of a "Beach Master" or "Beach Rider", the unauthorized persons were hung. Amber guilds were formed in the 14th century to create rosaries and works of art from the raw material supplied by the Amber Lords. In the 17th century, fishermen had to swear to the "Amber Oath", which denounced amber smugglers, and searching for amber was not an option but a requirement. Some amber fishermen were paid in salt (interesting link though not directly related to amber and the site loads slowly) for their raw amber, weight for weight.

For more information, visit:
Andzia's Baltic Amber History, Along the Amber Road at http://www.amberjewelry.com/amber_myths_and_history_p1.htm,
Bernsteinstrasse and the Amber Road, http://www.bernsteinstrasse.net/index.php?lg=de&ctid=2, and
Amber Trade Routes, http://www.ambergallery.lt/english/muziejus-gintaro_keliai.htm.

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