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Amber

Amber is fossilized tree resin, appreciated for its color and natural beauty since Neolithic times. Much valued from antiquity to the present as a gemstone, amber is made into a variety of decorative objects. Amber is used in jewelry, it has been used as a healing agent in folk medicine. There are five classes of amber, defined on the basis of their chemical constituents; because it originates as a soft, sticky tree resin, amber sometimes contains animal and plant material as inclusions. Amber occurring in coal seams is called resinite, the term ambrite is applied to that found within New Zealand coal seams; the English word amber derives from Arabic ʿanbar عنبر‎ via Middle Latin ambar and Middle French ambre. The word was adopted in Middle English in the 14th century as referring to what is now known as ambergris, a solid waxy substance derived from the sperm whale. In the Romance languages, the sense of the word had come to be extended to Baltic amber from as early as the late 13th century. At first called white or yellow amber, this meaning was adopted in English by the early 15th century.

As the use of ambergris waned, this became the main sense of the word. The two substances conceivably became associated or confused because they both were found washed up on beaches. Ambergris is less dense than water and floats, whereas amber is too dense to float, though less dense than stone; the classical names for amber, Latin electrum and Ancient Greek ἤλεκτρον, are connected to a term ἠλέκτωρ meaning "beaming Sun". According to myth, when Phaëton son of Helios was killed, his mourning sisters became poplar trees, their tears became elektron, amber; the word elektron gave rise to the words electric and their relatives because of amber's ability to bear a static electricity charge. Theophrastus discussed amber in the 4th century BC, as did Pytheas, whose work "On the Ocean" is lost, but was referenced by Pliny the Elder, according to whose The Natural History: Pytheas says that the Gutones, a people of Germany, inhabit the shores of an estuary of the Ocean called Mentonomon, their territory extending a distance of six thousand stadia.

Earlier Pliny says that Pytheas refers to a large island - three days' sail from the Scythian coast and called Balcia by Xenophon of Lampsacus - as Basilia - a name equated with Abalus. Given the presence of amber, the island could have been Heligoland, the shores of Bay of Gdansk, the Sambia Peninsula or the Curonian Lagoon, which were the richest sources of amber in northern Europe, it is assumed that there were well-established trade routes for amber connecting the Baltic with the Mediterranean. Pliny states explicitly that the Germans exported amber to Pannonia, from where the Veneti distributed it onwards; the ancient Italic peoples of southern Italy used to work amber. Amber used in antiquity as at Mycenae and in the prehistory of the Mediterranean comes from deposits of Sicily. Pliny cites the opinion of Nicias, according to whom amberis a liquid produced by the rays of the sun. Besides the fanciful explanations according to which amber is "produced by the Sun", Pliny cites opinions that are well aware of its origin in tree resin, citing the native Latin name of succinum.

In Book 37, section XI of Natural History, Pliny wrote: Amber is produced from a marrow discharged by trees belonging to the pine genus, like gum from the cherry, resin from the ordinary pine. It is a liquid at first, which issues forth in considerable quantities, is hardened Our forefathers, were of opinion that it is the juice of a tree, for this reason gave it the name of "succinum" and one great proof that it is the produce of a tree of the pine genus, is the fact that it emits a pine-like smell when rubbed, that it burns, when ignited, with the odour and appearance of torch-pine wood, he states that amber is found in Egypt and in India, he refers to the electrostatic properties of amber, by saying that "in Syria the women make the whorls of their spindles of this substance, give it the name of harpax from the circumstance that it attracts leaves towards it, the light fringe of tissues". Pliny says that the German name of amber was glæsum, "for which reason the Romans, when Germanicus Caesar commanded the fleet in those parts, gave to one of these islands the name of Glæsaria, which by the barbarians was known as Austeravia".

This is confirmed by the recorded Old High German word glas and by the Old English word glær for "amber". In Middle Low German, amber was known as berne-, barn-, börnstēn; the Low German term became dominant in High Germa

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