[Translate to English:] Jantar


The myth of Phaethon, son of the solar deity Helios

Epaphus, the jealous son of Zeus, could not bear the glowing beauty of Phaethon, son of the solar deity Helios, gleaming and radiant like his father. Epaphus challenged Phaethon's paternity, calling him the progeny of a mere mortal. This caused Phaeton great offence. His mother Clymene assured him of his divine origins, saying that if he did not believe her, he could visit Helios and ask him himself. Phaeton went to Helios, who received him affectionately and publicly affirmed that he was indeed his father. This declaration, however, failed to mollify Phaethon's anxiety. Helios then swore, by the sacred waters of the river Styx, that he would grant him any favour as proof of his paternity and love. Phaeton asked of his father that he be permitted for one day to drive the swift winged horses harnessed to the golden chariot with which Helios transported the Sun across the firmament every day. Helios was most distraught and tried to dissuade Phaethon of his wish. Although he knew Phaethon to be unprepared, inexperienced, still too frail and young to drive the chariot, the promise had been made and he could not go back on it. Helios, having placed his fiery-rayed golden crown on Phaethon's head, explained how the chariot was to be steered. The impetuous Phaeton spurred on Helios' chariot, but soon lost control of the horses, who could feel that a familiar and firm hand did not hold their reins. They drove off their daily route. First, they drew the golden chariot too high, causing the earth to freeze, and when they found themselves facing the Centaur, frightened of his arched bow, they flew low to the earth. The heat of the Sun's chariot caused the Euphrates, Orontes, Ister and Tiber rivers to boil. The Nile fled to the ends of the earth and hid its source. The fire of Helios' chariot scorched the fertile plains of Arabia, Nubia and the Sahara, turning them into deserts of sand. It scorched the skin of the Africans causing them to forever remain black in complexion. The seas began to dry up from the heat and the earth cracked and opened the underworld realm of Hades. It was then that the infuriated Mother Earth, Gaia, rose up and called upon Zeus to put an end to it, otherwise the world would burn, the heavens would collapse, and all would return to the primal Chaos. Zeus heeded her call and struck down Phaethon with a bolt of lightning. Phaethon fell like a bright star, flames ravaging his auburn hair as he streaked across the sky, plunging to his demise in the river Eridanus. His sisters, the Heliades, saddened by his death, mourned for four months, weeping over his grave, gradually turning into trees. Bloody tears flowed from the bark, becoming amber when they fell into the cold waters of the Eridanus.



About amber

The word jantar (amber) comes from the Russian language, which in turn adopted it from the Lithuanian (gintâras) and Finno-Ugric (Hungarian gyanta) languages. The ancient Greeks called it electron on account of its electrical properties, associated in turn with the northern Electrides islands it was said to come from. In antiquity the Romans referred to amber as succinum or glaesum. The term succus is associated with the formation of amber as representing sap—the life force of the living tree, while the word glaesum, of Germanic origin, was used when referring to the people of the north who gathered amber (this has been preserved in some languages in the word glass). Amber is also referred to locally as ćilibar or ćelibar, derived from the Turkish kehlibar meaning "that which attracts straw". The English word amber likely comes from the Arabic anbar, used to describe ambergris, which is associated with an aromatic substance expelled by sperm whales, or a waxy aromatic substance.

Amber is a substance that includes multiple types of fossilised plant resins that have formed over tens of millions of years. Although often categorised as a mineral, it is not a mineral, having no crystalline structure. On average its chemical composition is 67 to 87% carbon, 8.5 to 11% hydrogen, 15% oxygen, and up to 0.4 % sulphur.

There are over 350 known types of amber. Baltic amber is the best known and most valued, containing only three to eight percent succinic acid, by which it is distinguished from the other types. Its age is determined on the basis of the fossil content (30 to 40 million years).

Specific to amber is the fact that its colour varies under chemical, mechanical, and thermal processes. It varies from light yellow (almost white) to auburn (reddish brown). Green and blue amber is rare, while the rarest colour variations are grey and black. It may be transparent, semi-transparent, opaque, or exhibit fluorescence. It is naturally found in the form of irregular lumps, teardrop forms, stalactite shapes, or pockets of resin. It is smooth and warm to the touch, burns with a white flame, and at times releases the mildly resinous aroma of conifers

There is a lengthy natural process whereby resin is transformed into amber, and its success depends of many climatic, geological, chemical and physical conditions. A damaged tree heals an injured area by creating resin, which runs down the tree and falls to the ground. At times an entire branch or tree full of resin will fall to the ground. Dead trees, borne by river or marine currents, reached coastal areas where, covered by various sediments, they underwent numerous physical and chemical changes. After millions of years the wood is converted into lignite (a form of coal used as fuel), while the resin is turned into amber. Insects, small animals, parts of leaves, or seeds, are often trapped in the very sticky resin. Because of the chemical composition of amber, specimens of flora or fauna trapped in it are mummified with preserved DNA. Consequently, many branches of science (e.g., palaeobotany and palaeozoology) employ a broad range of analyses to obtain abundant useful data concerning life on earth millions of years in the past, with amber often referred to as a "window into the past".


Amber deposits

Amber deposits are found along the length of the Baltic and North Sea coasts, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, the eastern coast of Great Britain, and across most of Scandinavia. There are smaller deposits in the Ukraine and the Carpathian regions, Belarus, Romania, and in Sicily in the Mediterranean Sea. Outside of Europe deposits are found in Myanmar, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, and Alaska. The most abundant and best known deposits are located along the southeast shores of the Baltic Sea, known as the "Amber Coast". It runs through Russia's Kaliningrad province (formerly East Prussia), Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. There is an amber-rich marine Blue Earth layer of greenish clay at the bottom of the entire Baltic basin. It comes closest to the surface near the Samland (Kaliningrad) Peninsula, which has the longest tradition of amber collection, extraction and trade. During strong storms powerful waves would wash up amber along the coast, such that in the past finding amber depended on the weather. The traditional gathering of amber using nets on long poles survived into the middle of the 19th century when the first amber mining operations were launched.



Sl.1. Amber gathering up to the 19th c.




The Amber Road

Because of its beauty and workability, and the healing and supernatural powers attributed to it, amber has since prehistory been an important and precious commercial good. The trade in "northern gold", as Baltic amber is referred to, dates back to the Old Stone Age. Initially commerce was limited to local trade, and it was only with the Bronze Age that it became an organised enterprise. This was the time of the establishment of what was likely the earliest trade and transport route connecting the north and south of Europe, known as the Amber Road.

Its primary lines ran from the shores of the Baltic Sea and over the European land mass to the Mediterranean Sea, following the major European rivers and mountain passes to reach the primary trade hubs at the mouth of the river Po. From the northern Adriatic amber was transported by sea to Greece and the eastern Mediterranean, while from the Black Sea trade continued on into Asia. The primary and shortest route avoided the Alps and ran from the north of Poland, south through the Danube plain and the Dinarides, to connect the north and south of Europe.

The importance and prominence of the various routes differed from period to period. Since the Middle Bronze Age there have been three main routes. The most important, the western route, connected the upper course of the Rhine with the upper course of the Ticino River (which has its source in the Swiss Alps), descending to Lombardy and along the Po to the northern Adriatic. The maritime routes along which amber circulated in the Adriatic and the eastern Mediterranean were particularly vital. It was on these maritime trade routes, from the antique period to the present, that the islands of the Kvarner bay—Cres and Lošinj, and the islands and rocks near them, played a significant role (it is very likely that the Electrides or Amber islands, from the Greek ἤλεκτρον, refer in fact to these islands).







 The Amber Road (by V. Juhas).

Prehistoric amber in Istria

The Mediterranean amber trade began in the Bronze Age, and became commonplace by the Late Bronze Age. The favourable geographic position of Bronze Age communities allowed for the control of the trade and transport of goods. The many artefacts recovered along the Croatian coast point to a Late Bronze Age upsurge of the amber trade in this area. Most of the amber artefacts have been found in the areas once occupied by the Liburni, Histri and Iapydes, whose predominance in the area began in the Late Bronze Age.

The favourable geographic position of the Istrian peninsula also brought its Bronze Age communities into the amber trade. Istria's position at the hub of trade routes provided them with an opportunity to procure amber coming by both land and maritime routes. This is evidenced by many finds of amber artefacts, some of which are part of the Archaeological Museum of Istria's Prehistoric Collection. The oldest amber artefacts found in Istria come to us from the Early Bronze Age (the Žamnjak site near Rovinjsko Selo and the Škicini site near Vodnjan). They have also been recovered from Middle and Late Bronze Age and Iron Age sites (Monkodonja, Mušego, Pula, Beram, Picugi, Nesactium, Sveti Rok near Roč, Laganiši, Novi Grad near Krmed, and Kaštel near Buje). The greatest number of finds were made at the Vrčin site, where some fifty amber beads were recovered. Recent analysis of amber samples has found that most of the Bronze Age amber artefacts found in Istria originated from the north of Europe, i.e., that they are made of Baltic amber.

Most of the amber artefacts recovered in Istria are from necropolises, left as grave goods for the afterlife. For the most part these are amber beads of various colours, forms and diameters, usually incorporated into lavish necklaces. These beads were also used as ornaments for earrings and fibulae.

Amber, with its unique qualities and great workability, has fascinated people since our earliest times. It was used to create amulets, beads, and various figurines. Because of its beauty and association with the natural world people have attributed supernatural, protective, and healing qualities to it. As an exclusive product it was one of the most valued goods traded in Europe, and it is considered to be one of the earliest broadly traded goods. The discovery of amber artefacts in Istria shows the significant role this peninsula had in the trade of "northern gold".

Slika. br. 3


                                  Slika br.4.





Sl. 5. Necklace with 13 amber beads (inv. br. P-1550).

Findspot: Picugi.

Dimensions: bead dia. 2.5 to 0.5 cm.


Sl.6. Italic bow fibula with conical spirals applied to the bow. The flat foot of the fibula is decorated with hammered points and an incised hatched quadrilateral with an inscribed swastika. At the end of the extended pin is an amber bead with four modelled nubs (inv. no. P-2585).

Findspot: unknown.

Dimensions: L 25 cm, bow W 2.7 cm, bow thickness 0.8 cm.


Sl.7. Bronze earring with a loop, clasp, and amber bead (inv. no. P-6582).

Findspot: Kaštel near Buje.

Dimensions: earring dia. 6 cm



Sl.8. Bow fibula. Bow rectangular in section. At the head two springs transition to the pin. Above the foot is a ring. On the bow is a lenticular amber bead (inv. no. P-7017).

Findspot: Osor.

Dimensions: fibula L 25 cm, beads L 8.4 cm.



Sl. 9.  Necklace of 25 segments of bronze helical winding and one lenticular amber bead (inv. no. P-15216).

Findspot: Žamnjak.

Dimensions: necklace L 25 cm, bead dia. 1.8 cm.



BAKARIĆ, L., BORUT, K., ŠOUFEK, M. 2006. Pretpovijesni jantar i staklo iz Prozora u Lici i Novog Mesta u Dolenjskoj, Katalog izložbe, Arheološki muzej u Zagrebu, Zagreb.

BAKARIĆ, L., IVKANEC, I., LOHER, I. 2012. Jantar i koralji, Katalog izložbe, Arheološki muzej u Zagrebu, Zagreb.

BURŠIĆ MATIJAŠIĆ, K. 2005. Jantarski put, Istarska enciklopedija, Leksikografski zavod Miroslav Krleža, urednici Bertoša, M., Matijašić, R., Zagreb, 354.

BURŠIĆ-MATIJAŠIĆ, K., ŽERIĆ, H. 2013. Pogrebni obredi i ukopi na istarskim gradinama u brončano doba, Tabula 11, Pula, 67-92.

CWALIŃSKI, M., KAUR, S., STOUT, E. 2022. Podrijetlo brončanodobnih nalaza jantara u Istri, Monkodonja 4, Monografije i katalozi 34, Arheološki muzej Istre, Pula, 329-347.

FORENBAHER, S. 1995. Trade and exchange in Late Bronze and Early Iron Age Croatia, Handel, Tausch und Verkher bronze- und früheisenzeitlichen Südosteuropa, Herausgegeben Bernard Hänsel, München - Berlin, 269-282.

PALAVESTRA, A. 1993. Praistorijski ćilibar na centralnom i zapadnom Balkanu, Srpska akademija nauka i umetnosti, Balkanološki institut, Beograd. (31. 1. 2023.) (30. 1. 2023.) (30. 1. 2023.)




 Carrarina 4, Pula

 Window to the Past

7. 3. 2023. – 6. 6.2023.

 Exhibition and text author: Maja Čuka

 Organizer and publisher: Archaeological Museum of Istria

 For the organizer and publisher: Darko Komšo

 Editorial Board: Darko Komšo, Adriana Gri Štorga, Katarina Zenzerović

Set up & graphic design: Vjeran Juhas

Photographer: Vjeran Juhas

 Restoration interventions: Đeni Gobić-Bravar

Exhibition coordinator: Monika Petrović

 Translation in Italian: Elis Barbalich-Geromella

English translation: Neven Ferenčić

Croatian language editor: Milena Špigić

 Proofs: Irena Buršić, Adriana Gri Štorga, Đeni Gobić-Bravar, Milena Špigić, Katarina Zenzerović

 Print: MPS Pula

 Print run: 500

 Pula, 2023.














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