Ambra Greco's repertoire is the most complete collection of artefacts and scientific finds of this precious material; born from Salvatore Greco's enthusiasm and passion, it gathers thousands of specimens of which we show here only a small but significant sample.
The exhibition wants to be, at the same time, journey, route and tribute:
→ journey, through the history of our planet;
→ route, through the forms that man has shaped over the centuries;
→ tribute, to the one who has been able to collect with love and devotion a unique cultural heritage and who has taken care to show it to us.
Flip through the pages and discover amber...
13.000 years ago, the Baltic populations found on their beach strange stones with sun colours, beautiful to see and easy to treat and to polish: the Amber. With this precious stuff they begin to create ornaments and amulets. In a short time, the Amber reached the Mediterranean peoples, contributing to form the first economic network in Europe. Since the II millennium b.c., it became very appreciated and much in demand: Egyptians, Phoenicians, Greeks, Etruscans and Romans recognized the incredible glamour of the Amber and attributed symbolic and "apotropaic" meanings to it. In the first century a.c., when a statuette of Amber coasted more than a slave, Pliny the Elder said that Amber forms into the regions around the settentrional Ocean, from the pine-trees resin, solidified by the action of the chill or by the sea. To support this assertions, Pliny cited the fragrance of Amber when it is rubbed or burnt. Afterwards, a lot of scientists elaborate new theories about its origins, until 1758 when the french naturalist Gorge Buffon definitely proves that Amber is a resin which, sunken into the ground, has undergone a process of fossilization.
In the XVIII century, it was definitively assured that Amber is a fossil resin. This resin, exuded from some type of plants, is an insoluble compound or a substance only partially soluble in water. In origin it's soft and sticky, in consequence of the presence of essential oils which contribute to make it viscous. If the resin stays for a long time without sunlight and oxygen and also without some other physical or biological aerobic elements, in the long run it loses the volatile oils. At the same time, its single organic molecules (monomers) tend to aggregate themselves into long chains (polymers), to create a harder and stronger substance. So a new matter is borning, named copal, a sub-fossil resin which will transform itself, in the long run, in Amber.
The plants produce resin principally to suture the wounds caused by lightnings and storm, or to defend themselves from the attack of mushrooms, moulds and parasites. This phenomenon is principally observed in hot and damp climates. The resin is produced by very different plants; actually, the leguminous trees of the Hymenea genus and the conifer trees of the auracarie genus produce it in aboundance. The Hymenea courbaril, called "algarrobo" in the Dominican Republic, belongs to the same kind of plants from which the Dominican and Mexican Amber has originated. On the present plants we find the same organisms which are found in the Amber: insects, spiders, little lizards and geckos.
The Amber was mostly formed in the Cretaceous period (140/65 million of years ago), shaped in nodules also of remarkable dimensions. In the last decades, the findings multiplied in many continents; the study of the vegetable remains and of the animal inclusions has allowed to increase the knowledge of the terrestrial ambient in the dinosaurs epoch. Just studying this remains, for example, only few years ago the Amber of Burma was dated to the Inferior Cretaceous (about 120 million of years ago) rather than to the Eocene (40 million of years); recently only, the digging out of Burman Amber started again, because it was interrupted by the outbreak of the second world war, but the deposit locations in mountainous and wild zones, covered by forests, make this work very difficult. From the scientific point of view the Amber from Alaska, from Canada, from New Jersey and from Lebanon are very interesting for the different biological and geological testimonies.
About the origin of Amber several myths and legends were flourished. Ovidio tells that Amber has been originated by the tears of the Eliadi, daughters of Elios, because they were crying for their brother's death, Fetonte, which was fulminated by Zeus to have put the Earth in danger, driving in a clumsy way the wagon of the sun.
The populations who lived on the Baltic sea coast used the Amber since the Superior Paleolitic, more than 13.000 years ago. They made it known to the Mediterranean people (ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Etruscans and Romans); this stuff, very searched and extremely precious, was widely appreciated and its possession was considered a real status symbol. The Amber trade, as well as coral, contributed to create the first exchange of goods between the northern Europeans and Mediterranean peoples; this commerce developed along the so-called "Amber way": from the shores of Baltic sea, going up the big rivers and going beyond the Alps, it arrived in Italy. Later, in the Roman age, Aquileia town became the principal centre of Amber manufacturing.
Since the ancient times, as well as in jewellery, Amber has been utilized in the therapeutical field, like a component of medical preparations for hair treatment, ulcera and other kinds of desease (stomach, skin, etc.). In the ancient Romans community, necklaces and pendants with Amber were used to defend the throat, and this belief was very diffused in a lot of populations during the history. Today also, in some Swiss regions, necklaces of Amber are used to prevent sore-throat to the children. In the XIX century, the modern medicine started to question the Amber utility like a component of medicine; still today, however, salves, pills and other products are made with Amber, in despite of the official pharmacology which doesn't recognize its benefits. Even in XX century, the children of some populations were used to bite this sort of necklace, to calm the first teething pains. The objects made in Amber include small sculptures for decorative use, articles to shield from malicious influence, smokers accessories, chess-board and so on. As well in the Islamic world as in the Buddhist, the Amber has been very appreciated in the course of the ages.
The Amber has been found till now in every continent, except in Antarctic. According to the epoch in which the original resin formed, the age of the Amber can diversify from the Carboniferous (300 million of years ago) to the Miocene (7 million of years ago). The most recent fossil resins are generally well known with the name of copale, which has different properties. The most diffuse Amber, however, comes from the Cretaceous period (starting from 140 million of years ago) and it contains important organic inclusions. Though the Amber has been found in a great deal of localities, the deposits with an economic importance are very few: those from the Baltic sea (mostly Poland, Russia and Lithuania) which produces 95% of all the Amber sold in the world, those from the Dominican Republic, from Chiapas (Mexico) and from Manchuria (nord-east China).
The Amber coming from Santo Domingo, which has recently been marketed all over the world, is a fossil resin originated from some of leguminous plants of an extinct species, similar to the acacia. In origin, the Dominican resin was very fluid and transparent. Therefore, all Amber stones coming from the Dominican Republic are naturally transparent. Moreover, Nature saw to it that this Amber, whose formation began thirty to forty million years ago, features a very rich and attractive range of colours: yellow, red, orange and, sometimes, even blue and violet or deep green. These features make the employment of the Dominican Amber in jewellery very versatile and congenial, adding a special, inimitable value to the jewels.
Blue Amber, which in reality presents a range of variegated colours, is derived from only one Œmiraculous¹ mine in Santo Domingo, from which come extracted Ambers in an array of different worthy shades, that go from azure to violet, in so far as aqua green or deep blue.
The Amber which was known to our ancestor - and is still common in the jewel market of our times - is that originating from almost all countries of the Baltic Sea, especially Poland, Lithuania and the great deposit of Kaliningrad (Russia). This kind of Amber, dating back to about forty million years, is the fossil resin of great conifers. Being originally a very thick and air-bubbled rosin, it often looks opaque, ranging in colour from white to light yellow. It is rarely found in an orange colour.
All the fishermen of that stretch of Sicilian coast that, starting from Simeto river's mouths goes for hundreds kilometres to reach some village situated into Ragusa province, know the small pieces of Amber with their typical dark red colour which, after a stormy day, is possible to find between the seaweeds on the beach. The primary mineral deposit of Amber has never been discovered, but we think that it is undoubtedly hidden by many strata of lava, erupted by the near Etna; in spite of the numerous suppositions, therefore the mystery is still alive! Simetite, with its unique and very intense colours, is considered the most beautiful Amber in the world; an Amber that has supplied in Sicily, for thousands years, a blooming local handicraft.
Southern Mexico represents another area in which Amber was known from ancient age. In fact in the past, Mexican Amber was worn by Aztechi and it was mentioned for the first time into some missionary writings, who visited those lands before the Spanish conquest. The layers are located into the most southern part of Mexico, into the Chiapas area, close to Guatemala, where it is possible to find out a fossil resin who dates back to about 22-26 milion years ago. Thanks to a carefull analysis about fossil fauna and flora into the Dominican and Mexican Amber, it has been possible to effect the environment rebuilding of the ancient tropical rainforests. Through these studies it results that this Amber dates back to the Tertiary Period, which follows the dinosaur's extinction.
From the far subtropical forests which lap the eastern buttresses of Hymalaya, some tenacious sherpa brought us a very ancient Amber, which date back to the Inferior Cretaceous, like the Lebanese one but much older; in fact, its age is around 135/140 million of years. In this remote place is possible to arrive over an elephant back, after an exhausting march of days and days in the jungle; this is one of the reasons why it's so difficult find it in the international markets! Fortunately, however, it's enough to deliver moving testimonies of that ancient life to the man; like a feather, for example, left by a bird that landed on a trunk, drenched with resin... SOME TIME AGO!
In the area of Lyaioning (district of Fushun in Manchuria) - near an old coal-mine, some hundred years ago - has been found a small vein of Amber. It is only since few decennia, however, that this fossil resin has been studied and scientifically examined. So we made sure that this Amber finds its origins in the Paleocene period (60/70 million of years ago), but now the mine is almost worked out.
Lebanese Amber origin is very old; the Era in question is the Inferior Cretaceous (since 135 million of years ago) and scientists meet big interest in studying this material. We can find it in moderate quantity into the BEKAA valley and, in consequence of its peculiarities, it's not used in jewellery.