amber: Fossilized pine resin. It was much appreciated in antiquity not only for its beauty but for its supposed magical properties–of attracting small particles when warmed and rubbed. The major source in Europe is along the southeast coast of the Baltic and North Sea, and minor ones in even in southeast Europe. However, the distribution of finds strongly supports the view that there was an important trade in amber following specific routes up the Elbe and Vistula, across the upper Danube to the Brenner Pass, and so down to the Adriatic and the countries bordering it. Other objects and ideas travelled by the same route, which made it an important factor in European prehistory. The trade began in the Early Bronze Age but expanded greatly as a result of the Mycenaeans’ interest. Even Britain was brought into this trading area, as witnessed by amber spacer plates in barrows of the Wessex Culture. Later, amber was very popular with the Iron Age peoples of Italy, particularly the Picenes.

Excerpted from: Bray, Warwick, and David Trump. The Penguin Dictionary of Archaeology. New York: Penguin, 1984.

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