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WESTERN BALTS AND AMBER

Intensive trade and exchange of goods between the Western Balts and the Antique world not only determined the spread of various imported works, but also the spread of cultural ideas that obviously had an influence on the material culture of the Balts.

Already in 40-80 AD imported ornaments from the province of Pannonia such as winged and profiled brooches had reached the littoral territory of presentday Lithuania.

Mass-produced goods also reached the Baltic lands: glass and enamel beads, and Roman coins.

Amber trading did not only take place in the Roman provinces, but also in the Baltic lands themselves.

During the Bronze and Early lron ages, hardly any amber works would be found in Baltic funeral monuments. A significant breakthrough in the tradition of placing amber in graves occurred in the middle of the 2nd century. At this time there were increasingly more amber beads being placed in graves, as well as pendants and amber spindles, or flywheels, that are encountered less frequently.

The tradition of burying the dead with amber works lasted until the very end of the lron Age (12th/13th century).

Western Balt burial sites from the middle of the 2nd century are usually found to contain double conic shaped amber beads. They would be threaded onto string with imported coloured glass beads, copper and silver pendants, copper strands, and attached to pins or brooches they decorated men's and women's clothing. Strings of beads were hung from women's head ornaments as well. Long strings of beads would be placed into more prosperous graves. Amber beads could be found in the graves of horsemen who were considered among the community elite. Courland graves from the 7th-12th centuries gave prominence to amber amulets - the number of amber beads threaded onto necklaces decreased, women and men both started wearing single amber pieces in necklaces. They would often also be used to decorate the manes of horses buried along with the deceased.

Variously shaped amber pendants are found in littoral burial sites, whose purpose was mainly symbolic or protective rather than decorative. The insect-like amber pendants are particularly expressive but they were found in but a few graves. Amber pendants in the shape of shells found only in the graves of Courland men probably had multiple symbolic meanings. They were found placed on soldier's chests, worn near their waists, they decorated sword handles and sheath mounts.

Amber spindles from the late Roman period are found very rarely and only in women's graves. Later more would be found in burial sites (especially in the women's graves at Lamata and Courland's burial grounds), while towards the end of the 11th century the tradition of placing amber spindles in graves disappeared. I

n researchers' opinions, such spindles were more closely related to a symbolic meaning than practical application, even though during reconstructions of the early crafts it was shown that amber spindles are suitable for spinning yarn. Amber spindles might have identified more exceptional women in the community or the social status of women who were laid to rest with them.

Researchers relate amber spinning tools with mythological beings of the spinning process. There are similarities in the Germanic and Scandinavian cultures where the spinning process was also mythologised and associated with magic.

Specific expressions of faith are reflected in the Courland amber plaques (7th-9th centuries) mentioned in archaeological literature that were found in women's graves exclusively. Such plaques did not have any holes suggesting the plaque should be hung somewhere. They would be tucked behind a head-covering, a veil, a cap or twisted into their hair and kept in place with the help of a pin threaded through if needed.

(Source: Lithuanian Art Museum, pgm.lt)