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Amber in the Mycenaean World

  • Curt W. Beck, Anthony Harding and Helen Hughes-Brock

Amber has long been recognized as an important indicator of Mycenaean foreign contacts. Though much has been written, no thorough survey of the topic has yet been undertaken. The chief purpose of this article is to present a corpus, as complete as the authors can make it, of the known Mycenaean amber finds, together with those from adjacent areas.

Since the nineteenth century amber objects in Italy and Greece have generally been considered by scholarly opinion to have been imported from the Baltic, and a number of finds, including Schliemann's from the Shaft Graves, were subjected to rudimentary chemical analyses to ‘prove’ this, the criterion being the presence of succinic acid. Navarro in 1925 traced the route the amber was supposed to have taken by charting the distribution of finds in central Europe in the Bronze and Iron Ages.

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Acknowledgements. The authors would like to thank the following for their kind permission to study and include hitherto unpublished material: Professor S. Marinatos (Pylos district), Dr. John Sakellarakis (old Mycenae material in Nat. Mus., Athens), Lord William Taylour and Mrs. Wace (Mycenae); for help in museums: Mr. Dionysios Androutsakis (Head Phylax, Chora Museum), Dr. G. L. Forbes (Curator, Sedgwick Museum, Dept. of Geology, Cambridge), Mr. R. A. Higgins (Brit. Mus.), Dr. F. G. Lo Porto (Taranto Mus.), Mr. A. J. N. W. Prag (Manchester Mus.), Mr. M. J. Vickers (Ashmolean Mus., Oxford). For help and discussion: Professor C. W. Beck, Dr. O. T. P. K. Dickinson (references and dating), Mrs. S. Immerwahr, Dr. C. C. Lamberg-Karlovsky, Miss Olga Tufnell. Helen Hughes-Brock made certain study trips as holder of the Joanna Randall-MacIver Research Fellowship and grants from the Craven and Meyerstein Funds at Oxford University. She gratefully acknowledges this help.

The illustrations and maps, the first draft of much of the text and the Catalogue of Balkan and Italian material are Harding's work, made originally for his Ph.D. dissertation, ‘The Extent and Effect of Contact between Mycenaean Greece and the rest of Europe’ (Cambridge University 1972, unpublished). For the section on shapes and the final form of the article Helen Hughes-Brock is chiefly responsible. The Greek and Near Eastern finds were catalogued by both authors.

1 de Navarro, J. M., ‘Prehistoric Routes between Northern Europe and Italy defined by the Amber Trade’, Geographical J. lxvi (1925) 481507.

2 Beck, C. W., Greek, Roman and Byz. Studies vii (1966) 191211. C. W. Beck, G. C. Southard, A. B. Adams, ibid. ix (1968) 5–19, xiii (1972) 359–85. C. W. Beck, C. A. Fellows, A. B. Adams, ibid. xi (1970) 5–22. Hereafter Beck 1966, Beck 1968, Beck 1970, Beck 1972.

3 Beck's plea, Beck 1968, 10–11, is to be noted.

4 A. Lucas and J. R. Harris, Ancient Egyptian Materials and Industries 1 388.

5 ‘Über den alten Bernsteinhandel’, Verh. ZfE 1891, 294–5.

6 ‘Zur Naturkunde und Kulturgeschichte des Bernsteins’, Schriften der naturforschenden Gesellschaft in Danzig, n.f. xx (1935) 5–48, 91.

7 CAH2 vol. i ch. 18, 31.

8 D. Strong, Catalogue of the Cawed Amber in the Department of Greek and Roman Antiquities, British Museum (hereafter ‘Strong’) 19.

9 See Catalogue pp. 167–8 for this and the following items.

10 A. Mosso, Le origini della civiltà mediterranea 291–2.

11 Note Catalogue, Asine. Cf. Evans, Tomb of the Double Axes 13.

12 Benton, S., BSA xlviii (1953) 354–6, Hammond, N. G. L., Epirus (1967) 331.

13 C. Renfrew, The Emergence of Civilisation 467–8.

14 BSA liii–liv (1958–9) 208.

15 V. R. d'A. Desborough, Last Mycenaeans and their Successors 37–8, 102.

16 Ibid. 101.

17 Nor, on the other hand, that amber went out of favour under the influence of Minoan taste, as was suggested by Miss Lorimer, Homer and the Monuments 16.

18 Some 117 tombs are represented and of course an unknown but much larger number of individual burials. 22 are tholos tombs, some 60 are chamber tombs, and there are 9 shaft graves, 8 cist or pit graves, and 18 or so other types including Cretan and foreign.

19 Cf. Beck 1972, 361–2 (published after this article).

20 See V. A. Firsoff, Gemstones of the British Isles (1971) pl. facing p. 88.

21 e.g. AE 1933, 94, fig. 43 nos. 4, 7, 14, BSA liii–liv (1958–9) 257 fig. 34: II 6.

22 As from Elaphotopos, see Catalogue.

23 M. Gimbutas, Bronze Age Cultures in Central and Eastern Europe 48. Cf. Wace's characteristically perceptive remarks, Chamber Tombs at Mycenae 204–5.

24 See Gimbutas, op. cit. pl. 54, a necklace from Thuringia.

25 Becker, C. J., ‘A Segmented Faience Bead from Jutland’, ActArch xxv (19541955) 241 ff.

26 Hachmann, R., ‘Bronzezeitliche Bernsteinschieber’, Bayerische Vorgeschichtsblatter xxii (1957) 136.

27 Strong 17.

28 But in SG V deposited in a pyxis? EA 1969, 130.

29 Beck 1966, 209.

30 Williamson, G. C., The Book of Amber (1932) 58, 88.

31 Discussion to Beck, and Southard, , Atti e Memorie del Primo Congresso Internaz. di Micenologia (Rome 1968) 63. The material in question might be copal from Zanzibar, a suggestion for which we thank Dr. C. L. Forbes. Cf. Williamson, op. cit. 190–2.

32 Hachmann, op. cit. Sandars, N. K., ‘Amber spacerbeads again’, Antiquity xxxiii (1959) 292–5. S. Gerloff, ‘The Wessex Culture of the Early Bronze Age reviewed in its connections with the Continent, especially with South-West Central Europe’, unpublished doctoral dissertation, Oxford University 1969. Good brief summary in Strong 16–17.

33 See S. Piggott, Ancient Europe (1965) fig. 74.

34 Beck 1966, 209 may be mistaken in implying that the raw material for the large drilled plates could not have been found in England. The Perowne Coll. in the Sedgwick Museum (Dept. of Geology) Cambridge contains plenty of pieces far more than large enough, washed up on the East Anglian coast. Cf. Coles, J. and Taylor, J., ‘The Wessex Culture: A Minimal View,’ Antiquity xlv (1971) 11.

35 Annable, and Simpson, , Guide Cat. of the Neolithic and Bronze Age Colls, in Devizes Museum (1964) 46.

36 Op. cit. 11–12.

37 Lab. nos. BM–680 and BM–681.

38 ‘The British Isles and the beginning of the northern Early Bronze Age’, in Early Cultures of Northwest Europe, ed. Fox, and Dickins, (1950) 100–4.

39 Beck 1968.

40 Marinatos, S., ‘Lausitzer Goldschmuck in Tiryns’, Theoria, Festschrift for W.-H. Schuchhardt (1960) 151–7.

41 That from Salina is, however, Baltic (Beck 1966, 209).

42 The Greek catalogue we have tried to make complete but we make no such claim for the other parts.

43 Helen Hughes-Brock's understanding of the shapes differs in some cases from Strong's.

44 Our special thanks here are due to Dr. John Sakellarakis of the Nat. Mus., Athens.

45 Helm, O., Schriften der naturforschenden Gesellschaft in Danzig, n.f. vi (1885) 234–9.

46 W. La Baume, ibid. xx (1935) 5–48; Beck, C. W., Archaeology xxiii (1970) 7 fig. 1.

47 Beck, C. W., E. Wilbur, and Meret, S., Nature cci (1964) 256–7.Beck, C. W., Wilbur, E., Meret, S., Kossove, D., and Kermani, K., Archaeometry viii (1965) 96109.

48 Beck, C. W., Adams, A. B., and Southard, G. C. in Brill, R. H., ed. Science and Archaeology, MIT Press 1971.

49 Negroni Catacchio, N., Sibrium ix (1970) 111, SE xxxviii (1970) 165–8; Negroni Catacchio, N. and Guerreschi, G., Sibrium x (1971) 275–92; Mem. del Museo Civico della Storia Maturale, Verona, xviii (1970) 235–57, 319–36; Jaworski, M., Krauze, J., Lempka, A., and Richter, S., Fontes Archaeologici Posnanienses xxi (1972) 230–8.

50 Cf. distribution map in Beck, C. W., Archaeology xxiii (1970) 8, and Beck 1966, 210.

51 Rottländer, R. C. A., Archaeometry xii (1970) 50: ‘The result for prehistory turns out to be a more negative one: since while succinic acid shows the state of ageing it is unable to show the geological origin.’

52 Ankner, D., Jb. des Röm.-Germ. Zentralmus. Mainz xiii (1966) 301: ‘Damit ist aber die bisher gern verwendete Stütze der chemisch-physikalischen Analyse fur die Festlegung von ‘Bernsteinstrassen' weggefallen.’ Rottländer, op. cit. 50: ‘[Chemical analysis] … does not lend support to the “amber routes”. Since all maps showing the distribution of amber findings [sic] in Europe for themselves are inconclusive—they are neither able to show direction of trade nor which amber deposit was exploited—at the moment the amber routes appear to be fictions.’

53 de Navarro, J. M., Geographical J. lxvi (1925) 481507.

54 The work at Vassar College has been supported by U.S. National Science Foundation grants GS–739 and GS–2067 (Anthropology) and GP–4729 (Geochemistry) as well as by travel grants from the American Philosophical Society and the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropo logical Research.

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Annual of the British School at Athens
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  • EISSN: 2045-2403
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