19 April 2024 The Future is the Product of the Past

New research reveals that Baltic amber was transported to the most westerly region of the continent more than 5,000 years ago

A team of scientists has identified the oldest pieces of Baltic amber ever found on the Iberian Peninsula, revealing that this luxury material used in jewellery and handicrafts around the world was already being imported more than 5,000 years ago.

For thousands of years, Baltic amber has been recognized as the finest in the world and sought after for use in jewelry since Roman times.

Despite other amber deposits across Europe, ancient people from far and wide were keen to get their hands on the Baltic bling. New research reveals that the material was transported to the most westerly region of the continent more than 5,000 years ago.

The research was led by University of Granada (UGR) lecturer Mercedes Murillo-Barroso and involved the collaboration of Marcos Martinón-Torres of the University of Cambridge and Araceli Martín Cólliga of the Government of Catalonia. According to Murillo-Barroso, the work “allows us to say with confidence that the arrival of Baltic amber on the Iberian Peninsula occurred at least in the 4th millennium BC, more than a millennium earlier than we thought, and that it was probably part of wider trade networks linked to the south of France”.

Trade is one of the many mechanisms through which we establish social relations, and often the objects that are exchanged are not necessarily consumer goods needed to live, but rather decorative, luxury or symbolic objects.

Sometimes, especially in adverse conditions, having trade networks means having a network of mutual support, but these trade networks can also generate social inequalities and relations of dependency, especially if not all the community enjoys equal access to the networks or if the objects exchanged are unequal.

Researchers found a single bead of Baltic amber in a Catalan cave. Image credit: C. B. González, edited by M. J. Vilar Welter
Researchers found a single bead of Baltic amber in a Catalan cave. Image credit: C. B. González, edited by M. J. Vilar Welter

In prehistoric times, amber, a fossil resin, was certainly not a raw material necessary for the development of daily life, but it was highly valued and was exchanged via the extensive trade networks that were established. The use of the multiple amber deposits on the Iberian Peninsula since the Upper Palaeolithic has been documented and, thanks to research carried out by archaeologists over the years, we know that from the 4th millennium BC onwards Sicilian amber began to reach the Iberian Peninsula through Mediterranean trade networks. However, until now it was believed that Baltic amber did not reach the Peninsula until the 2nd millennium BC, at which point it would become the primary raw material, replacing other types of amber such as Peninsular or Sicilian amber.

Regarding their research article, published in the prestigious journal Nature, Mercedes Murillo-Barroso affirms: “We present the standard infrared spectroscopy analysis of an amber bead of Baltic origin found at the Cova del Frare site in a context dated between 3634-3363 cal BC”.

“The site, which is truly exceptional, illustrates the transition between the Middle Neolithic of the ‘Sepulcrand the Late Neolithic of Véraza”, explains Araceli Martín Cólliga, director of the excavations at the site.

“As there are no written documents from prehistoric times, the only way to study human activity is through archaeological remains. To study the transport and exchange of materials, we use very precise analytical techniques, such as infrared spectroscopy, which give us a kind of fingerprint of the amber deposits and objects,” says Mercedes Murillo-Barroso.

Based on a large amount of data and this type of analysis, combined with other bodies of archaeological information, the study confirms that Baltic amber arrived in the northeastern Iberian Peninsula as early as the Neolithic, which is “something that must be understood in the context of trade during this period of transition and change, either by agents of a declining ‘Sepulcres de Fossa’ culture, or by those who would set new cultural trends at the end of the Neolithic, led by the Véraza groups of Catalonia and southern France, and not necessarily as direct contact with northern Europe”. In fact, there is currently no evidence of Baltic amber crossing the Ebro at such an early date into the southern Iberian Peninsula, where the use of Sicilian amber was predominant as a result of the Mediterranean networks.

The Baltic region is home to what is perhaps the best amber in the world for use in jewelry. Indeed, it was highly sought after in classical Rome and now sustains a whole industry, for example in Poland. We now know that it began to arrive in Iberia as early as the 4th millennium BC and that it gradually replaced Peninsular and Sicilian amber.

This finding undoubtedly has important implications for our understanding of early exchange networks of exotic materials and their influence on social structures,” explains University of Cambridge professor Marcos Martinón-Torres.

University of Granada

DOI: 10.1038/s41598-023-41293-0 

Related Articles

Paleontologists Unearth 139 Million-Year-Old Pregnant Dinosaur Fossil in Chile

10 May 2022

10 May 2022

Archeologists in Chile have unearthed the fossilized remains of a 13ft-long pregnant ichthyosaur from a melting glacier -marking the first...

A hungry Badger uncovers the largest collection of such coins ever discovered in northern Spain

11 January 2022

11 January 2022

Archaeologists have uncovered a rich trove of 209 Roman-era coins in northwestern Spain, due to the apparent efforts of a...

Rare Hittite bracelet, 3300 years old, found by a farmer

28 March 2022

28 March 2022

A farmer in Turkey’s Çorum province discovered a rare 3,300-year-old ancient bracelet from the Hittite era while plowing his farm....

Evil-Wisher Well: Ancient curse tablets 2,500-year-old found in a well in Athens

14 July 2022

14 July 2022

30 ancient curse tablets were found at the bottom of a 2500-year-old well in ancient Athens. In 2020, Archaeologists from...

Denmark King’s spice cabinet discovered on Gribshunden

13 February 2023

13 February 2023

The Gribshunden, a 15th-century Danish royal warship, was uncovered to have been loaded with botanical materials, including the first archaeological...

Polish researchers reveal what ancient Egyptian faience has to do with gold

31 December 2022

31 December 2022

Powdered quartz used to make faience vessels discovered by Polish archaeologists during excavations in the ancient city of Athribis in...

Hiker found a place of holy worship at an altitude of 2,590 meters in the Swiss Alps

15 March 2023

15 March 2023

A trekking enthusiast stumbled upon an ancient Roman coin buried in rubble in a remote area high in the Alps...

40 Skeletons in Giant Jars Found in the Corsica Necropolis

16 May 2021

16 May 2021

Archaeologists working on the French island of Corsica discovered around 40 ancient graves where persons were buried inside gigantic jars...

Feline and anthropomorphic 29 new geoglyphs discovered in Peru

21 December 2023

21 December 2023

In Ica, a region south of Lima on the coast of Peru, 29 geoglyphs were found by an archaeologist from...

Deer stone discovered in Kyrgyzstan

10 April 2023

10 April 2023

A deer stone was found in the Tarmal-Sai settlement in the Kochkor district of the Naryn region in eastern Kyrgyzstan....

25 Qing Dynasty tombs found in China’s Hunan

25 May 2022

25 May 2022

25 graves dating from the Qing Dynasty (A.D. 1644–1912) have been uncovered in the Houbeishan tomb complex in southern China,...

Who really fought in the Battle of Himera? Researchers found the answer to the question

14 May 2021

14 May 2021

According to the Ancient Greek Historians, victory over the Carthaginians in the Battle of Himera was won by the alliance...

3,500-year-old perfectly preserved ancient frozen bear found in Siberian

28 February 2023

28 February 2023

As the permafrost on Bolshoy Lyakhovsky Island in eastern Siberia melted, a mummified brown bear that lived more than three...

Dingoes were regarded as “almost human” in pre-colonial Australia

21 October 2023

21 October 2023

When it comes to Australia’s wild dingoes, the phrase “a dog is a man’s best friend” takes on new meaning....

More than 56400 Cultural Goods Seized in Operation Pandora V

11 May 2021

11 May 2021

Operation Pandora V, aimed at preventing the illegal trade of cultural goods, has been one of the most successful operations...