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Amber: Ancient treasure from the sea that could reshape Russia’s future

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Amber: Ancient treasure from the sea that could reshape Russia’s future

Russia has 90% of the world’s extractable amber reserves, most of them concentrated in the Kaliningrad region

  • China is the largest buyer of Russian amber, while there is also great interest from other countries in Asia and Middle East

Elena Teslova

MOSCOW

Amber, the fossilized tree resin, has captivated humanity for millennia with its enchanting hues and natural allure.

From ancient times to the present, the gem has been crafted into exquisite decorative objects and stunning jewelry, while also serving as a healing agent in folk medicine and a fragrance enhancer in perfumes.

Many cultures even attribute supernatural powers to amber, believing it holds mystical properties.

It also offers paleontologists a unique glimpse into prehistoric life, preserving ancient specimens within its golden drops of resin.

Amber-2For centuries, amber has inspired writers and poets, who have given the captivating mineral names such as “sun dew,” “tears of the sea,” “the gift of the sun,” “sea incense,” “Baltic gold,” and “sun stone” – all reflecting the mineral’s deep connection to the sea and its renowned golden hue.

When it comes to amber deposits in the modern world, Russia holds 90% of all extractable amber reserves, with most of them concentrated near the village of Yantarny in the Kaliningrad region, the country’s western-most enclave, according to Alexey Korkin, chief geologist at the Kaliningrad Amber Combine of Russia’s Rostec Corporation.

Amber extraction in Kaliningrad began in the 19th century, initially through mining and later through quarrying in the 20th century, he told Anadolu.

World War II had a particularly adverse impact on the industry, with the quarry where amber was mined being intentionally flooded, he said.

Production had to be rebuilt after the war, and due to amber’s uniqueness and rarity, there was no experience to draw on so Russia had to develop its own extraction methods, Korkin said.

Over the years, the Kaliningrad Amber Combine has continually refined its extraction techniques.

Since 2021, more careful mining methods have been used to minimize damage to the amber during extraction, the geologist added.

Currently, amber is mined in an open pit, where excavators first extract the amber-bearing rock, which is then washed under strong water pressure to a suspended state, he explained.

It is then transported through pipes to the finishing unit, where the amber is washed, dried, sorted, packaged, and sent for processing and manufacturing.

thumbs_b_c_b114ed421eef3267809adfb053edbbf1“We are the only enterprise in the world that mines amber on an industrial scale,” he said, adding that the technology used in Russia for amber mining is “unique.”

Regarding the value of the extracted amber, everything depends on its color, size, integrity, and the presence of fossilized flora and fauna, said Anna Dugina, a gemologist at the Kaliningrad Amber Plant.

White matte amber is particularly prized, especially in China, she told Anadolu.

“Amber is essentially resin. When resin dripped from a tree onto an ant or leaf, it preserved them. These elements of flora and fauna are not always preserved entirely, sometimes only fragments remain,” she explained.

“Amber, which is about 50 million years old, is more than just beautiful and beneficial. It’s a time machine, a window through which we can glimpse millions of years into the past.”

Amber industry

Currently, the Kaliningrad Amber Plant focuses exclusively on manufacturing jewelry, according to Vadim Parkhomenko, head of the company’s experimental jewelry production department.

“We have organized a full production cycle. Starting with raw amber, we create various blanks for jewelry and parts for other artistic compositions, such as figurines, paintings, and interior items like furniture, watches, candlesticks, and souvenirs,” he told Anadolu.

Kaliningrad amber has a very high concentration of succinic acid, a biologically active additive that is a powerful regulator of the body’s defenses, helping improve energy metabolism, efficiency, and elimination of toxic substances from the body, he said.

The amber found in Kaliningrad has about 5-7% succinic acid compared to the standard 1%, Parkhomenko explained.

Previously, the Kaliningrad Amber Combine was also producing amber varnish, amber oil, and succinic acid from amber that was unsuitable for artistic products, he said.

However, with the development of synthetic alternatives, these products became unprofitable and their output was curtailed, he added.

Amber-3The company also sells raw amber in various forms, including nuggets, which are pieces of amber weighing more than 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds), and smaller pieces that have fossilized flora and fauna.

Last year, the Kaliningrad Amber Combine produced a record 630 tons of amber, and the company is actively developing cooperation with foreign partners.

Currently, China is the largest buyer of Russian amber, and other countries in Asia and the Middle East are also showing great interest in the mineral.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the company also cooperated with Türkiye, and interest in renewing that collaboration remains strong.

Gifts of the sea

Such is the extent of Kaliningrad’s amber reserves that the sea often “gifts” pieces of the mineral, with waves bringing ashore nuggets of various shapes, sometimes yielding fascinating specimens, said Natalia Krimmel, administrator of the Kaliningrad Amber Combine’s exhibition space.

“After storms, the sea churns and lifts everything from the bottom to the surface. This is when a real amber hunt begins, with people flocking to the seashore,” Krimmel told Anadolu.

She said there are many Russian artisans who craft jewelry and other amber products by hand, items that are typically priced higher due to the significant labor involved.

Krimmel shared an anecdote highlighting the importance of amber for people in the region and across Russia: “Since 2013, the Kaliningrad Amber Plant has held a children’s drawing contest. In 2014, a contestant named Alina Radygina submitted a piece portraying amber as one of the three ‘whales’ supporting the Russian economy.

“We were so impressed with her work that we included it in our museum. Who knows, perhaps one day it will be true, as amber mining continues to grow in Russia.”

Read: 41 foreign companies relocated from Russia to Kazakhstan

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Courtesy: Anadolu Agency (Posted on 08.07.2024)  

Photo Source: AMBER COMBINE PRESS SERVICE

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