Seaside Amber Treasures, Part 1: Reconstructed Collection of the Juodkrantė Amber Treasure
If you plan to spend your holidays on the Curonian Spit and are interested in amber or Lithuanian history, be sure to visit Virginija and Kazimieras Mizgiris’s Amber Gallery-Museum in Nida. Here, in an outdoor exposition under glass, a reconstructed collection of the Juodkrantė amber treasure is exhibited. This collection is fascinating for its impressive amber artwork as well as for its history.
The Juodkrantė treasure was found in the middle of the nineteenth century, when deposits of amber were discovered in the Curonian Lagoon close to Juodkrantė while the shipping fairway was being deepened. Two famous and smart merchants from Klaipėda (which was a part of Germany then) established a company called W. Stantien & M. Becker, named after themselves, and undertook to carry out dredging work in return for all rights to amber found. For 20 years, the company extracted 30-85 tons of amber per year.
Both raw amber and man-made amber objects were found. At the beginning, workers sold these “oddities” or gave them as gifts to holidaymakers in Juodkrantė until, in the third year of amber extraction, selling these precious, 5,000-year-old objects was prohibited when Richard Klebs, professor of geology, started working as a consultant for the company.
At that time, 434 amber articles were found and collected at a depth of 2-4 metres, in the 2.5 km long Curonian Shallow (the present Amber Bay) 650 metres from Juodkrantė. Klebs undertook care of their preservation and subsequently published the book Amber Jewellery of the Stone Age in 1882 with 200 descriptions and 155 pictures of amber items. Later, the collection was transferred to the University of Konigsberg, but it disappeared from the university’s repository at the end of the Second World War. To this day, only a small part of the Juodkrantė treasure, which was transferred to Germany during the war and stored in the Museum of Geology and Palaeontology of the University of Gottingen, has survived.
The original Juodkrantė treasure consisted of pendants of various shapes: long and narrow, oval and circular, flat and round, rectangular, regular and with a diagonal base. Interesting buttons were found – round, oval or even boat shapes. Many different necklaces and amulets were found. Still, the most valuable part of this collection are amber figurines of people and animals from the Neolithic Period. There are figurines depicting a woman, a stylized face, a horse head, and various human shapes with clearly pronounced legs, arms and faces. These amber figurines of the Later Stone Age Narva culture are considered the oldest examples of plastic art in Lithuania and are famous all over the world.
Researchers are most surprised by the fact that the Juodkrantė treasure consists of articles from different periods and various archaeological cultures – this is not typical for the Stone Age, when people did not settle in one place. Researchers have raised various hypotheses about why this happened: some believe that the articles could have been washed away from the Stone Age settlements of the Semba Peninsula through anabranches, which at that time were often a feature of the Curonian Lagoon. Others try to prove that this could have been a long-standing sacrificial place (alkduobė in Lithuanian), since their places were usually not relocated, and the offerings at that time were commonly not burned, which became characteristic with the later development of agriculture, but immersed in water.
Whatever the reason for the accumulation of amber articles in the shallow near Juodkrantė, Klebs’s treasure simply must be seen by everyone who is interested in the history and culture of our country. Not everyone can go to Gottingen, but thanks to the artist restorer Bronė Kunkulienė, we can explore the masterfully reconstructed collection of the Juodkrantė treasure at the Mizgiris Amber Gallery-Museum in Nida.