A stone people die for
More than a hundred tons of this stone each year are illegally mined and exported from Russia. Damage to the state budget is estimated to be at the very least tens of billions of dollars. In pursuit of the benefit, miners are neither scared by the risk of going to jail for breaking the law nor by the high chances of dying.
The Sun Stone, Gold of the North, Caviar of Kaliningrad - that is how the inhabitants of the Baltic Seacoast call this stone, which is by the way in Russia considered a national treasure. Unfortunately, ten people died in their search for this semiprecious mineral in the past year alone.
People have been seeking to get their hands on amber for thousands of years. In ancient Rome, during the reign of Nero, Emperor of the Roman Empire, people used to pay for the tiniest piece of this mineral more than they would have bought the best slave for. The Teutonic Order, which ruled over the Eastern Baltic region - exceptionally rich in amber - in the 13th century, laid down very strict rules concerning mining and trade of this mineral within its own territory. Local people could have been tortured or even sentenced to death if only they hid just a single piece of sunstone from the authorities. The only way for the mineral to make it to Russia back then was to bring it into the country as a diplomatic gift. The most valued specimens at that time were of the Baltic amber, which was thought to have the best qualities and properties. The Amber Room of Peter the Great - the one that disappeared during the Great Patriotic War - was decorated with this kind of stone.
Many great scientists from different eras puzzled over the mystery of the origins of this stone. Some researchers thought that amber was the fossilised honey produced by wild bees, others claimed it was the hardened residuals of oil, and still others believed in the story telling that there was a celestial body that fell down from the sky into the sea and broke down into thousands of fragments.
People always believed that amber could heal. Martin Luther, a German professor of theology who had started the Protestant Reformation, always had a piece of this stone in his pocket, for he believed it could prevent formation of kidney stones. Medical books of the 17th century advised that eye diseases should be treated with grounded amber mixed with honey and rose oil.
Nowadays, amber is still used in medicine, since it contains such useful substances as iron, iodine, potassium, zinc. As an example, amber oil is a natural antiseptic: wounds cleaned up with it heal much faster; no scars are left either. Amber powder has anti-aging and restorative properties. It is advised to apply a handful of amber powder as a part of a daily makeup routine.
Anyone can find small pieces of amber, washed up ashore. These stones usually go into production of alike souvenirs of the same type, sold in countless tourist shops. The valuable findings are those samples that have either insects or plants inside of them. Unique species of flora and fauna were frozen in amber millions of years ago and, thanks to it, retained their original forms. At the beginning of the 19th century, noblemen of Russia and France were craving for amber jewels with such inclusions. However, even these days, some two hundred years later, discoveries of this kind are very much appreciated by collectors and jewellers. To provide an example, a large amber stone with a beetle or dragonfly inside of it could be priced at 20 thousand dollars on the international market.
Though amber is a gem, it is not technically a stone. It does not form crystals and is indeed a resin that solidified millions of years ago. Unlike most other stones, the mineral burns down in fire, just like coal does, electrifies through friction, and does not sink in saltwater.