The Working of Amber: Ancient Evidence and Modern Analysis

There is no literary or archaeological evidence for specialized amber-workers in pre-Roman Italy. Because of its inherent properties, it is likely that amber was worked by any number of skilled craftspeople or artisans. Considering its magical and medicinal importance, amber must also have been worked by a multiplicity of ritual specialists–pharmacists, “wise women,” priests or priestesses, and “those who had the knowledge.”244 However, for the working of very large carvings, or for amber fibulae composed from conjoined pieces, considerable experience with varying qualities of amber was essential.

An artisan comfortable in working other hard organic materials, such as hardwoods, ivory, or horn, or one skilled in cutting gems would have found working amber comparatively undemanding. Amber is also pleasant to work, for it is fragrant, unlike ivory.

A number of scholars have proposed that amber was worked by ivory-workers. Certainly, the tool marks on the objects in the Getty collection (and elsewhere) show that eighth-to-fourth-century B.C. amber objects were made with a toolkit probably no different from that of a Bronze Age ivory-worker, for which there is excellent archaeological evidence.245 (Much less is known about the pre-Roman period.) In fact, amber-working today has changed very little, with the exception of the speed offered by electric tools. Like Bronze Age toolkits, pre-Roman ones likely would have included bow drills, chisels, saws, knives or blades, points, awls, burins, rule and compass, vices, abrasives, oils, metal foils, pigments, and glues. The surviving evidence of amber from the Iron Age and beyond—furnishings, arms and armor, utensils, boxes, vessels, dress ornaments, and amulets—shows that amber was in the supply of many kinds of trained workers. Some composite works—furniture inlaid with ivory and amber; ivory carvings inlaid with amber; bronze fibulae ornamented with amber and ivory (figure 51); and amber carvings embellished with ivory and precious metals—are additional concrete evidence for the existence of artisans working in more than one medium.246 The evidence is also found in many surviving multimedia works, such as one type of seventh-century B.C. fibula made from ivory, amber, gold, and bronze, or a work such as the Getty Head of a Female Divinity or Sphinx (see figure 45), an amber face with metal additions (possibly silver) and once, perhaps, inlaid eyes.247

a & b. Silver Pin with Amber Satyr Head pendant, Italic, 5th century B.C. Amber, H: 6.8 cm (2710 in.), W: 4.9 cm (1910 in.), D: 2.2 cm (78 in.). Taranto, Museo Archeologico Nazionale, 138144. a) front; b) back.
Figure 51
a & b. Silver Pin with Amber Satyr Head pendant, Italic, 5th century B.C. Amber, H: 6.8 cm (2710 in.), W: 4.9 cm (1910 in.), D: 2.2 cm (78 in.). Taranto, Museo Archeologico Nazionale, 138144. a) front; b) back. By permission of Il Ministero per i Beni e le Attività Culturali⁠—Direzione Regionale per i Beni Culturali e Paesaggistici della Puglia⁠—Soprintendenza per i Beni Archeologici della Puglia.

Many figured ambers, particularly those of the seventh to fifth centuries B.C., are similar in style to contemporary and earlier works in other media, such as gemstones, coins, terracottas, and bronzes. However, they are closest in manufacture, and often in subject, to objects of ivory or wood. The amber kouros in London is very close in form to a wood kouros excavated at Marseilles and to a pair of tiny ivory Etruscan kouroi.248 The Getty plaque Addorsed Lions’ Heads with Boar in Relief (see figure 30) is very like an ivory relief. Works such as the exquisite chryselephantine “Artemis” and “Apollo” from Delphi249 are among the closest parallels for the Getty Head of a Female Divinity or Sphinx (see figure 18) and the Getty Kore (see figure 46), not only for the style, but also for details such as the eyes.

The pre-Roman ambers themselves yield considerable evidence of their manufacture. The traces of working consist of carving, cuts, filed grooves, drill pointing and drilling rills, abrasion scratches, engraving, and fine burnishing. Supplemented by both earlier (Bronze Age) and later (Roman) physical evidence, medieval and early modern treatises, and still-current methods of amber-working, a picture of their manufacture comes into focus.

The process of creating the objects likely began with careful study of the piece of amber. Some ambers must have been worked from the raw state, others from preexisting finished works. In some cases, the raw material was treated as if it were any other costly material, and little trace exists of the natural form of the amber, whether drop, rod, or sheet. However, in other cases, the ancient resin’s naturally occurring form is retained and sometimes even exploited in the finished object; the Getty Hippocamp (figure 52), Kourotrophoi (see figures 35 and 53), and Lion (figure 54) are good examples.

Figure 52
Hippocamp pendant, Etruscan, 575–550 B.C. Amber, L: 7 cm (234 in.), W: 4.3 cm (1710 in.), D: 2.7 cm (1110 in.). Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum, 78.AO.286.1. Gift of Gordon McLendon. See cat. no. 29.
Figure 53
Female Holding a Child (Kourotrophos) with Bird pendant, Etruscan, 600–550 B.C. Amber, H: 8.3 cm (314 in.), W: 5 cm (11516 in.), D: 5 cm (11516 in.). Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum, 77.AO.85. Gift of Gordon McLendon. See cat. no. 2.
Figure 54
a & b. Lion pendant, Etruscan or Campanian, 525–480 B.C. Amber, L (as preserved): 10.5 cm (418 in.), L (estimated original): 11.5 cm (412 in.), W: 4 cm (112 in), D (at chest): 1.8 cm (710 in.). Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum, 76.AO.78. Gift of Gordon McLendon. a) front; b) back. See cat. no. 31.

If the work were begun with a raw piece of amber retaining its outer skin, or cortex, it was necessary to remove it and any encrusted material, organic matter, or shells. This was likely done with saws, abrasive powders, and water. The fissures would be cleared of organic matter and hard minerals, the pyrites. In amber-working, water acts as both a coolant and a lubricant in the shaping, smoothing, and drilling processes, since the ancient resin softens or melts with the application of high friction.250 The resulting surface of an amber blank was smooth but uneven, with craters and undulations. In the seventh century, an artisan might remove a large amount of material to attain the desired form; in fifth-century B.C. Italy, the design would be accommodated to the irregular (magical) shape. The twelfth-century A.D. guide to working crystal by Theophilus probably outlines the next steps, which are corroborated by the tooling remains on both pre-Roman and Roman-period ambers. The medieval treatise states: “Rub it with both hands on a hard sandstone moistened with water until it takes on the shape you want to give it; then on another stone of the same kind, which is finer and smoother, until it becomes completely smooth.”251

Theophilus then suggests the use of a flat abrasive surface to sand the nodule. Evidence of this is found on the remarkably well-preserved flat inside of the Getty pendant Head of a Female Divinity or Sphinx (see figure 18).

The amber pieces must have been further abraded, carved, graved, and polished into the desired subjects, perhaps refined with engraving (and, more rarely, drilling). Sketching was likely done with a sharp scriber of metal, stone, or flint.252 Pliny refers to “Ostacias” (possibly flint), which is “so hard that other gemstones are engraved with it.”253 Engraving required a rotating instrument, such as a bow drill, the standard tool of a gem engraver.

The narrow-bore suspension perforations, usually transverse, were drilled with particular attention to how the pendant would hang or would attach to a carrier. The narrowness of the borings suggests that the ambers would have been suspended from plant filaments, such as linen, or silk. Many larger pendants have multiple long borings, again usually transverse, signifying that more than a simple filament was needed for the suspension, or that the pendant was part of a complex beaded apron, neck ornament, or girdle or was sewn directly onto clothing. The Getty’s large Ship with Figures (see figure 6) and the Getty Kourotrophoi group (see figures 35 and 53), to name three examples, have multiple perforations and would have required more than one carrier, and a system of knots. The circa 600 B.C. multipiece pendant in Trieste254 and the circa 500 B.C. composite pendants from Novi Pazar255 were made possible by complicated stringing/knotting systems. The through-borings are all visible in the transparent amber.

Not only would the stringing have secured the pendants, but both the knots and the action of tying the knots were critical to amuletic usage. In magical practice, tying a knot implies hindering negative actions. Demons and their corresponding diseases were believed to be caught by knots, bands, threads, strings, and amulets. Knots thus could actively play a protective or benevolent role. The pendant-amulets would have been tied on, attached, or suspended as an essential aspect of their efficacy, as we learn from ancient literary sources.256 The large frontal holes of some figured works are secondary to the transverse perforations and, as discussed below, could be used to attach works to pins or even to a piece of furniture.

The final stage of the work was probably to polish the surface, likely with oil and a fine abrasive or cloth. To bring out the brilliance of the stone, Theophilus instructs: “Finally, put the tile rubbings, moistened with spittle, on a goatskin free of dirt and grease, which is stretched on a wooden frame and secured below with nails, and carefully rub the crystal on this until it sparkles all over.” For amber, such polishing and rubbing would bring up the luster and the fragrance, releasing the amber’s ambrosial perfume; if that were not enough, the piece could have been rubbed with perfumed oils. We might imagine how this would have added to amber’s attraction and mystery, especially if it were in a divine image. The delicious odor might have “[matched] the emanation of fragrance that forms so regular a part of divine epiphanies.”257 As a divine characteristic, fragrance was itself imbued with the power of everlasting life.

All of the surviving pre-Roman figured ambers (at the Getty Museum and elsewhere) reveal an understanding of the morphological and structural characteristics of the ancient resin. Compositions tend to be compact, without projecting parts; the potential points of weakness are minimized in the designs. In human figures, legs and feet are close together, arms and hands are attached to bodies, and necks are short; animals may have their legs tucked beneath themselves, heads reverted, and tails curled around their haunches. The best-preserved works retain signs of surface burnishing, which once enhanced the optical qualities of the amber: its transparency, brilliance, luster, and color.

The earliest figured amber objects from Greece and Italy, dating to the eighth to seventh centuries, are small, from about 48 mm, and frequently imitate small-scale sculptural objects in other media, including ornaments and amulets. The Orientalizing amber carvings are comparable to works in ivory, bone, wood, faïence, precious metals, gemstones, and bronze. Many appear to be direct translations into amber. Examples are the Egyptian and Egyptianizing scarabs, scaraboids, monkeys, dwarves, and other time-honored amuletic subjects. In these small works, there is no evidence of the amber’s natural shape, and little wastage. Some excess may have been used to make tiny beads or inlay, as flux in goldsmithing,258 or as incense or medicine. A number of pendants in the Getty collection, all dating to about the last third of the sixth century B.C., correspond closely to objects of Ionian Greek (or Ionian-influenced) art. Among the finest examples are the two Heads of a Female Divinity or Sphinx (see figures 18 and 45), the Kore (see figure 46), and some of the rams’ and lions’ heads.

A different approach to the material emerged at the beginning of the sixth century B.C. The natural form of the amber nodule is preserved, even enhanced, by the design. Some objects, such as the Getty Hippocamp (see figure 52), suggest that the lumpy nodule of amber may even have dictated the subject. The subjects of the multifigure pendants are distorted as they wrap around the exceptionally large amber pieces. In order to comprehend the entire subject, the pendant needs to be physically turned in every direction. In any one view, the figures are deformed, but as the pendant is turned, the shapes shift. The Boston Dancing Youth (figure 55) and the British Museum Satyr and Maenad (see figure 17) are excellent illustrations of this approach. The compositions are illogical, the scale of the figures is skewed, parts are missing, the heads and bodies are twisted or wrapped around the amber in an anatomically impossible manner. Is this because of the sanctity of the whole piece of amber? Are the figures deformed as part of the magic, the shapes shifting as the object is turned over? Might this shape shifting—a common demonic talent—be part of the attraction?259

Dancing Figure. Etruscan or Italic, early 5th century B.C. Amber, 7.2 x 3.7 cm (21316 x 1716 in.). Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Gift of Miss C. Wissmann, 02.254.
Figure 55
Dancing Figure. Etruscan or Italic, early 5th century B.C. Amber, 7.2 x 3.7 cm (21316 x 1716 in.). Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Gift of Miss C. Wissmann, 02.254. Photograph © 2011 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

A variant of this approach is seen in a number of animal subjects, best exemplified by the Getty Lion (see figure 54). In this work, there must have been no appreciable wastage. The natural form of the amber blank is obvious and the subject embellishes, rather than conceals, the idiosyncrasies of the raw material. In such cases, the outline, depth, and undulations of the surface are incorporated into the design, with the result that animals and anthropomorphic figures are compacted, splayed, or contorted.260 A few anthropomorphic pendants are worked in the round, but many have flattish, plain backs. Since the amber was transparent, the carving would have been visible from any angle, an extraordinary sight especially if the piece was figured on all sides. The reverse of the Lion allows it to be seen from below, a view only chthonic beings might have. These are extraordinary sculptural objects; in the ancient world, perhaps only in-the-round rock crystal carvings are comparable.261

There are precedents as early as the third millennium for the figural manipulation and contortion of pre-Roman amber objects. Many examples can be found in the art of the Near East in objects dating to the fourth millennium and the Aegean Bronze Age. Ivories, amulets, and stone vessels are figure-wrapped. However, this is not common in Greek art. In Italy, the earliest parallels are in Etruria, in bronze vessel attachments and scaraboids. The outstanding examples of a wraparound composition on a large scale are the stairway sculptures of circa 560 B.C. from a possible altar at the side of a clan tumulus at Cortona.262 The extreme examples of figure contortion are certain pre-Roman amber pendants, of which the earliest might be associated with the neighborhood of Cortona. Was it done only to preserve as much of the amber as possible—not just because of amber’s high value, but also because of the efficacy of the resulting images? Might it also have been done because such contortion was a way to magically “bind” or control the potency of the subject? Were the subjects of the British Museum Vintaging Satyr or the Getty Hippocamp (see figure 52) bound in order to strengthen their power?263

Many human and humanoid heads contain drillings or stopped bores, many of which were filled with tiny amber plugs, on average 2 to 3 mm in diameter and 5 mm in length. These holes are on the face, in the hair and headdress, on the neck, or on the obverse, but were never drilled into the facial features. Only sometimes are they found in areas with inclusions. It is not apparent why the holes were bored and then plugged. The holes might have been made to render the pendant more consistently translucent, or to remove a microscopic bubble or an inclusion. Alternatively, the amber may have been drilled specifically in order to insert something into the bore, which was then plugged. Amulet-making and medicinal recipes often include directions for inserting materials into another object.264 Many of the plugs are now missing, but the remaining ones are often darker and more opaque than the rest of the pendant. This is probably not an intended effect, but a result of the plugs’ accelerated oxidation.265 The Getty Asinine Head in Profile (figure 56) has four large stopped bores, but none of the plugs remain. This pendant is full of inclusions, and the stopped bores penetrate into areas with inclusions. On the other hand, the Getty Winged Female Head in Profile (see figure 37) has numerous stopped bores, some in areas with visible inclusions, others in areas that appear to be inclusion-free.

Asinine Head in Profile pendant, Italic, 500–400 B.C. Amber, H: 4.8 cm (178 in.), W: 5.9 cm (2516 in.), D: 1.9 cm (34 in.). Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum, 77.AO.81.24. Gift of Gordon McLendon. See cat. no. 56.
Figure 56
Asinine Head in Profile pendant, Italic, 500–400 B.C. Amber, H: 4.8 cm (178 in.), W: 5.9 cm (2516 in.), D: 1.9 cm (34 in.). Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum, 77.AO.81.24. Gift of Gordon McLendon. See cat. no. 56.

A number of fifth-to-fourth-century B.C. amber pendants from southern Italy have large holes drilled through their middles. Four examples are still attached to large fibulae.266 The large holes disfigure the design and must have been drilled after the carving was finished, perhaps much later. In the case of four other pendants, including a Satyr Head in Profile (see figure 49) that retains its silver fibula, the holes are incorporated into the design, which implies that the perforations preexisted the figural composition. The large holes may have originated in the amber’s formation (the resin could have formed around a small branch) or in a previous use: the pendants might have been carved from older works, perhaps large, plain beads or pin decorations. It is also possible that these large holes were made to remove inclusions, or to insert something into the amber—both are commensurate with magico-medical practice. Alternatively, the secondary perforations may have been drilled to destroy the power of the image.


  1. .
  2. The ivory-working techniques in the Aegean and Near East during the second to first millennia B.C. are relatively well understood from the tool marks on ancient ivory (and osseous) objects and from excavated “workshop material,” notably from Knossos and Mycenae. From these, a picture of the basic ivory-worker’s toolkit has been reconstructed. See , esp. chap. 2; O. Krzyszkowska and R. Morkot, “Ivory and Related Materials,” in , pp. 328–30 (with references); ; D. Evely, “Towards an Elucidation of the Ivory-Worker’s Tool-kit in Neo-palatial Crete,” in , pp. 7–16; and R. D. Barnet, Ancient Ivories in the Middle East (Jerusalem, 1975).

    For the Orientalizing period in Italy, evidence for the working of various hard materials is found in the same atelier at seventh-century Poggio Civitate. The amber (as well as the glass and some of the ivory, bone, and antler) found in the Lower Building remains unpublished; see , p. 21. For ivory from the site, see E. O. Nielsen, “Lotus Chain Plaques from Poggio Civitate,” in Studi di antichità in onore di Guglielmo Maetzke, vol. 2 (Rome, 1984), pp. 397–99; and E. O. Nielsen, “Speculations on an Ivory Workshop of the Orientalizing Period,” in The Crossroads of the Mediterranean: Papers Delivered at the International Conference on the Archaeology of Early Italy, Haffenregger Museum, Brown University, 8–10 May, 1981, Archeologica transatlantica 2, Publications d’histoire del’art et del’archéologie de l’Université catholique de Louvain 38, ed. T. Hackens et al. (Louvain-la-Neuve and Providence, RI, 1984), pp. 255–59.

    Simple amber beads and pendants would not have required tools much different from those used to work amber in the Mesolithic period. Sophisticated Mesolithic carvings from Denmark and Lithuania, for example, likely were made with stone tools and polished with ground minerals, leather, or cloth and common lubricants, such as water or fat. For amber-working, see also S. Zanini, “Cenni sulla lavorazione e il commercio dell’ambra,” in Gioielli del Museo Archeologico di Padova: Vetri, bronzi, metalli preziosi, ambre e gemme, exh. cat., ed. G. Zampieri (Padua, 1997), pp. 116–18; and , pp. 562–65, where he discusses “actual cooperation.” See , chap. 2 and p. 134, for a discussion of ivory-working and the “ivory worker.” What Lapatin notes about chryselephantine works by the best sculptors has resonance for the finest amber carvings: “Although not a single ‘original’ that can confidently be attributed to any of these sculptors has survived, many of these craftsmen are reported to have also produced statues in other media. The chryselephantine technique was, after all, a composite one, and processes of production can be discerned not only from ancient anecdotes … but also from the evidence of closely related wood working from other periods and cultures.”

  3. That craftsmen worked in a variety of materials is suggested by a range of “multimedia” furnishings and other kinds of objects from very early times throughout the Mediterranean and the ancient Near East. The Late Bronze Age Adriatic site of Frattesina shows evidence of bone, horn, ivory, amber, and glass working. This accords with archaeological evidence from Mycenaean workshops that different materials were worked at the same place: precious metals, glass paste, shells, amber, rock crystal, steatite, onyx, amethyst, agate, and lapis lazuli. See, for example, H. Hughes-Brock, “Mycenaean Beads: Gender and Social Contexts,” Oxford Journal of Archaeology 18, no. 3 (August 1999): 283, 289; and R. Laffineur, “Craftsmen and Craftsmanship in Mycenaean Greece: For a Multimedia Approach,” in Politeia: Society and State in the Aegean Bronze Age; Proceedings of the 5th International Aegean Conference / 5e rencontre égéenne internationale, University of Heidelberg, Archäologisches Institut, 10–13 April 1994, ed. R. Laffineur and W. D. Niemeier (Liège and Austin, TX, 1995), p. 196. For a Greek gem cutter’s toolkit, see , pp. 38–41. makes an excellent case for amber being worked by ivory-carvers, as does , n. 1121, who cites as among the first to have “acknowledged the intimate links between ivory and amber carving as well as their close connection with jeweler’s workshops.” , p. 428, emphasizes that “we should look for carving workshops in general rather than for amber workshops.” See A. Russo, “L’ambra nelle terre dei Dauni e dei Peuketiantes,” in ; and for the rapport among amber, ivory, and bone carving.

    The popularity of amber inlays in ivory during the Orientalizing period is suggested by various kinds of cult or ritual objects belonging to the elite. These include the late-eighth-to-early-seventh-century axe handle from Chiusi (Florence, Nazionale Museo Archeologico 70787), in n. 50, above; the “hunting scene” ivory panels (the amber is backed with gold foil) from the Bernardini Tomb, Palestrina (F. Canciani and F.-W. von Hase, La Tomba Bernardini di Palestrina: Latium Vetus II [Rome, 1979], p. 68, no. 120, pls. 55.3, 56.2, 56.5); the seventh-century (Phoenician?) Etruscan ivory trumpet with geometric decoration from the Praenestine Barberini Tomb (Rome, Museo Nazionale Etrusco di Villa Giulia 13229: , p. 742, no. 928; and M. E. Aubet, “Estudios sobre el periodo orientalizante I: Cuenco fenicios de Praeneste,” Studia Archeologica 10 [1971]: 165–68, pl. 25); and the fillet worn by the seventh-century ivory lyre arm in the form of a “jumper” from Samos, which preserves inlaid amber disks (, p. 48, fig. 88; B. Freyer-Schauenburg, Elfenbeine aus dem samischen Heraion: Figürliches, Gefässe und Siegel, vol. 3 [Hamburg, 1966], pp. 19–26, pl. 2; and , pp. 207–13, fig. 76). For the late-seventh-to-early-sixth-century (possibly Laconian) reliefs of sphinxes (elements of furniture with amber faces) from Asperg and other German sites, see J. Fischer, “Zu einer griechischen Kline und weiteren Südimporten aus dem Fürstengrabhügel Grafenbühl, Asperg, Kr. Ludwigsburg,” Germania 68, no. 1 (1990): 120–21; and H. Zürn, “Die Grabhügel von Asperg (Kr. Ludwigsburg), Hirschlanden (Kr. Leonberg) und Mühlacker (Kr. Vaihingen),” Hallstattforschungen in Nordwürttemberg (Stuttgart, 1970), p. 21, fig. 9, pls. 10–11, 61–62, 68–69. Amber was also inset into gold and silver, as the Latin tombs (especially Tomb 102) from Castel di Decima show: see, for example, M. R. Di Mino and M. Bertinetti, eds., Archeologia a Roma: La materia e la tecnica nell’arte antica (Rome, 1990).

    Inset amber eyes are found on the (possibly seventh-century Ionian) ivory lion staff heads (chance finds) from Vasilkov near Smêla: , p. 259, fig. 301; and E. H. Minns, Scythians and Greeks: A Survey of the Ancient History and Archaeology on the North Coast of the Euxine from the Danube to the Caucasus (Cambridge, 1913; repr., New York, 1971), pp. 78, 193, fig. 85. A number of Greek headpieces for horses (prometopidia) from southern Italy have eyes of ivory inset with amber irises; compare Getty 83.AC.7.1. Votive eyes of ivory and amber were excavated at the Syracusan Athenaion: see , pp. 22–23. For a possibly Etruscan seventh-century ivory bed inlaid with amber, see G. Caputo, “Quinto Fiorentino: Avori applicativi incastonati d’ambra,” 56 (1989–90): 49ff.; and A. Mastrocinque, “Avori intarsiati in ambra da Quinto Fiorentino,” 10 (1991): 3–11. For an East Greek or Lydian kline from a later sixth-century B.C. grave in the Athenian Kerameikos cemetery, see U. Knigge, Der Kerameikos von Athen: Führung durch Ausgrabungen und Geschichte (Athens, 1988), p. 101. compares the Hallstattian examples from Asperg, Hundersingen, and Römerhügel to the Orientalizing bone and ivory objects from Italy; D. Marzoli, in , pp. 397–98, no. 587, compares them to the furnishings from Etruscan tombs. See also A. Naso, “Egeo, Piceno, ed Europa central in period arcaico,” in L’Adriatico, i Greci e L’Europa: Actes du colloque (Venice-Adria 2000), ed. L. Braccesi, L. Malnati, and F. Raviola (Padua, 2001), pp. 87–110. In the Byzantine Suda, under elektron, it is noted: “ancient beds used to have their feet set with dark precious stones and amber.” See “Elektra,” trans. A. Ippolito, March 16, 2006, Suda on Line, (accessed November 27, 2009). Such elaborate objects correspond well to the literary descriptions of earlier Near Eastern furniture, marvelous works worthy of the gods’ attention: see, for example, , p. 29, who cites a text of Ashurnasirpal I (1049–1030 B.C.) in which an ornate bed of precious wood, gold, and precious stones, made for the inner chamber of the temple of the goddess Ishtar, is described as “shining like the rays of the sun (god).”

  4. , pp. 36ff., no. 27/a, records that the bored concentric eyes of female pendants from the Circolo dei Monili preserved traces of silver inlay (reference from , p. 429, n. 1123).
  5. See A. Hermary, “Un petit kouros en bois de Marseille (fouilles de la Bourse),” 1997: 227–41, n. 14, figs. 5a–d (inv. H 34), who dates the Marsailles kouros “third-quarter to end of the seventh century.” K. A. Neugebauer, Antiken im deutschen Privatbesitz (Berlin, 1938), no. 255, dates the pair of ivory kouroi in a German private collection to circa 500 B.C. Two late-seventh-century bone kouros pendants were excavated at the sanctuary of Artemis Orthia at Sparta: see , pp. 163–64, nos. 109–10, figs. 138a–c.

    Much Egyptian wooden and ivory (or bone inlaid) furniture, the Orientalizing wooden throne from Verruchio (), and the furniture from Gordion are exempla of the technical and stylistic similarities between ivory- and woodworking. See, for example, O. Krzyszkowska and R. Morkot, “Ivory and Related Materials,” pp. 320–31, and R. Gale, P. Gasson, N. Hepper, and G. Killen, “Wood,” pp. 334–71, in ; G. Herrmann, “Ivory Carving of First Millennium Workshops: Traditions and Diffusion,” in Images as Media: Sources for the Cultural History of the Near East and the Eastern Mediterranean (1st Millennium BCE), ed. C. Uehlinger (Fribourg, 2000), pp. 267–82; E. Simpson and K. Spirydowicz, Gordion ahşap eserler / Gordion Wooden Furniture (Ankara, 1999); G. Herrmann, ed., The Furniture of Western Asia: Ancient and Modern (Mainz, 1996); R. A. Stucky, “Achämenidische Hölzer und Elfenbeine aus Ägypten und Vorderasien im Louvre,” 28 (1985): 7–32; and O. W. Muscarella, The Catalogue of the Ivories from Hasanlu, Iran (Philadelphia, 1980), who writes, “That the same artisans who carved the ivories also worked with wood and bone is attested at Hasanlu [which date prior to 800 B.C.] … and this situation … fits into a general pattern known from other Near Eastern sites.” frequently refers to the relevant hard materials in understanding the Picene bone and ivory material. As noted in n. 246 above, both and Russo 2005 draw significant connections among amber, bone, and ivory carvings.

  6. Delphi Museum 10413–14, circa 550 B.C. See , no. 33, for illustrations and bibl. (note especially the photographs of the heads during restoration). Attention to detail (akribeia) was much praised by ancient critics, records , p. 135, with reference to R. Meiggs, Trees and Timber in the Ancient Mediterranean World (Oxford, 1982), pp. 302–5.
  7. Forming holes from both ends toward the center prevents “blowout”—a technique already in evidence in the earliest bead- and pendant-making. Modern craftspeople recommend placing amber underwater when making perforations to avoid shattering the material or cracking the holes.
  8. Theophilus, Book 95, The Various Arts, trans. C. R. Dodwell (London, 1961), pp. 168–69. G. Kornbluth, Engraved Gems of the Carolingian Empire (University Park, PA, 1995), pp. 9–10, provides the useful model of using Theophilus.
  9. The sketching might have been done in a manner similar to that which Theophilus, Book 98 (see n. 251, above), p. 166, recommends for carving a prepared piece of bone. Chalk is spread as the ground for drawing figures with lead. Theophilus advises scoring “the outlines with a sharp tracer so that they are quite clear.”
  10. Pliny, Natural History 37.15, 37.65.
  11. Trieste, Civico Museo di Storia ed Arte 9795. Pendant-pectoral from Santa Lucia di Tolmino / Most na Soči, Tomb 3070, end of the seventh or beginning of the sixth century B.C.: , p. 120, fig. III.8.
  12. For the most recent discussion of this composite jewelry, see , pp. 94–115.
  13. , pp. 107–8. Kotansky, p. 124, n. 6, recommends that “the verb περιάπτειν should be regularly translated cognately, viz. ‘to wear/attach/suspend a περίαπτον,’ or the equivalent.”
  14. . On the ambrosial fragrance of the gods, see also , p. 55; Richardson 1974 (in n. 82, above), p. 252; and Shelmerdine 1995 (in n. 72, above).
  15. T. Follett, “Amber in Goldworking,” Archaeology 38, no. 2 (1985): 64–65; but compare G. Nestler and E. Formigli, Granulazione Etrusca: Un antica tecnica orafa (Siena, 1994).
  16. , p. 363. This may push the concept of shape shifting, but such a concept is relevant for the magical aspects of some amber pendants. The appearance of shape shifting could be conceived as an attestation of the artisan’s skill in making what were perhaps to be considered daidala.
  17. Because of this, each amber object is unique. Figures contorted, splayed, or wrapped around planes are seen in ancient Near Eastern animal representations as early as the fourth millennium, and some Mycenaean ivories and Middle Assyrian alabaster vessels suggest that such figure manipulation was well established much earlier. Of the art made in or imported into pre-Roman Italy, contorted and splayed figures are found in ivory work, scaraboids, plastic vases, some bronzes (especially utilitarian items such as feet or handles), and gold objects of adornment. An early example is the ivory lion group from the Barberini Tomb (Museo Nazionale Etrusco di Villa Giulia, Rome), thought by , p. 5, to be Syrian work. The resonance in Etruria for wrapping figures (divine, heroic, and demonic subjects most especially) around planes may reflect several generations of contact with art from the Orient. Eastern Greece seems to have been a direct source not only for the large-scale stone carving of the Cortona altar (see n. 262, below), but also for later, small-scale bronzework, such as the Vulcian naked youth riding the winged lion of an incense burner’s foot (circa 450 B.C., from Olympia: Olympia Museum B 1001) and the (possibly Orvietan) bronze tripod feet with representations of Peleus wrestling Thetis and Perseus decapitating Medusa (circa 470–460 B.C., provenance unknown: Florence, Museo Archeologico Nazionale 710–11). The dating and localization of the bronzes follow , nos. 118–19.
  18. Perhaps only Chinese amber carvers and Japanese inro- and netsuke-makers have exploited the material and figural form to the same degree. D. G. Mitten (review of , 71, no. 3 [July 1967]: 323) was the first to point out the visual relationship: “Many of these strange lump-sculptures look almost as if they had been intended as hand-pieces, a sort of netsuke of the late archaic Italic world.”
  19. Tumulus II of Melone del Sodo at Cortona: P. Zamarchi Grassi, “Il tumulo II del Sodi di Cortona (Arezzo),” in , pp. 141–42, no. 109.
  20. On binding in magic, see ; ; and .
  21. The insertion of materials into an amulet or “talismanic statue” is not uncommon in ritual and magical practice. The amber bullae from Satricum have a large vertical piercing unrelated to the suspension perforation, which , pp. 409–10, takes to be meant for the insertion of a charm. He relates the amber specimens to the original idea of the bulla as a locket. (On the bulla, see n. 152.) There are also vertical borings in the bottle-shaped pendants and the seated monkey of the necklace from Praeneste in London: see , p. 53, no. 23, pl. IX. Were the inclusions in amber conceived as naturally inserted material? Might there have been a preference for specific inclusions, such as a lizard? In Egypt, “the lizard was symbolic of regeneration because of its ability to regrow limbs and tail if they were injured or lost” (, p. 66).
  22. and others think the plugs might have been made for coloristic effects. It is more likely that they were originally the same color but have suffered from increased oxidation and thus have more rapidly darkened. The original attempt may have been to make the piece appear uniform, as large “tears” of amber.
  23. Additional pendants with large secondary holes include a large Eos group and the large frontal head with wings in a New York private collection (, pp. 150–51; and , pp. 289–90); a draped, dancing figure from Oliveto Citra, Aia Sofia district, Tomb 1 (Paestum, Museo Nazionale OC/00082: , pp. 129, 133, fig. 84; and P. C. Sestieri, “Ambra intagliata da Oliveto Citra,” 4 [1952]: 16, pl. 14); a winged female figure (perhaps Lasa) (Shefton Museum of Greek Art and Archaeology 286: B. Shefton, Archeological Reports [1969–70]: 58–59, figs. 11–12); two other, very different sirens in the Shefton Museum (nos. 298, 596: unpublished); a pair of satyr heads from Palestrina in Boston (Museum of Fine Arts 02.252–53: , pp. 131–32, figs. 73–74); a head from Tomb 9, Rutigliano-Purgatorio Necropolis, which has a lateral through-bore in the top of the head and is still attached to a silver pin (Taranto, Museo Archeologico Nazionale 138144: Ornarsi d’ambra: Tombe principesche da Rutigliano, ed. L. Masiello and A. Damato [Rutigliano, 2004]; , p. 131, n. 408; and G. Lo Porto in Locri Epizefirii: Atti del XVI Convegno di studi sulla Magna Grecia [Naples, 1977], pl. CXV); a winged female head from Tomb 10, Rutigliano-Purgatorio Necropolis, also still attached to its bronze pin (Ornasi d’ambra 2004; and , pl. XIII). A satyr head in Milan has a large frontal hole: N. Negroni Catacchio, “Un pendaglio in ambra in forma di protome maschile,” Notizie dal chiostro del Monastero maggiore: Rassegna di studi del Civico museo archaeologico e del Civico gabinetto numismatico di Milano 15–18 (1975): 37, 39, pl. XXV. A large, unpublished head of Herakles in a lionskin helmet (art market, Geneva) has a large central hole through the forehead. Two ambers on the London art market, allegedly found together in the Basilicata, a female head and a horse’s head, were originally pendants that saw considerable use (there are pulling troughs on the upper edges of the suspension perforations). The two were later bored and attached to a wooden(?) support with silver nails, fragments of which still remain.


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