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Ancient Baltic Amber Beads Found in Iraq

Ancient Amber Beads from the Baltic found in Iraq

High-tech analysis confirms the Baltic origin of amber beads from an Assyrian ziggurat 1800-1750 B.C.

Cutting-edge technology reveals the Baltic origin of two amber beads discovered in 1914 under an Assyrian ziggurat in Assur, Iraq, dating from 1800-1750 B.C. Among the earliest amber pieces found in Southwest Asia, these beads illustrate the vast reach of trade routes during the Bronze Age.

FT-IR Spectroscopy: Ancient Baltic Amber Beads in Iraq

Fourier transform infrared (FT-IR) spectroscopy was used to identify the beads as Baltic amber, underscoring the long-distance trade links of the era. Assur (now Qala’at Sherqat), sitting on Iraq’s Tigris River’s western bank, is an essential archaeological site in northern Mesopotamia, inhabited since the third millennium B.C.

Excavations at the Heart of the Assyrian Territorial State

From 1903 to 1914, Berlin’s Royal Museums and the German Orient Society conducted excavations at Assur, aiming to study the significant ziggurat. In April 1914, excavators found several thousand beads beneath the first mudbrick layer while searching for foundation layers.

Revisiting the Unique Ancient Amber Bead Finds in Iraq

Two disc-shaped beads, distinct from the rest, were re-examined by researchers from the State Office for Heritage Management and Archaeology Saxony-Anhalt, the Martin-Luther-University of Halle-Wittenberg, and the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin.

Confirming the Amber’s Baltic Origin

2019 the Rathgen-Forschungslabor analyzed bead fragments using Fourier transformation infrared spectroscopy (FT-IR). Despite severe weathering, the results matched Baltic amber’s characteristics, suggesting the beads most likely originated from the Baltic or North Sea region.

Ancient Baltic Amber Beads Iraq: Historical Significance

These beads represent some of the earliest and most remote examples of amber from the Baltic region in Southwest Asia. The rarity of amber in the Mediterranean and Near East before 1550 B.C. suggests that the Central German Únětice culture likely controlled it.

Amber, as a Symbol of Prestige and Trade

The scarce amber finds from the early 2nd millennium B.C. were likely precious gifts from Central or Western European travelers to Southern elites. After the Únětice culture’s end around 1550 B.C., amber became more available due to expanded trade networks, highlighting the changing dynamics of this historical period.

Assyrian ziggurats

Assyrian ziggurats were massive structures built in ancient Mesopotamia, including parts of Iraq, Syria, and Turkey. These pyramid-like structures were religious edifices, often part of a larger temple complex, and were believed to bridge the earthly and divine realms. Ziggurats were built with a series of terraces, each smaller than the one below, and were typically constructed of mud-brick. Stairways or ramps led to the top, where a shrine or temple was often located.

The ziggurat’s height was symbolic, as it was thought to bring the gods closer to Earth and the worshippers closer to the heavens. They were central to the ancient Assyrian civilization’s religious, political, and social life.

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