This presentation examines the current state of research on prehistoric amber in the Balkans. Although there is a significant amount of publishing on amber artefacts concerning Greece and the Mycenaean World, a coherent narrative related to the material’s importance in Southeastern Europe has not been proposed yet.
Amber, mostly succinite, i.e. of Baltic geological provenience, is imported in southern Balkans, in Peloponnese, in the 17th/16th c. BC. It takes almost two centuries until amber appears gradually in the North, in Serbia, in Bosnia-Herzegovina, in Slovenia, in Romania, in Bulgaria and in Albania; nevertheless, the Peninsula artefacts are of similar typology -flattened globular, biconical and discoid beads- with rare exceptions for almost four centuries. Amber beads’ typology changes after the 12th c. BC and different shapes come to light in Southeastern Europe following patterns already largely observed in the Mediterranean World. The typological renewal of beads attests to a new crafting, trading and exchanging reality from that period onwards. In any case, the amber beads are mostly used to form necklaces, to adorn dresses or belts or to be strung as pendants.
Most find places are burials. Non-burial sites are significantly fewer, probably due to archaeological preservation reasons: in storehouses in the Mycenaean palaces in Greece, in a Bulgarian ritual hoard and in Late Bronze Age Romanian hoards and caves.
Moreover, Mycenaeans seem to have played a decisive role in amber’s circulation not only in Italy and in East Mediterranean regions, as it has been already substantiated, but also in –at least- the Western Balkans. The Mycenaean supremacy retreated after the 12th c. BC turmoil in the East.
Amber has been valued as a distinctive material in the Balkans. Amber’s geographical distribution marks out certain restrictions concerning its possession and its use in the Peninsula and indicates the material’s importance. Furthermore, multivalent aspects should be ascribed to amber: it could have been perceived as a post-mortem symbol, a power insignium or an object activated in social emulation/competition policies within local communities depending on the place and on the period.
Nevertheless, as far as the Balkan archaeology is concerned, amber does not seem to have been researched interpretatively. Although amber study offers a fertile field of consideration related to identity and societal issues, the fossilized resin has been mostly viewed under a cultural-historical aspect and not in context.
Finally, it should be stressed that modern history and contemporary politics have influenced the research options on amber in the Balkans. After the II World War emphasis has been laid on Mycenaean finds in “Western” Greece and discoveries in ex “Eastern bloc” countries have been largely ignored even due to language/publishing barriers. Thus, an intra-Balkan cooperation is vital for a comprehensive analysis of the imported material.