Amber is not a mineral but an organic product. It is fossilized resin of ancient trees living 25 to 50 millions years ago, but some pieces have been found which can be as old as 130 millions years.
The Greeks called amber « elektron », the word from which electricity was derived because it becomes electrically charged when rubbed with a cloth and can attract small particles.
They thought it was pieces of solidified sunshine, believing solidification occurred when pieces where broken off as the sun sank into the sea.
Amber was in fashion among Roman women, who had the habit of carrying a small piece in the hand for the odor it emitted when warmed in this way. During this time, according to Pliny, a small figure carved from the material would cost more than a « healthy slave ».
The Romans even sent armies to conquer and control amber producing areas.
By the year 1400, certain orders of knights controlled the trade of amber and unauthorized possession of raw amber was illegal in most of Europe. Among other beliefs, amber has been assumed to alleviate goiter.
Because of the small insects who could have been trapped inside, amber has helped paleontologists to reconstruct life on earth in its primal phases, and more than 1,000 extinct species of insects have been identified this way.