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Protection from the Plague | Will it work today?

March 12th, 2020
Bag of raw amber

How were the amber workers immune?   

As the world ramps up its efforts to battle against Coronavirus, I was reminded of a previous ‘plague’ that caused havoc and death throughout Europe.  I am not thinking of the Spanish Flu  that is getting much air time of late.  I’m traveling further back in time to the mid 14th century

Think back to your school history books to the medieval plague known as the Black Death.  That bubonic plague epidemic was probably the most widespread and lethal of the plagues that have struck Europe over the centuries.

A dismal horrific event in world history, some estimates are that it killed around a third of the continent’s population and some areas had a reduction population reduced by up to 80%. 

But some areas seemed immune to the lethal effects of that plague.  Poland also reported lower numbers than other areas of Europe.  There are several theories regarding why this was so.  One considered is that Poland’s ruler issued decrees to ban ‘foreigners’ from crossing the kingdom’s borders and restricted movement within the borders. Sound familiar?  Another theory put forward is that there were more cats in Poland.  More cats = less rats = less plague.  And another theory discusses the high level of forestation in Poland at the time.

But none of these theories can explain why there were NO deaths recorded in the Guilds of the amber workers of Gdansk, Klaipeda, Konigsberg or Liepaja at the time.  This was recorded by a Matthaus Praetoius in 1680.  Can it be that the amber was protecting them? 

They were surrounded by amber in their work rooms.  In many cases these rooms also housed their living quarters.  They were constantly near amber in a natural form.  Working with amber is a definite hands on activity.  They were constantly touching, rubbing and shaping it. I am picturing stands of bead hanging from the rafters, brightening the medieval spaces.

And maybe they burned it too.  An incense of amber powder mixed with pine needles was a common fumigation technique for many ailments. Amber was also put in spirits to make a tincture, taken by the drop or rubbed into the skin.  

So what made the amber workers immune?  Could it have been the amber?