The little amber bear figure was discovered in 1887 and dated to 1700-650 BC. Similar amber bears (and other small amber creatures like birds and deer) have been unearthed in Mesolithic sites in Jutland, Denmark (12,000-3,900 BC). So although the precise date of origin is unclear, we can reasonably conclude it is over 3,000 years old.
It’s nicely crafted. A snout with a carved mouth and two nostrils, and two circularly framed eyes are depicted on the head. The figure has a gap in the rear before the hind legs. Dark residues on the skull show the eyes, nose, and lips were previously painted.
But how can we tell it was an amulet? The hole has abrasion marks on both sides, indicating it was strapped on, and the bear cannot stand on the protruding legs. The sculpture, worn as a pendant, hangs upside down and reveals the spectator it’s back. It also only unfolds its distinctive form when seen from the front. This impression is accomplished by holding it in your palm and presenting it like this.
The prominence of the bear and amber in ancient imaginations suggests a magical function.
The amulet was quickly removed from Slupsk as particular security was required for the oldest artifact ever uncovered in Pomerania. The Szczecin Museum ensured the amber bear’s protection.
After WWII, the figure was returned to Germany, housed and shown in the Kulturhistorisches Museum in Stralsund. In 1972, Wladyslaw Filipowiak, director of the National Museum in Szczecin, started to repatriate the complete relocated collection, including the bear, to Szczecin. In 2009, the item was returned to Poland by agreement between the Polish and German governments.
The amber bear was transported from Slupsk following its discovery, and the city’s amber guild fashioned a duplicate of it in 1924, which is now on public display. The amber bear is auctioned off for charity every year, and a new replica is placed in the unique display case.