1500 years ago a 12 year old girl near Basel, Switzerland was buried with hundreds of these beads and trinkets. They wouldn’t have had much value then, the area was formerly Roman and the economy still used lots of old Roman coins as currency as well as their own coinage, items like these were strictly for costume jewelry or sewn into garments. The girl probably just liked them and collected them. Basel is on the Rhine, the Danube was not far off, the Rhône only a bit further, and every summer Switzerland was alive with merchants, traders and tinkers who passed back and forth through the Swiss passes bearing all sorts of thinks to sell and swap. The amber would have come all the way from the eastern Baltic and brought to Basel by some network of rivers and trails. Things travelled far back then when wars and plagues didn’t interfere, which, alas, in those dark ages, happened far too often. But still, we can imagine her spreading these treasures out on a skin and picking out shiny pieces to peer through into the fire and see things we don’t see, ghosts and spirits and the souls of the deceased. Those were different times, and the Neolithic imagination wasn’t yet completely purged from the minds of the peoples who came west from the vast plains and mountains of central Asia to sweep away the Roman Empire. Shadows still played on walls and fires flickered with beings we can’t see all around us.

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