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29 Feb, 2008 13:01

'Amber Room' dig halted

German treasure hunters have stopped digging for Russia's lost Amber room and Nazi gold after a disagreement. One of the men, the local mayor, claims scientists should become involved in the excavation to make it more credible. The other says his own meas

The Amber room, which some called the 8th wonder of the world, was part of a royal palace in St. Petersburg, looted by the Nazis during WW2.

A notebook found by one of the treasure hunters, which had belonged to the man's father, a former Luftwaffe radio operator, suggested the room might be buried near the village of Deutschneudorf.

“My father was a wireless operator and navigator and he had co-ordinates from flight-logbooks which led him exactly to this spot. So we started digging here, right where we suppose the treasure to be,” Christian Hanisch, a treasure hunter said.

The local mayor launched the dig, but progress has been slow, due to fears of booby traps.

Nonetheless the digging cite thought to contain tonnes of Nazi gold immediately attracted attention and raised hopes of finding the legendary treasure. Treasure hunters and journalists were flocking to an archeological site in Deutschneudorf.

However, some are not so optimistic. Boris Igdalov, head of amber workshop, says, “This is no news for us, it happened many times before”.

“But I want to stress that if something is found there – not necessarily the Amber room – that'll be great,” he adds.

Now, the director of Russia's Hermitage museum, Mikhail Pyotrovsky said the hunt may be in vain, as amber doesn't keep well underground.

“I think 'Amber Room' is a great PR-success of museum people and much bigger then the room itself, even if it does exist. The amber can't stand long-time being under ground, so I think it will never be found. Nowadays a new one is done and it's not a painting of Rubens,” he said.

Enigmatic history

The original Amber Room was built in 1701.

It was installed in the Charlottesburg palace, where Russian tsar Peter the Great saw it for the first time and instantly fell in love with it. The room was later given to the tsar by the Prussian king, as a sign of allegiance.

For almost 40 years the room was disassembled and packed in crates. Then, in 1755, tsarina Elizabeth, known for her love for all things beautiful, ordered the room unpacked and assembled in her Palace.

Over the years, the chamber was decorated with a total of eight tonnes of Amber, backed with gold leaf. It took almost ten years to complete the 50 square meter room.

Three hundred years later during the German invasion of Russia in 1941 the curators of the Catherine Palace attempted to remove the room, but it had become brittle and started breaking.

They then tried to hide the room, by covering it with wallpaper – but it took the German soldiers only 36 hours to find it and take the room apart.

The crates containing the amber panels were transferred to the city of Konigsberg which is now Kaliningrad.

The fate of the Amber was a mystery for decades. Some researchers say it could have been destroyed by the heavy Allied bombing in 1945. Others presume the amber panels were taken aboad a German submarine, which was later sunk.