The gemstone amber


Amber is fossil tree resin that has achieved a stable state through loss of volatile constituents and chemical change after burial in the ground. Amber has been found throughout the world, but the largest and most significant deposits occur along the shores of the Baltic Sea in sands 40,000,000 to 60,000,000 years old. Tree Sources The worlds two current major deposits of amber; Dominican Republic and Baltic had two separate tree types which produced the original resin. The Baltic source tree has been named Pinites succinifer.Amber from Baltic sea is diferent from Dominican amber.Baltic amber is much older than Dominican.Most Baltic amber possesses Succinic acid. This is a problem when attributing Baltic fossil resin to a species of pine, as up until recently no extant pine tree resin was known to contain succinic acid. But, two recent pine tree genera’s have been found which do possess succinic acid in their resin, they are Keteleeria and Pseudolarix. The latter has been discovered in the Eastern mountain ranges of China. An important and relevant observation is that the ecological systems which are supported by the Pseudolarix trees in China appear to reflect those presumed and extrapolated from the inclusions discovered in Baltic amber.Many of the major amber deposits have had their tree source identified. Key amongst them are:

Romania - Colti / Sequoioxylon gypsaceum

Country / Species Family

Alaska / Agathis

Baltic / Pinites succinifer

Burma / Nummulites biaritzensis

Canada - Cedar Lake / Agathis

Dominican Republic / Hymenaea protera

Germany - Bitterfield / Cupressospermum saxonicum

Mexico - Chiapas / Hymenaea

Middle East / Agathis

Most of our understanding, beliefs and research on amber have been based upon the work of European and American cultures. The Chinese shared our fascination with amber and the earliest written references go back to AD 92. They believed that amber was the soul of a tiger which had died and passed into the earth and the Tibetans had perhaps the most beautiful name for this gem; pö-she, which meant perfumed crystal. Amber is a strange and attractive gem. Its golden transparency lends it a quality which even diamonds do not share. For the artisan it provides a remarkable medium to work with and create some of the most beautiful objects for us to enjoy. For the scientist it provides a glimpse into the past, a window into history. 

The largest known piece of Baltic amber ever found, weighs 21.5 pounds, it was found near Stettin, Poland in 1860 and now resides in the Museum fur Naturkunde in Berlin

The colour range is extremely varied, ranging from near white (osseous) through all shades of yellow, brown and red. There are even examples of blue and green amber. Blue - Green amber is thought to have two possible causes; the permeation of raw resin by mineral deposits present either in the soil into which it fell, or the settling of volcanic dust and ash onto the resin when it was first secreted. By what ever process, the resin is impregnated with unusual compounds and given its distinct hue

An entire prehistoric ecosystem is trapped inside the resin known as amber! Because amber oxidizes, degrading when exposed to oxygen, it is preserved only under special conditions. Thus, it is almost always found in wet clay and sand sediments formed at the bottom of ancient lagoons and river deltas. Only about twenty deposits of amber in the world contain enough substance to be mined. No one is certain how the world within amber survives intact but it is thought that terpenes, compounds that become linked as the resin hardens, help to preserve the inclusions or organisms by dehydrating them and killing any bacteria that may cause decay. The organisms’ tissues do not shrink as they normally would during the process, and as a result, their cellular structure remains intact, making these inclusions perfect for DNA study.

One of the most exciting and interesting aspects of amber are the inclusions which are found within it, both flora and fauna. The most frequent inclusions to be found in amber, particularly Baltic are examples of the order Diptera, or true flies. Quite often these are species of the superfamily Sciaroidea, commonly referred to as fungus gnats. These tiny little flies would have lived on the fungus growing on the rotting vegetation of the amber forest of which no doubt there was enough to support an enormous population.