Have you ever asked yourself one of the questions like: What is amber? Where does amber come from? How old is amber? What does the name “amber” means? and etc. I am pretty sure you have. Today, I am going to present you the complete amber guide that will answer all of the most frequently asked questions related to amber. Everything you need and want to know about amber in one place.
# 1 – What Is Amber?
Since the Paleolithic era (2.6 million years ago), amber played an important role in human life and death. People all around the world were using amber for centuries as it is the first known traded stone. But, in fact, they never knew exactly what is amber until recently.
Where did amber come from? Attempts to answer this question, from the early Greek poets to Late Antique authors, were made in a wide variety of disciplines—philosophy, poetry, history, natural science, and even pharmacology. But the most important, and the most varied, answers came from perspectives that were scientific (amber comes from tree sap or lake mud or the sea), geographical (amber comes from the northern ocean, Liguria, or Ethiopia), or mythological (it comes from the tears of Phaethon or of Meleager’s sisters).
However diverse the various origin stories, they explain amber as either being related to the sun or the planets, or as being “of water” or “of earth.” These different beliefs about amber’s origin appear to have affected even the very ways it was used.
The first known documented appearance of amber dates back to the times of the early second-millennium BC, what is 2000 years Before Christ, in Mesopotamia. Since that time, humanity has started its 4000 years long battle on trying to figure out the origins of amber.
During this 4000 years, humanity was struggling to get their answers and tens of suggestions to explain the appearance of amber were made.
From the Pliny’s Natural History, we know that Ancient Egyptians were calling amber a sacal what is actually simply meaning the “rock”. It is probably the first documented guessing about the nature of amber.
Ancient Greeks believed that amber came from the tears of mourning Heliades, that became a poplar trees, after their brother – Phaeton (son of sun-god Helios and sea-nymph Clymene) was killed by Zeus for the attempt to move the Sun along the sky. They called amber an electron, meaning “beaming Sun”. Visit our Amber Stone Legends post to read the myth of Phaethon and Sun Chariot.
Nicias, Athenian politician and general, had its own version on appearance of amber that was quite popular among Greek aristocrats. He was sure that amber is a moisture from the sun rays. And that these rays, at the moment of the sun’s setting, strike with the greatest force upon the surface of the soil, leaving there an unctuous sweat. Which is carried off by the tides of the Ocean, and thrown up upon the shores of Germany.
Some Europeans, on their side, believed that appearance of amber is associated with the Lithuanian legend about Jurate. Jurate was the queen of the sea, who fell in love with Kastytis, a fisherman. Her jealous father was highly unhappy with that and has punished his daughter by destroying her amber palace and changing her into sea-foam. And many believe that those pieces of amber that found on the Baltic shore are still the pieces of the Jurate’s palace. Visit our Amber Stone Legends post to read the myth of Jurate and Kastytis.
Continuous debates were stressing an Ancient Rome. Philosophers could not reach the agreement of amber origins assuming that it can be a vegetable, a mineral or a faunal product, as well as produced by heated lake mud.
In its Natural History, Pliny passes over accounts that range from the theory that amber was moisture from the sun’s rays to the hypothesis that it was produced by heated lake mud before offering his own scientific conclusion: amber is formed from the sap of a species of pine, and, hardened either by frost, heat, or the sea, it “is washed up on the shores of the mainland, being swept along so easily that it seems to hover in the water without settling on the sea bed.” This probably was one of the most accurate versions of how is amber created. Moreover, it was widely used through the generations to come to explain how amber is formed.
Fortunately, in XX century, scientists finally were able to give people a true scientific explanation and evidence to this question thanks to the development of technologies. The result they got was insane: Amber is the fossilized resin of prehistoric trees!
Concretely in the case of the Baltic amber, it comes from a variety of pines. Pines, that disappeared millions of year ago from the surface of the earth. Although it is called stone, in fact it has organic origins. Can you imagine that? Check our What is amber post to learn more about the specific properties of amber.
# 2 – What is the Origins of Amber?
As you probably already understood, amber is a hardened tree resin of prehistoric tree. Not tree sap. Sap is the fluid that circulates through a plant’s vascular system, while resin is the semi-solid amorphous organic substance secreted in pockets and canals through epithelial cells of the plant.
Although there are contrasting views as to why resin is produced, it is a plant’s protection mechanism. The resin may be produced to protect the tree from disease and injury inflicted by insects and fungi. Resin may be exuded to heal a wound such as a broken branch, and resins possess odors or tastes that both attract and repel insects. In mature trees, resin may simply exude from vertical fissures in the bark due to tension produced by rapid growth. Resin may also be produced as a plant’s method for disposing of excess acetate.
There is no one tree responsible for the resin that fossilizes into amber. Botanical affinities have been suggested based on examination of the entombed debris and through chemical studies of the resin.
Studies by Göppert (1836), based on botanical debris entombed in amber, concluded that members of the Pinaceae were the source of Baltic amber. Specifically, Göppert (1836) designated the amber tree as Pinites succinifer, although he clearly stated this wood anatomy was not the same as any living pine today. Disregarding botanical evidence and concentrating on chemical evidence, Beck (1999) and Larsson (1978) suggested sources other than Pinaceae for Baltic amber, including Araucariaceae, Cupressaceae, and Taxodiaceae; they believed that chemically Göppert’s Pinites was a closer match to the Araucariaceae than to Pinaceae.
So, for now, what scientists do agree at, is that amber is a fossilized resin of a pre-historic tree that does not exist anymore.
# 3 – How Old is Amber?
Amber according to various sources appears in the upper Carboniferous (Pennsylvanian) period, what is 323 – 298 million years ago.
The oldest fossil remains found inside amber belong to the period of Lower Cretaceous (145 – 100 million years ago) and hold great scientific insight to environments of the past. These findings were made in the mountains of Lebanon, to the southeast of the country’s capital – Beirut.
One of the earth’s oldest natural treasures, Lebanese amber, which contains the earliest known representatives of many insect groups, unlocks the secrets of a little-known world populated by dinosaurs, pterosaurs and cycads. Here we must say that only by microscopic remnants of insects and plants, together with the petals of flowers, spores and seeds, scientists recreate the flora and fauna on Earth millions of years ago. Even dinosaurs. In 2016, a 99 million year old feathered dinosaur tail was found preserved in amber. Check our post, to learn more about this extraordinaire discovery.
However, typically your amber is way younger than that. Only small quantities of amber reach mentioned above age and even then, they are mostly used by the scientists to study the life on Earth in the times of dinosaurs. So, in overall, the amber you can freely purchase today on a market is usually of 65 – 23 million years old. Why is that? The answer is pretty simple. Most amber around the world was formed in the Paleogene period (65 – 23 million years ago) and only very small fraction of amber was formed in Neogenic period (23 – 2,5 million years ago).
The most famous and wide spread around the world – Baltic and Ukrainian amber belong exactly to Paleogene period. Baltic amber, in particular, constitutes not less than 90% of the bulk of amber already collected nowadays throughout the world. It consists at 98% of Pinus succinifera pine resin and there is no Baltic amber older than 54 million years.
Taking into account that Baltic amber is the most widespread around the world, chances are, your amber is less than 54 million years old, and, for sure, older than 11 000 years. Fossilized resin of 10 000 old and younger is not an amber, but a copal. Sometimes, untrustworthy sellers process copal and sell it as amber.
Check our How Old is Amber post to learn more about the age of amber in different countries and deposits, including Indonesian, Dominican, Canadian, Indian, Mexican and USA amber.
# 4 – What are the Healing Properties of Amber?
The amber healing properties became famous and widely used thanks to Hippocrates (460-377 BC), father of medicine. In his works, he has described various medicinal properties and methods of amber application that were later used by scientists until the Middle Ages. Modern amber applications in healing you can find in our Amber Healing Properties post.
Modern science finds that amber is almost completely made with useful elements for the human body: iodine, iron, magnesium, calcium, phosphorus, zinc, cobalt, barium and aluminum. However, most of the amber healing properties are attributed to the succinic acid.
# 5 – What is Amber Inclusions?
As you know, amber is a fossilized resin of pre-historic trees. And due to its organic origins, amber has an amazing property – for millions of years it can keep insects, small animals and particles of plants inside, preventing them from collapsing.
The resin, flowing down the trunks of the pines, often became a trap for small inhabitants of the amber forest. Insects themselves sat down on the resin, attracted by its color and smell. Alternatively, they could have been taken down by a gust of wind, and also caught in amber drop that fell from a broken branch. Large insects burst from the resin, and the small ones were covered by the later resin inflows.
Not only insects and branches can be found in amber. Sometimes it is even possible to find small animals – for example, lizards. However, these are very rare inclusions – only seven lizards stored in amber were found around the world.
The remains of the crust, feathers of birds, scraps of animal fur, spores and seeds of plants, and even drops of water (rain or dew), which did not evaporate, confirmed forever the impermeability of the “amber tomb.” In addition to these, air bubbles and various minerals are found in amber. Such substances preserved in amber are called inclusions.
Thanks to amber and inclusions stored in it, scientists now know what animals, insects and plant were inhabiting earth millions of years ago. Check our Amber Inclusions post to learn more about different extraordinaire animal, floral and mineral inclusions found in amber. Check our two other posts to learn about two major shocking discoveries made in recent years due to dinosaur tail and spider with scorpion tail found preserved in amber.
# 6 – Where Can I Find Amber?
Well, amber can be found on land or sea. The geographical spread of land amber is quite extensive. However, the problem here is that, although the process of amber extraction itself is not complicated (much easier than the process of extraction of precious stones), you will not be able to do it yourself without special equipment. But don’t worry. You still have an option – the shores of the Baltic sea. Yes, you heard me right. You can find it on a beach of the Baltic sea!
At the shores of the Baltic Sea and the North Sea, amber can be found after storms (if they came from the right direction), and during low-tide. Because of its specific density (1.05 – 1.1), amber is slightly lighter than sea water and can float on the surface. So, it can be washed upon a beach imbedded in seaweed or can lie among greyish remnants of crawfish and shrimps as well as among small, black remnants of wood. Sea amber is usually collected as it is washed on the shore or directly from the water by use of nets (especially in the Baltic countries).
Sea amber looks usually better than amber from mines because the water movement polishes the stones so that they are often found as clear, shiny stones without crust.
Collecting amber in the summer months doesn’t bring satisfying results because then the water has a lower density (because of its thermal expansion) and amber is not floating on the surface that much. During spring, autumn and especially winter the density of salt water is slightly higher, so that amber swims, being caught in seaweed which then can be driven to the beach, by current or waves. Ocean and sea water gets more dense as temperature goes down. So, the colder the water, the more dense it is, the more chances you have to find amber washed on a shore or floating in water.
If a piece of wet amber on a beach doesn’t reflect the sunlight, it is not easy being identified as real amber. One simply cannot pick up all yellowish or brownish stones for inspection, particularly if the beach is covered with all kind of stones! Therefore here are some helpful information for beginners:
Amber feels warm to the skin because it is an organic material. That helps amber collectors to distinguish between dull amber pieces and normal stones. An even better method to identify amber is clicking the “stone” against ones teeth. Amber does not click like a mineral, but rather feels like plastic.
# 7 – What Color Is Amber?
Amber occurs in a range of different colors. As well as the usual yellow-orange-brown that is associated with the color “amber”, amber itself can range from a whitish color through a pale lemon yellow, to brown and almost black. Other uncommon colors include red amber (sometimes known as “cherry amber”), green amber, and even blue amber, which is rare and highly sought after. Check our What Color is Amber post to learn more about each amber color.
# 8 – How to Identify Fake Amber?
Nowadays fake Baltic amber has flooded the market, and most people do not even realize it. People intend to purchase these amber pieces and think of them as genuine because they cannot tell the difference. Sadly, many of these people are exploited as merchants who sell fake amber usually do so at a high price.
Of course, any ordinary person can be deceived and may not be able to tell the difference. However, a person with a good understanding of the origins and characteristics of the stone, as well as its texture and quality, can differentiate fake amber from real amber.
As a shop that sells only 100% natural certified amber, Nammu has a vast experience in how to detect real amber from fake and this is what we want you to know. Let us share our experience. Learn about 7 simple tests you can make at home to identify fake amber in our post on how to detect fake amber.
# 9 – How to Clean Amber?
Take the rule of clearing jewelry of dust, grease, sweat and other contaminants after each use, then you will have no problems with their appearance during the longest possible term. With regular cleaning it is possible to wipe them thoroughly with a soft cloth, without using hard woolen or hard brushes.
While talking about cleaning, we can say that there are different suggestions and options for those who are interested.
From our side, we want to warn you that amber is very, very and very soft, fragile and special mineral that react badly to all the chemicals presented currently on the market. We suggest you to avoid completely using of any chemical cleaners or even soap for cleaning amber, use simple water. It is not recommended to clean amber in a soap solution, as it is an extremely sensitive mineral, and the modern composition of soap almost always contains chemical compounds. Do not put amber into the water for more than 10 minutes, because due to its structure amber absorbs water.
You can find detailed explanations what exactly cleaning methods, in what situations, and how we suggest to perform them in our How to Take Care of Amber post.
# 10 – How to Store and Wear Amber?
Amber can grow dull with time, so if you keep it long enough, do not be upset, but better find out how to bring back the stone shine. It is recommended to adhere to several simple rules for storing amber, so that it does not lose its original appearance for the longest time, does not become cloudy and damaged.
Keep amber jewelry as far away as possible from sources of extremely high or low temperatures.
Amber can easily be deformed under the mechanical influences, so handling it should be quite gentle, careful and attentive. You should not drop them or carelessly throw them on the table, because they can easily crack.
Do not put your amber jewelry on before hairspray and perfume are applied, because it will likely create a whitish coating on the amber that may be permanent. Contacts of amber with household detergents are also very undesirable.
Do not touch amber jewelry with dirty hands, for example stained with food. Sunflower oil, lard and other edible fats are especially harmful to this sun stone. Amber should be kept as far as possible from these products. In general, you always need to touch amber only with clean hands.
Even though amber is called a “sun stone”, it reacts badly to the intensive and prolonged contact with the sun. As we said before, it should not be left for long under the scorching sun. Therefore, along with other natural stones, amber must be stored in a dark box.
Try not to leave amber for a long time in the open air – it can become covered with cracks and lose its fantastic brilliance.
Amber is a soft and fragile mineral, so it’s best to keep each amber decoration separate from the rest, in a solid box with a velvet lining, so that the stones are not damaged, not scratching against each other, and not cracked when struck.
Find even more recommendations on how to properly store and wear amber for it to be as new the longest time possible in our How to Take Care of Amber post.
# 11 – How Much Time does it Takes for Tree Resin to Become Amber?
Here we should explain that many people mistakenly believe that a usual tree sap is what amber nowadays is made of. In fact, it is not true. Real amber, the one that you can buy on our website, took millions of years and hundreds of climate changes to be formed.
The amberisation process itself is a continuum from freshly hardened resins to those that are rockie. Transformation of resin into amber depends on the prevailing geologic conditions as well as composition of the resin. It is usually a result of geothermal stress as chemical changes in the resin accelerate at higher temperatures.
As David Grimaldi, famous entomologist and author of the book called “Amber: Window to the Past” states:
No single feature identifies at what age along continuum the substance becomes amber.
# 12 – Can amber protect from negative influence of electrical equipment?
# 13 – What does “Amber” means?
Amber has always fascinated mankind and therefore it has tens of different names.
Treasured in its raw state, made into ornaments or sewn onto clothing, amber was dedicated to divinities and used in the ceremonies of death and burial. For millennia, amber has been appreciated as a gemstone and highly valued for its beauty, rarity, fragrance and inclusions of animal and plant material, caught in the ancient resin as if still alive.
As every nation was using amber differently, so every nation had its own name for amber. The words used for amber in antiquity were often suggestive not only of the qualities for which it was valued, but also of the theories of its origin and the uses to which it was put. Check our Amber Name Meaning post to learn about the appearance and meaning of EVERY name related to amber from different nations and languages.
Nowadays, there are various suggestions when and how did the most famous name for this fossil resin occur. Mostly, scientists agree that the English word amber derives either from Arabic – anbar or Middle Persian, Middle Latin – ambar or Middle French – ambre.
# 14 – What is the Most Accurate Historical Literature Source about Amber?
The most extensive surviving ancient source that will help us to know how ancients answered questions about amber is the Pliny’s the Elder chapters on amber in his encyclopedic Natural History: CHAPTER 11 – AMBER: THE MANY FALSEHOODS THAT HAVE BEEN TOLD ABOUT IT and CHAPTER 12 – THE SEVERAL KINDS OF AMBER: THE REMEDIES DERIVED FROM IT.
Compiling his work at a time when amber was beginning to flood into Rome, he provides a survey of the stories then in circulation about the formation of amber, its geographical and mythical origins, and the way it was classified and used. The depth and complexity of the information available to Pliny is striking. Evidently there was a varied and lively debate about what amber was and where it came from by the time he was writing, right down to the question of whether it was a vegetable, mineral, or faunal product.
Throughout Book 37, Pliny comments critically on his source material, contrasting its validity with current evidence.
Next in rank among the objects of luxury, we have amber; an article which, for the present, however, is in request among women only.
This is a subject which affords us an excellent opportunity of exposing some of the frivolities and falsehoods of the Greeks; and I beg that my readers will only have patience with me while I do so, it being really worth while, for our own practical improvement, to become acquainted with the marvellous stories which they have promulgated respecting amber.
– Pliny the Elder, The Natural History, Chapter 11 – AMBER: THE MANY FALSEHOODS THAT HAVE BEEN TOLD ABOUT IT.
# 15 – Where to Buy Amber?
Nowadays, it is not a problem to find a place to buy something. With internet and thousands of online shops you are always able to find everything you want and need. When it comes to amber, you know that fake amber pieces are usually made of copal, other resins, plastic, and even glass. It is not always easy to distinguish imitations from the real thing as some of them look very much like genuine amber. Even harder to define real amber when purchasing it online.
Buying amber, no matter online or in usual shop, ask for the certificate of quality that will guarantee authenticity of your amber. Do not search for the places with extremely cheap prices. It is true that amber costs vary depending on the size, type, color or even shop as any usual semi-precious stone, but you still should be reasonable. If you see that typical price for certain jewelry piece exceeds greatly the price of the piece you are planning to buy, bear in mind that is highly likely to be a copal or even plastic that imitate amber. But not amber itself.
Amber took thousands and thousands of years to be formed, it has a vast, far-reaching history. Some pieces of amber even seen dinosaurs what can’t be said about all semi-precious stones. There are no more such trees that can produce resin which later can harder into amber. It is not possible to grow amber artificially like some of the gems. So, think for yourself, can a high quality gemstone like this cost less than one season winter sweater? I doubt that. Traditionally amber is mined in the same places, from the same deposits and only later processed, made into jewelry and sold by various shops. Therefore, costs of amber tend to be quite similar in different shops, as the initial cost of raw amber is quite equal. So, if you see extremely cheap amber, then you should be very suspicious.
This raw piece of million year old resin could give you a freedom and take it from you in the Ancient Rome. With the equal simplicity.
It is a perfect investment and an amazing piece of history that can be passed through generations allowing you to stay in minds of your descendants for hundreds of years. In the same way as amber did. For thousands of years.
Shop with Nammu, buy yourself a jewelry with a history.
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