Have you ever wonder what is amber and how amber is created? – I’m sure you do, but calm, you’re not alone. This and hundreds of other questions were bothering minds of mankind for centuries. 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. I must clarify something very important before continuing, contrary to what is believed, amber is NOT a stone. Surprising, right? Actually, amber is fossil resin (but not any tree), translucent, very light and hard, that burns easily and gives off a good smell. Today you are going to learn about the process of amber formation, its origin, some properties and curious aspects – join me!
[The raw amber from coast of the Baltic sea of the Kaliningrad area]
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.
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”.
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[Philostratus – The Death of Phaethon. Source: Wikipedia.org]
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.
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.
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.
[Jūratė – monument in Jurata (Poland). Source: Wikipedia.org]
And only after some time, Pliny the Elder came up to its own more or less scientific conclusions: amber is formed from sap of a species of pine. Which, hardened either by a frost, heat or cold, is washed up on shores of the mainland. 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.
[Pliny the Elder. Source: Wikipedia.org]
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!#Amber is the fossilized resin of prehistoric trees! #nammuamber #whatisamber #amberorigins #nammublog Click To Tweet
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?
Want to learn more about it? Because we can tell you.
Imagine the life on Earth 65 million years ago. On a land where your home is standing right now is probably a deep deep blue sea and the territory of present central and northern Europe known as Fennoscandia is covered with a wide, dense forests. Huge creations – dinosaurs are the planet’s main inhabitants and the purpose of every living creation is survival.
The Earth by that time was not an easy place to live. There were awful, disastrous days, when huge storms, hurricanes and winds came to disturb the life on that land.
Dinosaurs and other extinct creations were battling for territories and hunting each other for survival every day. Incredibly huge insects were crowding around, destroying and chewing everything that can be more or less on their menu.
From day to day, prehistoric trees were suffering the damage caused by its surrounding. For centuries, trees were perishing and growing up, experiencing more and more problems every day.
But finally, after the years of existence in such terrible conditions of continuous damage, evolution took a revenge. And those prehistoric trees came up with a very unique protecting material their bark and heartwood were producing to cover its wounds, to block gaps and even protect itself from the chewing insects.
After the hurricane striked or any other damage occurred, all the breaches that trees got, started bleeding with that material to isolate the wounds. Moreover, all chewing insects that were destroying their peaceful life and constantly digging into them, were not anymore interested in dinning those trees as following material was increasingly sticky while fresh. And that is why a lot of creations were trapped in it for the upcoming millions of years.
That amazing material now is called a resin and the trees in your garden use it in the same way, their ancestors did millions of years ago. This is probably a secret of a long life of all resin-bearing trees growing now on Earth.
Unfortunately, this didn’t make those trees resistant to terrible hurricanes. They fell, broken by the wind. And their broken resin-coated logs and resin-created stalactites, blobs, entrapped creatures were streamed down the rivers and tides to the deltas in coastal regions. Where they were buried for thousands of years in sedimentary deposits allowing them to undergo the process of amberisation.
And that explains why scientists have concluded that amber gemstone is not, in fact, a stone or mineral, but rather a fossilized resin of prehistoric trees.
You may ask, how much time does it took for buried resin to become a real amber?
And here we should explain that many people mistakenly believe that a usual tree sap (shown on the picture below) 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”.
Since the discovery of its nature, amber was continuously surprising scientific community by revealing more and more of its hidden properties.
The second thing that scientists learned about amber was the fact that amber is heterogeneous in its composition. Its basic ingredients are carbon (approximately 78%), oxygen (11%), hydrogen (10%). So, it has even its own specific formula – C 10 H 16 O.
Third thing evaluated was hardness. According to Mohs’ scale amber ranges from 2 to 3. It means that amber is relatively soft stone: it can be scratched with a knife. So, you should be very careful wearing amber. Due to this quality it both can be easily broken if hit or if it falls down.
Nevertheless, amber softness is a very valuable quality. Thanks to it, the stone can be easily treated – awed, cut, drilled, ground and polished.
[Source: Amber Museum]
And of course, scientists were not satisfied enough with the result they got. They threw amber in fire and in water. Were polishing it and leaving on the air.
So, finally they’ve learned that when heated, amber first gets soft. And then melts at the temperature of 315 – 350 Cº. When left for a long period of time without body contact, it oxidizes under the influence of the oxygen in the air. Moreover, when polished, it reveals a very specific electromagnetic property of attracting pieces.
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 was used to cure the severe head, neck and throat pain according to Hippocrate. Wearing amber bracelets was beneficial to sufferers of rheumatism and arthritis. Reduced fatigue and feelings of general weariness. Even Martin Luther carried a piece of amber in his pocket as a protection against kidney stones.
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.
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